20 Wild Details Behind The Making Of Wicked Tuna

Following in the tradition of fishing-based reality shows, Wicked Tuna follows an eclectic case of tuna fishermen as they compete for big paydays.

Deadliest Catch, which follows the dangerous profession of Alaskan Crab fishing and has been running for 14 seasons and counting, was one of the earliest examples of a reality show that was built around following a specific profession and the people that are part of it. It is responsible for playing a large part in creating an entirely separate offshoot of reality show that remains popular to this day, and encompasses much of the programming on cable networks like Discovery Channel, National Geographic Channel, the Outdoor Channel, and the History Channel.

Jumping on board that train-- and even following suit by being about fishing, only for tuna and on the opposite side of the country-- Wicked Tuna debuted on National Geographic Channel in 2012 and has remained a strong ratings draw for its seven seasons. The show was even popular enough to spawn a spin-off, Wicked Tuna: Outer Banks, which itself already has five seasons under its belt. And much like its peers, Wicked Tuna has earned its following from its combination of focusing on an interesting job and having an eclectic cast of characters that are entertaining to watch and always eager to stir up drama.

Over two dozens different vessels have come and gone over the course of Wicked Tuna's run, some with hilarious names like The Hot Tuna and Reels of Fortune. With many of the crews hailing from in and around the Massachusetts town that serves as Wicked Tuna's home base, big personalities and off-kilter slang are never in short supply.

Here are 20 Crazy Details Behind The Making Of Wicked Tuna.

20 The Premise Is Controversial

Any time you base a show around the hunting, trapping, and/or exterminating of living things, you are going to face blow back from animal rights groups and the like. It should come as no surprise that Wicked Tuna has seen its fair share of complaints from people over its premise. However, there is more at play in this particular case than just the hunting aspect.

The World Wildlife Foundation currently lists bluefin tuna as "critically endangered" which, coupled with longtime outcry against tuna fishing in general, means that Wicked Tuna really gets hammered hard from nature and conservation groups. While much of the reason for bluefin's dwindling numbers is the result of excessive, less-regulated fishing in other parts of the world, even U.S.-based operations are criticized for how much bluefin they bring in for food annually.

19 The Camera Crews Put In Long Hours At Sea

The biggest unsung heroes of reality television are the camera crews, who actually capture the footage that we come to enjoy on our televisions. Because they have to be right there in the thick of things at all times, they often put in hours on a par with the actual on-screen talent of a given show.

In the case of Wicked Tuna, these vessels are out on the water for days at a time, so it's not like a camera operator can just go back to his hotel at the end of each day of shooting. Each of the vessels has an embedded cameraman who stays on the boat full-time while a season is being filmed, with some spending upwards of 80 days out on the water during a given fishing season in order to get the necessary footage.

18 The Show Features Some Of The Only Women In The Industry

For various reasons, some lines of work consist of a lot more men than women. We're not here to speculate why or pass judgement on how that is the case for the tuna fishing industry, but it definitely seems to be the case. Only you wouldn't necessarily know that by watching Wicked Tuna, which features a healthy percentage of female crew members on the various vessels featured on the show.

As it turns out, that might just be the luck of the draw, as National Geographic says that the women on the show are among a relative few that are working in the industry. Perhaps Wicked Tuna's producers specifically tried to seek out those vessels so that there would be positive female representation on the show, which is still far too rare in reality television.

17 Paul Hebert Broke A Fishing Record

It's tough to deny that most of the fishers that have been showcased on Wicked Tuna are the real-- or is it reel?-- deal. It's a difficult profession that not everyone can do, and requires genuine skill that the average person who hasn't been fishing for their entire lives doesn't possess.

Other than the impressive hauls and mighty battles shown on the show itself, there are other things that the cast members of Wicked Tuna have done to warrant representing their industry on television. One such example of that is Paul Hebert, who has captained several vessels-- Lisa and Jake, Miss Sambvca, and the Kelly Ann-- on the show and who also once set a world record for largest mako shark ever caught.

16 Tuna Fishing Isn't As Exciting As It Looks

Most viewers know that it takes extensive editing of many hours of footage just to create the tightly-packed 45 minutes or so that comprises an episode of a reality show like Wicked Tuna. If you are the editor of a show about catching bluefin tuna, you have to sift through a whole lot of mundane footage in order to find enough exciting action to fill an episode.

While bluefin tuna fishing can definitely be thrilling to watch once one of the animals is actually snared on a hook, it requires a whole lot of sitting around and waiting to get to that point. TV magic might make it look like there is never a dull moment on the vessels in Wicked Tuna, but it turns out there are actually a lot more dull moments than exciting ones.

15 The Show Is Accused Of Exaggerating Tuna Prices

Some reality shows of this type seemed designed to glamorize the job being showcased and make people want to give it a shot for themselves. When Wicked Tuna portrays bluefin tuna fishing as a potentially lucrative gig where people can earn as much as $25 a pound for fish that weigh upwards of 800 pounds, it's easy to assume people are going to want to see if they can do the job themselves.

Depending on who you believe, those prices might not be representative of what bluefin tuna actually bring in at market under regular conditions. Some people within the industry have said that the fish only net about $6 a pound typically, and that $20+ per pound is unrealistic for most hauls.

14 Greg Chorebanian Was Picked For His Accent

Sure, people who are cast for a show about fishing need to actually be able to know how to fish. But having the skills is only a baseline requirement for being a reality TV star, with personality, on-screen presence, and other such factors playing the largest role in what producers look for when filling out a show's cast.

By National Geographic Channel's own admission, Greg Chorebanian-- of season two vessel The Christina-- doesn't fit the mold of the other fishermen on Wicked Tuna, not much of a drinker or smoker or user of salty language. Why was he on the show? Well, besides his formidable skill that makes him one of the industry's most respected fishermen, Chorebanian says that he was picked for the show simply because a producer enjoyed his accent.

13 The Fishing Spots Are Farther Out Than They Seem

Remember how we discussed clever editing, and having to take out long stretches of unexciting footage in order to keep Wicked Tuna moving along at a brisk, interesting pace? Well, that applies to more than just hours of waiting around for tuna to bite.

If you watch Wicked Tuna and don't know about the geography of Massachusetts and its nearby bodies of water, you might be inclined to believe that the vessels on the show are doing their fishing just a few minutes away from the shore. However, despite the show making it seem like it's just a quick boat ride out to the fishing spot, it can actually take a boat up to a half a day or more to get from the shores of Gloucester, MA to the open sea where they drop their fishing lines for bluefin.

12 A Crew Saved A Pilot's Life

A lot can happen out at sea. More specifically, a lot can go wrong-- and not just for the craft on the water but anything flying above the surface as well. The crew of the Christina know this all too well as they had to assist in a rescue mission for a pilot whose plane went down not far from their location.

The pilot in question was actually spotting-- which is when a plane flies just above the water and looks for large schools of fish to direct fishing vessels to-- for the Christina when his plane went down about 12 miles off the coast of Gloucester. After losing contact with the pilot, the crew of the Christina, along with the Coast Guard, successfully located and saved the pilot.

11 A Tale Of Two TJ Otts

There is something about reality TV stars that make people want to learn as much about their personal lives as possible. Maybe it's because viewers feel like they "know" the cast members of reality shows, and that they are entitled to know as much about them as they would a real-life friend.

A few years back, a woman named Kristina Doellman was said to be the girlfriend of Wicked Tuna star T.J. Ott, with her name and picture attached to Ott on several gossip websites. While Doellman was in fact engaged to T.J. Ott, it wasn't the same one-- it was a guy living in Illinois who just happened to share his rather unique name. Wicked Tuna's T.J. Ott, on the other hand, keeps his personal life a closely-guarded secret-- including the names of romantic partners.

10 From Fishing To Fisticuffs

It's not entirely clear if reality show producers pick professions in which people are already prone to violent conflict, or if the cameras just bring that out of people, but one thing's for sure-- reality TV and fist fights just seem to go hand-in-hand.

Wicked Tuna isn't exempt from this trend, as the competition between the crews of the various fishing vessels is often tumultuous and results in numerous heated exchanges. In one particular instance, an argument turned physical, with PinWheel captain Tyler McLaughlin and The Odysea's Ralph Wilkins coming to blows during the filming of an early episode of the show. While McLaughlin has remained a mainstay on Wicked Tuna, Wilkins was off the show by season three.

9 The Fishermen Get Very Little Sleep

Once tuna vessels are out on the water, looking for bluefin is essentially a full-time job. The crews of the boats can't afford to be caught lounging when a huge potential payday of fish go swimming by, especially because there are only so many such opportunities available during a given outing.

Needless to say, getting a nice, long night of sleep isn't a luxury that the cast members of Wicked Tuna can afford when they are out at sea. Most estimates put the amount of sleep that each crew member gets while out on the water at about two hours a night, which is incredibly taxing on the body and makes keeping the focus required for the task at hand all the more difficult and further proves that this isn't a job that everyone is cut out for.

8 Paul Hebert Pleaded Guilty To Fraud

It's interesting how often celebrities get busted for things like tax fraud. Obviously, the government is going to notice that someone who is in movies or on television is probably making decent money, and will look to make sure they are claiming what they should be claiming on their tax form and the like.

Yet Wicked Tuna's Paul Hebert joined the ranks of celebrities who tried to get away with something, as he was sued by the government and fined for Social Security and Medicaid fraud when he failed to amend his previous status as a person unable to work due to a disability once he started not only captaining his own tuna vessel, but appearing on television doing so. Luckily for Hebert, he was able to avoid jail time but he still had to pay substantial fines.

7 The Dirty Jobs connection

There are a lot of things that link these more practical reality shows, but there is one common thread that ties them all together in a very interesting way. When you are putting together a reality show about almost anything, and you're trying to decide who should be the voice of your show, there is really only one answer: Mike Rowe.

Most famous for hosting the show Dirty Jobs, Rowe has lent his pipes for narrating duties on over two dozens other shows, including American ChopperGhost HuntersDeadliest Catch, and Shark Week. It was probably a no-brainer to commission Rowe to do the same for Wicked Tuna, bringing that show's connection to Deadliest Catch full-circle.

6 Tyler McLaughlin was Honored By The Red Cross

What is it about fishing for bluefin tuna that seems to attract heroic types? It isn't just the crew of the Christina that have saved lives between fishing sessions-- PinWheel's captain, Tyler McLaughlin, had his own heroic moment, and received a very prestigious honor for his efforts.

In 2014, the fishing vessel Miss Sambvca-- also featured on Wicked Tuna-- went down, and McLaughlin and the PinWheel immediately headed to their position and rescued Sambvca crew members Dave Potter and Bonnazzoli from the sinking ship and returned them to the shore for medical attention. McLaughlin was later awarded the American Red Cross' First Responder Award and named a 2015 Hero of the Red Cross for his quick thinking and life-saving actions.

5 The Show Has To Follow Strict Fishing Guidelines

One of the reasons that tuna fishing is so controversial in other parts of the world is because fishermen use massive nets to catch tuna, in the process also snagging other sea life and damaging aquatic habitats. This is one of the reasons why there are such strict regulations for fishing for tuna in the U.S., and it certainly doesn't make the jobs of the people on Wicked Tuna any easier.

There are only three legally-permitted methods to catching bluefin tuna: standard fishing rods, hand lines, or harpoons. Any other type of catching is against regulations, and anyone caught willfully engaging in unapproved fishing methods not only risk voiding the payout for their catch but can also face fines and even jail time.

4 Why Bluefin Tuna Are Difficult To Catch

It's not just strict guidelines on fishing methods that make catching bluefin tuna such a difficult job. The fish themselves are particularly tricky to catch for a variety of reasons, and only fisherman specifically skilled in catching them are able to even have a fighting chance at it.

The most obvious thing that makes the lives of Wicked Tuna's fishermen difficult are bluefin tuna's immense size, which can easily exceed 600 pounds. Even when one of the massive fish get snagged, they are so used to being fished for that they've become skilled at eluding capture. It's not uncommon for a single fish to have already fought off capture several times before and used that experience to be even better at getting away the next time.

3 T.J. Ott's Continuity Error

Here's a news flash that will surprise nobody: reality TV almost always has some element of being scripted or otherwise shaped a bit behind the scenes. We almost never see a completely unfiltered and uninfluenced representation of whatever it is a given reality show is presenting to us. The trick is to make sure that those strings remain invisible as they are being pulled behind the curtain.

For the most part, Wicked Tuna has done a decent job of keeping hidden whatever producer-influenced elements are guiding the show. There was one particularly embarrassing moment when viewers noticed T.J. Ott holding two different reels in his hand in two back-to-back shots. Since this shouldn't have involved changing reels, it was obvious that some continuity-based shenanigans were going on that slipped by the editors.

2 The Loss Of Two Cast Members

Now we come to a darker element that unfortunately is also fairly common among reality show casts-- the tragic loss of cast members. In the case of Wicked Tuna, there have been not just one but two members of the show that left not only just the series but also this planet.

First, there was Adam Moser of the PinWheel, who succumbed to his battle with illegal substances in 2015 at the young age of 27. Then, earlier this year, Nicolas "Duffy" Fudge-- also of the PinWheel-- passed away at age 28 from as-of-yet-undisclosed causes (at least not publicly). It's a lot of tragedy for one series, let alone one fishing vessel. Here's hoping that the number of departed Wicked Tuna cast members stops at two.

1 The Show Has Been A Boon To Gloucester's Economy

It's not always clear how the local residents and culture of a place featured on a reality show are going to be affected by the newfound notoriety, but in the case of Gloucester, MA-- the launching point and home base of most of the vessels featured on Wicked Tuna-- it seems that fame has been very good to it.

The self-described "America's Oldest Seaport," Gloucester is a fishing community with roots going back to the 17th century. It's always had a healthy economy as a major fishing port, but Wicked Tuna has made Gloucester more famous and more profitable than ever thanks to the extra tourists and amateur fishermen who have flocked to Gloucester after discovering it on television.


Do you have any behind-the-scenes details to share about Wicked Tuna? Let us know in the comments!

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