Captain Wes Humbyrd is one of the toughest stars of Alaska Fish Wars. He has been fishing Alaska for 48 years. He first came up to gill net salmon in 1966 and in 1971 moved up and stayed. You name it and he’s fished it. He has fished for Dungeness and king crab, trawled for shrimp, and is an avid sport fisherman. Fishing in Alaska has changed a lot since Wes first started, but it is probably safe to say that Wes hasn’t changed much at all. He may be 70, but he’s still out-fishing the young guys.
Tell me about a typical day gill netting salmon.
We leave the dock at 5AM. It’s 40 miles to the fishing grounds, but my boat can do 25 knots so we are usually out there before anyone else. Opening is at 7 a.m. and goes until 7 p.m. You hope to land on the fish and I pretty much have a good idea where those fish will be.
If we have real nasty weather, it’s extremely dangerous. Salmon fishing has been named one of the most dangerous occupations in Alaska. Also, my boat burns $800 to $1,000 in fuel a day. That’s why I’m so aggressive on the show. I push the crew and myself almost to an extreme sometimes, but we get ‘er done, that’s what we do.
Sounds like crazy hours and hard work. Aren’t you slowing down?
I turned 70 in august. I can’t get around on the boat like I used. As you get older the body gives up, but the brain doesn’t. (laughs) The brain still tells me how to catch the fish though and I let the crew do the hard stuff. We know that you have to get it done and you get at it. You just make sure you have the right people to help you. You have to be willing to do it. Most fishermen have the drive or they wouldn’t get it done.
My daughter wants me to retire. I think about it, I talk about it, but I just can’t do it. If guys were out fishing and I was sitting on the beach, it would drive me crazy. I want to be out there with them. Alaska is where I want to be in the summer and I love it.
How much longer do you think you can keep at it?
That is a real good question. If my health stays good and if we get more fishing time back, I figure I can give it three or four more years. The goal is not to fish past 75. After that, I would like to have a 5th wheel in Lake Havasu and fish striper and bass, and just enjoy the weather.
Your vessel has got to be one of the most important aspects of success. Tell me about Night’s Edge.
I like the fact that it’s fast. I don’t like that it burns so much fuel, but it’s big, has 700 horsepower and needs the fuel. It will pack 15 to 18,000 pounds of fish, but if I get up over 15, it takes waves of the bow and gets a little scary.
It’s a very comfortable boat, though. It has a shower and everything. It’s like a house; you could live on it if you wanted. I wouldn’t be afraid to fish in 15-foot seas in it – and sometimes we have to. If we don’t go out on the days that are open, we don’t catch fish.
What is the biggest fish you’ve ever caught?
Salmon? I really don’t want to say. Then people would want to know where I caught it. (laughs) I’m an avid sport fisherman and I guess the biggest fish is a 150 pound halibut on a sport line. I just love catching fish; it’s fun. We like eating them too. They’re good for you. That’s what is keeping me healthy at my age, eating salmon and moose meat.
Most memorable fish you’ve ever caught?
Probably when I set my net out and had 1,100 pounds in it. That was when I almost sunk the boat last season. It was a great payday and really exciting. That day there, I think we had a $25,000 day.
What has fishing taught you about life?
Fishing has taught me that if you want to make it in the world, you better be aggressive and bust your butt. It has taught me to work hard and take care of your family. And respect Mother Nature. If you don’t respect her, she’ll take you. She will put you out of business or take your life. Don’t fool with her.
Wes Humbyrd is one of a kind. May he keep fishing for many years! The fishermen and women of Alaska Fish Wars are truly made of stern stuff. Want to see them in action? Tune in Mondays at 10PM et/pt to catch new episodes of Alaska Fish Wars only on Nat Geo WILD.