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Bering Sea Crab Fishermen’s Tour: A Thrilling Adventure

The Bering Sea Crab Fishermen’s Tour is an incredible adventure that takes visitors on an exhilarating journey through the cold waters near Ketchikan.

The tour is designed to give you a glimpse into the lives of the brave fishermen who risk their lives to catch the coveted king crab.

While the tour doesn’t enter the Bering Sea, experienced fishermen who previously worked there shared their knowledge and expertise with guests.

Dave T with a snow crab

As avid travelers and crab lovers, we were excited to embark on this unique journey during one of our Alaska cruises and experience the thrill of crab fishing firsthand. We were not surprised to learn this experience has been voted best Alaska excursion, time and time again.

Once in the port of Ketchikan, we made our way to the Aleutian Ballad, a 107-foot fishing vessel featured on the Discovery Channel’s hit TV show “Deadliest Catch.”

This is a professional tour run by David Lethin, the ship’s owner, who is part of a production fishing boat crew.

Karen and I’s experiences on the touring vessel were nothing short of amazing and were the highlight of our Alaska cruise. We had the opportunity to see a variety of live crabs and even hold them!

We highly recommend it to anyone looking for an unforgettable adventure. While Karen has done dog sledding, helicopter tours, and the Skagway train, this is her favorite tour in Alaska overall.

Aleutian Ballad: A Crab Fisherman’s Vessel

Boarding the Aleutian Ballad for the Bering Sea Crab Fishermen's Tour
Boarding the Aleutian Ballad in Ketchikan

The Aleutian Ballad is a sturdy and well-maintained vessel with a long crab fishing history in the treacherous Bering Sea frigid waters. It was one of the ships featured on the show “Deadliest Catch.”

However, the vessel became famous when it was hit by a 60′ (18m) rogue wave and nearly capsized. Later, it retired from the life of fishing.

Today, the Aleutian Ballad has been updated and includes seating for up to 150 guests to learn about crab fishing. During Alaska’s cruise season from May to September, it calls Ketchikan home and offers daily tours.

The tour vessel docks at berth 3, next to larger cruise ships in Ketchikan cruise port. Depending on where your ship docks, you won’t have to walk far to board. Bering Sea Crab Fishermen’s Tour is wheelchair accessible, making it an ideal excursion for the mobility challenged.

One of the highlights of our tour was the opportunity to see the Aleutian Ballad in action as the crew demonstrated their crab fishing techniques. This included baiting the hooks, pulled up crab pots, and operating equipment.

Setting the hooks with bait
Setting the hooks with bait

Granted, we were not cruising the treacherous and icy waters of the Bering Sea. But the demonstrations included live crabs and crab pots.

Throughout our tour, the crew of the Aleutian Ballad provided us with fascinating insights into the world of crab fishing. This included sharing colorful stories of their experiences and daily challenges.

We had lots of time to explore the vessel and learn about the various tools and equipment used in crab fishing. One of the things that I found fascinating was the giant tank in front of the seats with several types of live crabs!

Getting Tickets

The Aleutian Ballad offers one to two daily tours, which lasts three hours. Tour time varies with when ships arrive in port, and guests from different cruise lines can often share the same tour.

Previously, guests could buy one ticket type, but the operator recently added a VIP upgraded experience. A VIP ticket provides priority seating with the best views, a 1/2lb of cooked king crab, a drink, and a souvenir lanyard.

The VIP experience costs an additional USD 60 on top of the ticket price, usually around USD 219 per person.

Aleutian Ballad, the Bering Sea Crab Fishermen's Tour boat
Aleutian Ballad touring vessel

Since the Aleutian Ballad fills up quickly, booking your tickets early is advisable, especially when cruising. With only one day in port, you’ll have one opportunity to go.

Onboard Amenities

David Lethin retrofitted the Aleutian Ballad with stadium-covered seating. As a result, all guests, even the ones at the back, get clear views of the action. There are overhead heaters to keep guests warm during chilly weather.

We sat near the back and could take great photos while seated. The crew also invited us to the front many times for photo opportunities and to touch and hold marine creatures.

While there are two seating decks, the lower area is more protected in cold weather, while the upper deck provides better scenery views. There are seats for everyone. However, latecomers may be confined to the ones on the upper deck.

The vessel has washrooms, a gift shop, and a small area with drinks and snacks.

The Bering Sea Crab Fishermen’s Tour Experience

Here are some tips to help you get the most out of your day on this fishing vessel.

What To Wear On The Tour

Karen with Big D
Karen with Big D

Dressing in “layers” in Alaska is essential due to the changing climate. Since Ketchikan is one of America’s rainiest cities, we recommend wearing warm clothing and rain gear, as the weather can be unpredictable.

During our tour in early July, it was a mild sunny day after morning rainfall, but the temperature can change quickly. Once the vessel left the harbor, the sea breezes made it feel much colder, even in the peak of summer.

Onboard Activities And Demonstrations

The crew offered a variety of onboard activities and demonstrations to help us learn more about crabs and the life of crab fishermen.

The captain described in detail how the crew prepares for disaster at sea. We even saw a survival suit used by fishermen when they need to abandon ship in the icy waters.

The Discovery show Deadliest Catch highlighted the dangers of crab fishing, which continues to be one of the most dangerous occupations in America. Karen and I were glad to be just guests on the Aleutian Ballad and not take part in real crab fishing on the open seas.

Brian with a snow crab
Brian with a snow crab

We had the opportunity to watch as the crew hauled in crab pots. We learned about the different types of crab, and see demonstrations of how the crew works. Fishermen would drop over 150 of these heavy pots in the Bering Sea.

Since the vessel cruises the protected waters at Annette Island, there’s no fear of getting seasick during the three-hour excursion.

Wildlife And Scenery

While this tour focuses on crabs, there are opportunities to see other wildlife, such as whales and eagles. As we headed out into the waters around Annette Island, we spotted a lone humpback whale feeding in the shallows.

So Many Crabs And More

We were amazed by the variety of crabs we encountered. We saw king, snow, Dungeness, and rock crabs. Yes, they really look like rocks.

A rock crab
A rock crab

Two large aquariums on the vessel house Golden king crabs, prawns, sea stars, and other marine life. It’s an excellent opportunity for young and old to see, touch, and hold some of them.

Our knowledgeable crew informed us about the different species and their habitats. We even held some of the crabs and took pictures with them! Dennis “Big D” held up a spikey Golden king crab. However, we couldn’t hold this one due to the risk of injury.

One of the tour’s highlights was watching the fishermen pull up their crab pots and seeing the variety of crabs they caught. It was fascinating to learn about the process of catching crabs and how the fishermen ensure the sustainability of the crab population.

Sometimes, the pots had varieties of fish, such as rockfish, which the crew returned to the seas.

Later in the tour, we found a couple of fishing boats with massive nets out for the “catch of the day.” We waited patiently, with narration from the captain as they hauled their net in.

A fishing boat pulling up its catch
A fishing boat pulling up its catch

We were surprised to learn that fishermen wear protective waterproof gear due to the number of stinging jellyfish in Ketchikan.

Ultimately, they had a small haul of Alaskan fish amongst the thousands of jellyfish, which was almost anti-climactic for us! Regardless, they’ll return another day and hopefully get a big haul.

Another impressive demonstration was the live octopus. Octopuses are intelligent but inquisitive creatures that occasionally get caught while crab fishing. Big D held up a giant 30 lb octopus they called Mr. Slimy before returning it to the ocean.

Eagles, Eagles, Everywhere

The waters around Ketchikan are home to a diverse range of wildlife, and we were lucky enough to spot many bald eagles during our outing.

A flying eagle
Flying eagle photo that Karen took

For many guests, the eagle flight and feeding frenzy is the highlight and something we heard about before our cruise. I think Karen took hundreds of photos.

While we have a pair of bald eagles nesting near our home, we weren’t prepared for this exhilarating eagle experience. We saw hoards of bald eagles swoop down to catch fish and were amazed by their speed and agility.

As the crew tossed herring into the air, the majestic bald eagles would take flight and catch the fish with their claws. We were amazed at their skill and that there were no mid-air collisions.

While eagles make flying look effortless, they soon retreated to the trees once free food was no longer offered.

In total, I counted over a dozen eagles in the nearby trees, each taking their turn dining on the herring.

An eagle picking up herring from the surface of the water
An eagle picking up herring from the surface of the water

Many cruisers sail to Alaska hoping to see wildlife, but they leave disappointed. However, in this experience, they truly deliver on wildlife!

Crab Anyone?

At the end of our tour, we could purchase a light crab snack for about USD 40. However, that has changed, as guests receive the crab as part of a “VIP Package” purchase.

Final Thoughts

Our experience on the Aleutian Ballad was truly unforgettable. We were impressed by the professionalism and expertise of the crew. This wasn’t an everyday tour but an experience of being part of a fishing family, even for just three hours.

Although Lethin has repaired and modified the ship to accommodate 100+ cruisers like us, we felt like we were on an authentic crab fishing boat.

The stories they shared, like the memorial pot to the 36 friends Lethin lost to the job, made this an incredible experience, and we were humbled by every one of them.

As we headed back to Ketchikan, some of the crew posed for a priceless “selfie” with Karen and I as a capstone to the day. I have cruised to Alaska and Ketchikan many times, but the Bering Sea Crab Fisherman’s Tour will always be my favorite tour!

Crew member on the Bering Sea Crab Fishermen's Tour holding a king crab