At the age of 8, when Jeremy first started fishing on bridges over the rivers of England, he was quite scared to handle the first few fish that he caught because “it was this thing that came out of another world, and it was cold blooded and strange”.
In the 50 years since, there’s no doubt he’s come a long way.
He’s been nearly struck by lightning, survived a plane crash, narrowly escaped drowning in a sinking boat, been threatened at gunpoint by a drunk man because he was talking to the man’s ex girlfriend, and on his last trip to the Amazon, he was rammed in the chest by a 6 foot Arapaima, a species he says he would want to be if he could be a fish.
With these not insignificant life experiences in his not-so-little book of life incidents, one would imagine that Jeremy would be quite content to call it quits or at the very least, to tone it down a little. However, this is the man who recently fished Chernobyl and only occasionally considers changing his line of work when the various directors at his shoots (he opines that he isn’t really in charge on his expeditions), get a little too sadistic.
I would say the great thing ’bout fishing is that you can have adventures right on your doorstep. You can make discoveries, because underwater is another world, you don’t have to go halfway round the earth. I still get a kick out of fishing small ponds near my home, although I don’t get time to do it. But the feeling is sort of the same.
On River Monsters, a typical episode entails about 2 and a half to 3 weeks of filming and he usually only spends about 3 to 4 days of it fishing and “only uses about 5 rods”.
It’s a far cry from his younger days when he would spend months out ‘in the field’ with what would seem like just a little too much gear, duration not withstanding. It sure looks like fun though.
He recounts his most mind blowing experience that wasn’t shown on TV as
Possibly the view from the camp toilet in Mongolia. Which was just incredible, it changed every day. Literally breath-taking landscapes. You’d almost forget to breathe in Mongolia. And I say the view from the toilet because our director everyday took a photograph from the throne.
Someone once asked him for the number one tip for catching monsters
Number one is remember that fish are wild animals. Too many people just make too much noise and move around too much and that will scare everything away. If you’re quiet and stealthy you can find them very close to you.
Bringing this article back to his younger days, before River Monsters, Jeremy says he used to live in his brother’s spare room. These days, he sleeps in tents or if he’s shooting in a hospitable location, motels.
In his 20s, Jeremy did stop fishing for a while, he says, due to the realisation that his hobby to escape from people, wasn’t an actual escape from people. He eventually came across a fishing article in an Indian magazine that silently reignited his passion. He wrote a couple of magazine articles on his adventures and realised that it opened up the possibility of professional fishing.
Which brings us to where we are today, with an all new season of River Monsters, where this former “thwarted” teacher now educates the world about what lives in our lakes and rivers.
I recently had the opportunity to interview Jeremy Wade, host and star of River Monsters so here goes:
I think when we started off, there was a list of fish that were potential candidates to make programmes about. The thing is though, because river monsters is not a conventional fishing programme, the way in is always about some story. Not necessarily 100% true, but a story about someone being bitten, or being pulled under the water, or something like that but its not just me. Theres a whole team of people working on what might work.
What exactly is the criteria on what might work, is it specifically the story or a combination of the fish and the story?
Jeremy Wade: Well, it’s a fish that is potentially dangerous to people, and that might only be in very specific circumstances. I say a fish, actually a couple of times it’s not a fish. It’s something that lives in the water but not necessarily a fish.
Have you heard any stories about Singapore?
Jeremy Wade: I haven’t, no. If anyone has any, let me know
Has there been any place that you’ve been to, that you just didn’t want to leave? Where you felt something magical?
Jeremy Wade: When I was travelling on my own, once I spent 5 and a half months in south India and I spent most of that time camping besides the Cauvery(kaveri) river and I was camping on the river bank where elephants were coming down to drink, very close to me. That was a place at the time that I didn’t really want to leave. Well I had to because the weather changed, it started raining, the river came up and… time to go (he smiles reminiscingly as he says this).
What would you say has been your biggest regret. Fishing related.
Jeremy Wade: I don’t know if that heading would include losing fish, you know, the one that got away.
Jeremy Wade: A lot like all fishermen might, I try to minimise the possibiliy of the fish getting away but because it’s River Monsters, what I try to do is, I try to use equipment that will deal with the biggest fish that I’m likely to hook, not the medium sized fish, the biggest fish.
There was one, this is also in India actually, pre River Monsters. I hooked a Goonch Catfish, which was definitely bigger than the one that I caught on the River Monsters episode (Season 1, Episode 2; Or Season 2 Specials) because the one I had hooked, the water was still and it was incredibly strong this thing and I think I was starting to make some headway and it just cut the line. It took the line around the rock and cut the line.
Originally, River Monsters was just going to be one programme (one episode). It was about the Goonch Catfish and originally, we weren’t actually going to fish for it. What we wanted to do was just get underwater footage. Nobody had ever filmed this thing underwater and I was working with an American cameraman and we managed to get the footage that we wanted and in one underwater cave, that had about 5 to 6 fish in it, and one of the fish in there, in the words of this cameraman, was the size of a horse. That was the place where I lost this big one and I think that could have been the one that I… (he looks away and trails off).
(I interrupt him) Even if it wasn’t, it probably was. Right? If you get what I mean.
Jeremy Wade: Yes, yes, yes.
What has been your proudest adventure, or catch, off camera or on camera?
Jeremy Wade: I think possibly the Goliath Tiger Fish in the Congo. It’s a place that’s very hard to operate. It’s very hard to fish effectively because just travelling and surviving can take all your energy so I think fishing is like a lot of things; no pain no gain. If something is handed to you on a plate, it doesn’t feel like much of an achievement. (Like) a really big fish that’s sort of quite quick and easy to catch, but if there’s something that takes you a long time, lot of work, lot of sweat, which that certainly did.
You’ve said that culture and language isn’t really an impediment where you go, because fishing is a universal culture of sorts.
Jeremy Wade: It is. Even so, I do try to make an effort when I’ve got time to learn something of the language of where I’m going. I’m not a natural linguist but my motivation is I want to communicate directly with people rather than having an interpreter.
(I interrupt) But what I was getting at was, how prevalent is the mindset of ‘This is my spot. Go find your own’.
Oh. My spot? It does exist but I would say generally there’s quite a lot of generosity. Having said that, in the Amazon where fishing, as well as being subsistence, can be quite a commercial activity. I’ve noticed there, people trying to sort of send me off in the wrong direction, away from where they want you to fish.
So it’s mostly the commercial guys who chase you away?
Jeremy Wade: Yea.
If you could only fish for one fish for the rest of your life, what fish would it be?
Jeremy Wade: Possibly Araipaima I think?
How was it to meet the araipaima back at the river safari?
Jeremy Wade: It was great. They were keeping their distance a bit though.
They’ve heard about you yea?
Jeremy Wade: They weren’t as confident at the manatees though, they were really friendly.
What is your favourite type of fishing? Lure fishing, fly fishing, shore fishing, that kind of thing.
Jeremy Wade: The fishing that I do most of is just a lump of bait on the bottom. I’ve recently done a bit more fly fishing. Top water lure fishing is great and I think the way that the fish can somehow just come out of nowhere… the surface of the water is completely calm, you cast away in a few places, it seems like there’s nothing there, there’s no life under the water, and just from no where, something… it’s the explosiveness and the aggression.
What can we look forward to in Season 6 of River Monsters?
Jeremy Wade: What we do there is concentrate on one particular region of the world, and just go a bit deeper. So it’s all about South America which is where I’ve spent a lot of time.
There are 2 very large fish there, in 2 of the programmes. There’s me doing a little bit more fly fishing, for a large fish, that’s quite unusual. There is one river monster that is not a fish. That’s in Season 6.
When Jeremy isn’t catching fish with kites and spiders’ webs, or chasing after species he’s never caught before, he’s busy chasing after the ‘big brothers’ of those he has.
You can catch him and his monsters on Discovery from July the 8th, on Starhub Channel 422.
Shawn started fishing in 1994. He caught his first fish (an Ah Seng) on that very first trip to Changi Carpark 4 (before it was barricaded). He built up his fishing knowledge and gear over the years but still keeps his old gear, just like the memories.