Interview with River Monster’s Jeremy Wade

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Fishing may be a hobby to you, but for Jeremy Wade, host of Animal Planet's River Monsters, it's a way of life. Wade scours the rivers of the world for the stuff of legend, and we're lucky enough to bear witness. Viewers have seen him catch a lot of big fish, including a human sized Goonch Catfish, but most of the thrill comes from watching the hunt. We caught up with Wade just before the new season begins.

Photo courtesy of Animal Planet

 You have a very impressive resume (biologist, zoologist, writer, teacher, etc). What initially drew you to chasing monster fish?
I grew up in a little village in England that had a river running through it so I've been fishing from a very early age, maybe seven or eight. But England being a small country–not much water, lots of people–fishing became an increasingly popular thing and you'd just be bumping into more people by the river than you would sort of anywhere else, so I actually stopped fishing. Then quite accidentally I came across someone who had been to India fishing and that sort of planted an idea in the back of my mind. A few years later, I packed a fishing rod inside a bit of plastic drain pipe—and some other bits and pieces—and was there for three months. From there I just thought, “Well there's got to be other places in the world with interesting fish.” And it sort of took off from there.

Do you have any favorite locations?
One place that I have very strong memories of is the Congo. That's somewhere I've been to four times. It's not a place where normally outsiders go, which is what makes it very special. I did actually catch malaria there once when I was there and that wasn't pleasant at all. It is the kind of place you possibly enjoy more in retrospect–you go there, you have the experience but's looking back on it that you appreciate it more. There are obviously moments you enjoy where you are and how far away it is from the rest of the modern world.

Which is more exciting for you–the chase or the catch?
The thing with fishing is, I think that [there are] the same neural circuits that sort of play with some gamblers. There are some species, one was the Goliath Tigerfish,  that took me six years to track down and catch. But I find that I catch a fish and my thought is…”great, I've done that!” but immediately, I know there are bigger ones out there. One of the things about filming is that you need just one fish that's big enough and the director will be dragging me away. You know, I say “I want to catch a bigger one!” and they say “no, no, no, we've got a film to make”. So I think that yes, it is the chase–you get a bit of satisfaction with the catch but then it's back to the chase. 

What has been your favorite catch?
I think that would be the Goliath tigerfish in the Congo. The fish itself is so spectacular. It's a relative of the piranha and it is basically a scaled up might catch one that is five feet long and its teeth are inch long and they work exactly the same as piranha's–they interlock and they bite off clean lumps of flesh. Most people have no idea that something that size is anywhere in the world, and to see one of those things close up is incredible. 

And the one you've been most afraid of?
I've had some hands on experience with some very big bull sharks. One false move you could be minus a few fingers or worse. You've got to respect them because it's more about what they are capable of.

Photo courtesy of Animal Planet

What can viewers expect for next season?
It's every bit as strong as the first season–the size of the fish and the appearance of them. Monster is an emotive word. What does it mean? It is largely about size and potential behavior. And we do have some very genuine monsters there and some very dramatic locations. We start with a fisherman's tale that might sound very exaggerated..and in each case, there is a basis in truth that is every bit as dramatic and unbelievable and that kicks off the investigation.

–Aurora Wingard

Check out Animal Planet's River Monsters on Sunday April 25th for an awesome first episode. 

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