Fishipedia Top 5: Jeremy Wade’s River Monsters

February 9th, 2012| No Comments

Extreme angler and presenter of hit show River Monsters tells Fishipedia about his top captures

Fishipedia Top 5: Jeremy Wade's River MonstersNothing grabs our attention like tales of creatures from the deep – unseen killers lurking in the depths, and beings that inhabit a world just at the edge of human understanding. River Monsters is proof of that – now three series to the good, it’s become a global success and made a star of its host, Jeremy Wade. The one-time biology teacher has come a long way. Travelling the globe, tracking down monster fish in its furthest reaches, cheating death along the way – it’s all in a day’s work for Mr Wade. As he gets to work on the fourth season of River Monsters, we were lucky enough to track him down and get him to choose his all-time Top 5 river monsters…

The arapaima (The Amazon)

I spent six years trying to catch my first arapaima. This is a fish that can be incredibly intelligent, and if they’re being hunted by nets and harpoons and whatnot they become very hard to tempt to a bait. Having fished in the Congo, I thought “I know all about rainforests, all I’ve got to do is pick a remote lake, stick a bait in and away we go”… but it took me six years.
It was worth it. The colouration of arapaima can be amazing – I’ve seen some that are jet black with this cherry red sprinkled over them. They’re beautiful in their way. The point we made on the programme was that, although they’re big, people don’t think of them as dangerous because they haven’t got big teeth. But they are just so powerful – they kill each other using just their heads. I was on the receiving end of one whacking me in the chest and no exaggeration, I was still feeling it six weeks later.

Goliath tigerfish (Congo River)

“A sumo-sized monster with inch-long teeth capable of cutting clean, six-pound mouthfuls of meat from its prey, usually with fatal results” (River Monsters, Orion Publishing)
As with a lot of things, the sense of achievement you get is proportionate to the amount of effort you put in – and that was the case with the goliath tigerfish.
The thing with this fish is that it lives in an area that’s just so hard to get to, and what you’re trying to do is get to the water with enough physical and mental energy to get a line in. Sometimes you haven’t even got that. Once you actually get to the river in the Congo, it’s fantastic. You’re not going to see any other outsiders. It has had quite a bit of pressure from local fishermen, but I think it’s as close as you can get to untouched water nowadays.

The goonch catfish (Kali River, India)

“I picture the fish in the boiling depths, shouldering its way through lightless water – the great broad head filled with teeth and the thick muscular body trailing tentacles from every fin” (River Monsters, Orion Publishing)
We normally just have two weeks to actually film. Of that, the amount of time fishing is sometimes just a few days, so the pressure’s on. Sometimes we don’t get what we went for and we might have to go back, or stay on with one cameraman. The goonch was, so far, the hardest one to get. We spent a lot of time fishing with no results, we then got a small one which wasn’t really good enough. The thing about the goonch is that if you can get into a place where you can present a bait well, if they’re in the mood to feed, you’ll know about it pretty soon. If nothing’s happened in a day or so, then you can forget it.
I fished myself into oblivion in one place. We were going round the clock with nothing happening, total sleep deprivation, before we finally got the one we wanted. Like the tigerfish, it came after a lot of hard work.

The bull shark

Not a river fish in most people’s book, but they have this interesting physiological quirk which enables them to swim into fresh water and thrive hundreds of miles from the sea. Even if you know they’re there, every time I get one out it just doesn’t compute.
I caught a couple in a river in South Africa which were among the biggest male bull sharks ever recorded anywhere – and they were up a river. Both were up around 500lbs, just short of 10 feet long. One of them took about three and a half hours to bring in, and the boat was five miles further up the river by the time we were able to drag it onto the bank. That was very memorable.

Alligator gar

In the fossil record they’re all over the place, but one of their last strongholds now is Texas, right under the nose of a very developed centre of population in a very developed part of the world. It’s just an incredible looking thing. Part of that is down to its scales which are not like normal fish scales – it’s more like a heavy coat of what is basically bone. They look a bit like a crocodile that’s had its fins chopped off and had fins put on instead. The other interesting thing that it shares with the arapaima is that they’re both air breathers – that’s significant because it explains why you get very big ones living in fresh water. As well as needing food, large animals need oxygen – if it can come up to the surface and get its air that way, it’s going to survive where other species wouldn’t. Of course, the drawback of that is that Texans then go after them with bows and arrows. I would really like to know just how big they grow – they’re reliably recorded up to about 10 feet, but I’ve heard quite a few stories about 14-footers. In weight terms, that would be enormous – it’s really tantalising to imagine, if they were left alone, just how big they could become.

>> Hungry for more? Check out our full interview with Jeremy Wade here.

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