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Fishing for a big one

Lakshmi Palecanda, Aug 4, 2013, DHNS:

In conversation

Daredevil Jeremy Wade with one of the river monsters.

Sitting by the calm riverside and waiting to catch the biggest blood-thirsty fish
is Jeremy Wade’s favourite occupation. The adventure-seeker talks to Lakshmi Palecanda about his show, ‘River Monsters’


In the minds of some people, there are only two things to be revered: religion and fishing. For the rest of us, however, it is the most boring ‘activity’ ever. But what if you are fishing for the biggest and baddest fish? Well, that is what Jeremy Wade does on his show River Monsters, that airs on Animal Planet.

The series promises you tales of giant-sized bloodthirsty fish. Think freshwater Jaws here. Truth is, it does deliver. Fish that are enormous, with teeth like spear-tips that are capable of ripping a man or beast to shreds, are what you will see time and again on this show. So what was it like to be the big fish game hunter?

Love at first catch


Jeremy Wade grew up with a river right at his doorstep, and naturally fell in love with fishing. So he isn’t bored sitting on a riverside for hours doing nothing else? “I don’t find it dull because I’m the person who’s actually holding the line,” he says, “but the people who are filming it can find it rather tedious.”

Jeremy has done many things in his life — he worked as a tour leader, motorcycle dispatch rider, supply teacher, art tutor, translator (Portuguese-English), public relations consultant, dishwasher and newspaper reporter. Though he fished in his early life, he gave it up for a while due to personal reasons. Then in 1982, he came to India inspired by a magazine article about fishing for mahaseer. Having read Jim Corbett’s, Man-Eaters of Kumaon, at a very early age, he revisited those stories before coming to India to film.

Asked about the state of fishing in India, he gives a thumbs-down. “Unfortunately, India is quite a depressing place to visit for fishing because there are so many people there. Again, all these people need feeding. Add to that the problems of pollution due to population, and most of the rivers number very low in fish. Although, they do have big fish there, they’re quite rare, and you really have to look hard to find them.” Although some fish, like the sareng, are held sacred by Indians, the availability of fish in rivers is very low, as most of it goes into feeding the local population.

Acknowledging that this problem is not localised to India, Jeremy says, “It’s a worldwide problem, looking after how we feed ourselves, but also to do that with some balance, you know; do that and then leave enough fish for future generations.” As for repopulating rivers, he thinks that it is easier to deal with rivers rather than oceans since the jurisdiction on a river is more straightforward. “If they (the people of a country) can come up with some policy that everybody agrees with and then enforce it, there will be more hope for the future,” he says.

One with the fish

His best fishing expedition? Big fish are found only in inaccessible places, with little infrastructure, so memorable trips aren’t enjoyable at the time. But one trip does stick in his mind. “In Season 4, one of the episodes was in Botswana. I was following up a story, which sounded like fish a bit like piranha, but a lot bigger. I found this story very unlikely and started asking questions. In the end, I found a situation, in which pack hunting by large fish was happening,” he says.

Jeremy lists his experiences with the fish called Candiru in the Amazon, which burrows inside the flesh, as one of his worst. Dealing with the electric eel is also very tricky, even with protective rubber gloves, since the animal can generate a huge shock.

What Jeremy feels frustrated about in making the programmes is that for each episode they need to catch just one fish. “Speaking as a fisherman, I often know that there’s a bigger one out there, but they won’t let me try and catch it when I’m with the film crew. So I’m going to have to go back on my own to some of these places, and get the bigger one,” he says. Since a true-blue fisherman always talks about ‘the one that got away’, this frustration is very understandable.

So, what of the truly big one, which has never been caught, and is the stuff of legends: the Loch Ness monster? Jeremy is very practical, and says, “It’s very good for the tourist industry. I don’t know, I think what that illustrates is this enduring fascination with the unknown; when people don’t know what’s there, their mind fills the vacuum.” Loch Ness is an unusually deep lake, 700 or 800 feet deep. However, it is not very rich in food. “Britain used to have sturgeon swimming up some of the rivers, and I think it’s possible there might have been sturgeon in Loch Ness in the past and, although they normally keep to the bottom, they do also come up and bask. They can be very large animals, more than 10 feet long. So that’s my possible explanation there.”

The fish on this show are truly monstrous, and what is scary is that these live right alongside people in freshwater rivers. So if fish and fishing are up your creek, don’t miss this show every night at 8 pm, on Animal Planet.

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