With the fifth season of River Monsters airing on Animal Planet right now, we asked monster-catcher-in-chief Jeremy Wade to give us a guide to catching ourselves a river monster. Don’t try this at home! Er…unless you live in the Amazon, in which case, be our guest.
Photo Courtesy of Animal Planet
STEP 1 – BE THE FISH!
“Something that I try to do is put myself in the mind of the fish. I know that sounds sort of Zen – fish have tiny little brains, their lives don’t involve a great deal of philosophy or anything like that – but for them, it’s really how to stay safe, and how to find something to eat, and occasionally how to mate. So if you think of it in those terms, and you think about where the fish is going to feel safe or find food, then you now know where the fish are. Fishing is often about putting the right bait in the right place at the right time, so once you’ve got the right place, you’ve really narrowed it down.”
STEP 2 – MASTER YOUR BAIT
“The right bait can take a little bit of experimentation. Most of the fish that I’m after are predators, so if you just put a big lump of bloody flesh down there, they’ll probably go for that. Fish, like people, are lazy, and even though they might normally chase something around to catch it, if you put something in front of it that actually involves less work, they’ll go for that. As I said, fishing can be about experimentation, so in a sense, it almost follows the scientific method – you have a hypothesis that there is a fish in a certain place, and you test that by putting a certain food item there and leaving it. That might result in you catching a fish, and it might not, but even if it doesn’t, you’ve learned something. That is quite important, you don’t just write it off as a failure – it’s actually contributed to the sum of your knowledge about fish. So be inventive, try things, and if something doesn’t work, try something else.”
STEP 3 – PACK GOOD TACKLE
“I tend to gear up for the biggest fish I’m likely to find, which can mean that if you get a medium size one, you just sort of pull it in unceremoniously. The trouble is, if you scale down then you might not get that big fish that you’re after. But set against that, fish, for all their tiny brain size, are quite intelligent. It’s quite humiliating to be outwitted by fish on a daily basis, but it happens to me a lot. They can sometimes detect a very thick bit of wire, or a big hook, so what you’re doing is, you’re using the strongest gear you can get away with. Sometimes you can’t get away with very strong gear, but on occasion I’ll use hooks that are three inches long and an inch across, and pretty thick wire, possibly half the thickness of your little finger. But these fish are potentially twice the weight of me, sometimes. Although that can be misleading, because most fish actually weigh nothing in water – we say the fish was 200 pounds or whatever, but in the water it weighs nothing. The reason they’re hard to bring in is that their force is proportional to the mass – it’s not their weight that’s the thing that you’re up against, it’s the fish’s engine.”
STEP 4 – REEL THAT SUCKER IN
“The thing that you’re doing is not normally a tug of war. I mean, it can be, but normally what you’re doing is creating resistance, so the fish will tire itself out. And the good thing about that is when you get your hands on it, it’s a bit tired. Some of these fish, if they were completely fresh and you tried to handle them, you’d possibly damage yourself, and the fish as well. You don’t want to take that too far – it is possible to bring in very big fish on very light gear, but that has the disadvantage of the fish getting really tired. The challenging thing for us with River Monsters is that we want you to actually see the animal that the whole program’s been about, but we want to get the fish back alive, too – it’s a very important process of what we do. In order to do that, you want to have it out of the water for the shortest time possible, so all the things you want to say, you want to say them really quickly. One take, then back it goes.”