Off the Charts: River Monsters

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“I love a fishing show.”

Words I never thought I’d say.  Or even consider.  Having grown up in the era of Bill Dance and Bass Masters and seeing balding men in fiber glass boats holding skinny fishing rods on calm lakes I can see why that would be…  But in 2009 Jeremy Wade changed the dynamic with the show River Monsters.

I first thought the show would be a Monster Quest-style hunt for cryptozoological creatures.  It still sounded intriguing, but a little kooky.  Then I thought it would be some kind of sensationalist program where they kill big fish and show them on camera.

I was pleasantly surprised that it was neither of those things.

The show is part detective show, part environmental show, part fishing show, part anthropological show, and part travel show.  It does all of those things better than almost any show I’ve seen.

Jeremy Wade is kind of the man.  It’s weird to say that about a fisherman given my TNT fishing show upbringing.  He’s a real outdoorsman (not the camo jacket, shaggy beard type).  Jeremy can live in the rainforest, with local tribes, or in 3rd world urban sprawl all the same.  He’s also a biologist, so instead of just fishing and looking at the big creature he understands its evolution, how it lives, and how it fits into the ecosystem.

He makes fishing a scientific extreme sport, both cerebral and physical.  He has strategies and it’s fascinating to hear how to go about catching different kinds of fish.  Where to set up a line (hearing him strategize about fishing in rapids, near the swirling slack, with an eddy nearby in case he falls in is pretty interesting.  The few times I’ve been fishing I randomly threw my bait in.  No wonder I’ve only ever caught one blue gill…); what kinds of hooks, baits, and lines to use; and most importantly his regard for the fish he’s catching.  He reveres them and doesn’t want them to come to harm.  He’d rather have them understood and respected the way he respects them.

He is as deferential to the people he meets on his journeys.  He wholeheartedly takes parts in the local customs, traditions, and superstitions.  He often says his logical side knows it should work…but the number of times he struggles with catching what he’s looking for, meets with the local shaman, then finds it are remarkable.

My favorite episode (except maybe the season finale of last season or the season premiere of the current season) is the pilot, before it was even called River Monsters, fishing for a monster fish in a fantastical river in India.  Seeing the creature he finally pulls from the river (and what he does to catch it) made for truly terrific television.

Jeremy Wade with the Goonch he caught on the River Monsters pilot.

Some of my favorite episodes are the ones you can’t find to buy unfortunately.  He produced a show prior to the River Monsters run that involved a trek into the South American jungle in search for an Arapaima.  We see the cameras rolling when his plane goes down in the jungle and…then see the journey continue after a day of recovery.  There is also a two-hour version of the pilot that is even better than the air version.

When the world lost Steve Irwin, an environmentalist of true enthusiasm, integrity, and charisma I wondered whether environmental entertainment would ever be the same.  Jeremy Wade is similar in many ways, his love for the environment, his desire to teach them to his viewers, and his utter stubborn dedication to accomplish his goals are all the same.  He does replace Irwin’s unbridled enthusiasm with a stoic intellectualism that is charismatic in its own way.

It’s one of the best shows on television.  If you haven’t seen it check it out.  It’s a rare gem on TV these days!

Check out the official website here.

Jeremy Wade’s official website.

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