He was looking for giant stingrays, but had no idea he’d catch the mother lode.
Animal conservationist and TV personality Jeff Corwin, who’s currently in Thailand filming Ocean Mysteries for ABC, landed what is being hailed as the largest freshwater fish ever caught – an 800-Lb., 14-Ft. long river stingray who lives in the murky Mae Klong river.
“We had spent a few days trying to pull it off, but had no idea we’d capture the largest freshwater fish ever,” Corwin tells PEOPLE of the experience. “It’s one of the highlights of my career.”
Nabbing the giant beast was no easy feat. The group used a 300-Lb. fishing line, giant soda bottles for bobbers and snakefish for bait.
Once the ray was on the line, it took five men several hours to get it to the top, where it was then secured in an underwater pen so it could be measured before being released.
“We knew we had something big, but we didn’t realize how big,” Corwin says. “I actually didn’t appreciate how big it was until I was next to it. The scientist I was with started having heart palpitations. You just feel really small. It’s an ancient leftover from a prehistoric time.”
Corwin, who is studying the giant rays so he can help conserve them, says the scary part was securing the creature’s poisonous barb.
“It looks like a jagged letter opener and is covered in venom,” he says. “So first thing we did was wrap the spine with 20 feet of surgical tape. Then we could take a deep breath.”
Corwin says while it was thrilling to catch a record-breaking fish (who turned out to be pregnant!), the real joy was letting her go.
“It’s amazing the evolutionary story of how this animal survived hundreds of millions of years,” Corwin says. “To then see it swim off in the 21st century, when we have all this technology it’s just nice to know there are still groundbreaking scientific discoveries to be made that will ultimately help this mystery of the deep.”