Some would call it an obsession, but for Jeremy Wade, it’s just his regular way of life. The 54-year-old host of Animal Planet’s River Monsters started fishing as a child growing up in England, and he now makes a living of traveling to Alaska and the Amazon, trying to find the largest, scariest, most man-eatingest fish in freshwaters around the world.
In an episode of the show’s second season, Wade goes to the Congo and tracks down the Goliath tigerfish, a creature so large (over 150 lbs.) and so terrifying (check out those teeth), that it doesn’t even fear crocodiles.
“That’s a fish that I have a history with going back to the mid-’80s, so 25 years,” Wade tells PEOPLEPets.com. “When I went fishing for them then, it took three expeditions in over six years. A lot of people try to catch the Goliath tigerfish and can’t even get into that part of the world, it’s so generally inhospitable.”
How does he manage to get his hands on these rarely-seen but highly mythologized fish? Wade, a biologist and writer who speaks “about half a dozen” languages, has spent his career learning the ways fish behave underwater, and learning how people in different communities work to try and catch them.
“It’s all about getting the right bait in the right place at the right time,” Wade says. “You can just throw something into the water and wait and wait and wait, or you can spend time thinking about it and talking to people.”
He describes his work variously as investigative and a process of intelligence gathering.
“You are following your hunch,” Wade says. “You’re trying to work out what is the creature behind these stories, what’s its behavior, where is it going to be. It’s a real problem-solving exercise.”
But once the case is closed, and the 300-lb. Wels catfish has been hoisted out of the water to be held up by two grown men for the camera, the brief experience with it ends, and Wade puts the fish back into the water.
“It takes on a rather unreal quality, and what I find then, is that I straightaway want to catch a bigger one or something else,” Wade says. “Something akin to the neural circuits that work in a gambler. You always want to go one better.”
Which isn’t a problem for any of River Monsters’ fans, who have gotten to see up-close what giant piranhas look like, and just how they might use their fangs to bite into human flesh. The bigger, the better.
Catch the premiere of River Monsters on Animal Planet this Sunday, April 25.