Can you pick out a highlight from the new series?
One of the highlights was the fishing I did in Oklahoma in the summer, without any fishing tackle, purely using my hands as bait. The technique is known as noodling or hand-fishing, and is used for different catfish species. It only works at nesting time; the male catfish will find a hole in the bank or under a rock, which they will clean out. They’ll breed and look after the eggs and if anything intrudes on their space, they will chomp down on it. A normal reaction is to withdraw when confronted with that situation, but you have to try and overcome that.
In this particular case, I had to take a deep breath and disappear under water, thread my legs through a rusted car wreck – which I think a farmer had thrown in to stop the river eroding the bank too much. Someone was holding my ankles, and I was waiting for something the size of a dog to bite me, all of this in the pitch dark. I caught quite a large flathead catfish – over 50 pounds – using this technique.
What was the most difficult moment during the filming of the series?
That was perhaps when we went to the far east of Russia, looking for a very large, unusual sturgeon. This was a predatory sturgeon, with a mouth that is adapted to reaching forward. As with all sturgeon, it creates caviar, which means there is a lot of money involved. Everybody seemed very nice, but there is a lot of stuff going on under the surface – and as an outsider you are very prominent. There was no particular moment, it just felt edgy.
When were you most fearful in the recent series?
As with many of our programmes, this started with a fairly vague fisherman’s tale. We heard about some people falling out of a dugout canoe in southern Africa, some of them making it to shore, some of them not. When they were retrieved there were multiple bite marks – not from crocodiles, but from fish, a bit like what you would expect from piranhas in South America
In pursuit of the tiger fish in Botswana
So we went to the Okavango Delta in Africa, where you can find tiger fish, which normally don’t behave like that. We tried to find out whether tiger fish might sometimes behave in the manner of piranhas. We managed to track down this very rare multi-species feeding frenzy that they are part of. That was one time and place where I wouldn’t want to have fallen in the water!
Which places got under you skin most in the recent programmes?
My background is very much tropical rainforests. We did a lot in the earlier series in places like the Amazon and the Congo. Almost as an antidote to that, I quite like more open, mountainous regions. One place we filmed this series was Mongolia, where I had not been before. We were there when everything was in bloom – you’ve only got a small window where that happens each year. The rest of the time, it’s all deep frozen.
Jeremy Wade in Mongolia
The scenery was breathtaking – literally, you almost forget to breathe. The first time we saw the river rolling down the mountainside having driven cross country – the huge expanse of green, the clear river and the sharp teeth of mountains over the other side – was just incredible. It was almost like some over-the-top imaginary landscape painting.
Any disappointments in the recent series?
There was one fish we were looking for in India, which proved to be a real challenge. It doesn’t really have an English name – it’s a type of catfish, and the local name we heard most was sareng. Sometimes it’s not the fish that gives you a hard time, it’s the environment. A very important thing we do is interacting with locals, getting their trust, getting information from them and collaborating with them and ideally achieving something that neither they nor I could do on our own. India turned out to be very frustrating indeed. We cast the net a bit wider; I went to Thailand and caught just about every other fish going, but still wasn’t able to get this one particular fish.
What’s been the hardest fish to track down in your career?
Probably the Goliath tiger fish, which only lives in the Congo. It’s not well known as people don’t really go to that part of the world. It is in effect a giant piranha, growing to over 100lbs in weight. I first went to Zaire (as it was then) in 1985, spent two months there, and didn’t catch it. I went back five years later, didn’t catch it; went back a year after that and caught a medium sized one.
In the second series, we thought, let’s take a crew there – some might see that as over-confident, given I only had managed to catch one in three trips, and because travelling there is very tiring and potentially dangerous.
But we caught a very good-sized one of 78 lbs on camera – the big one I had been after for almost 25 years. I have been had some spectacular failures too, mostly when I went off independently, when I would go somewhere two or three months and not catch anything at all.
Any other standout moments from the new series?
One of the things I was trying to do was capture a bull shark in Florida. Most sharks can’t tolerate freshwater but bull sharks have a quirk of their physiology that enables them to. I was fishing from the shore at night in very heavy gear, wearing a harness.
Normally if you are in a boat, you can follow a fish around, but if you are on the shore, you have to pull it. I did catch a bull shark, and also accidentally caught two very large groupers. The bigger one was not far short of 400 lbs. It just reinforced that fishing is about the unexpected. You sit there waiting for one thing, and then something totally different comes along.
Fishing in the Zambezi Kariba Dam