Jeremy Wade’s Unreal World of River Monsters

River Monsters – Book Review by Mark Hume

True Stories of the Ones That Didn’t Get Away. Jeremy Wade, host of River Monsters on Animal Planet. Da Capo Press. US $26; Cnd $30.

Jeremy Wade has just about as much fun fishing as you possibly could without getting killed. Not that he hasn’t come close a few times. Actually, given the dark waters he often swims in, he may have come a lot closer to getting eaten, or at least badly mauled, a lot more times than even he can guess.

As host of the popular television series, River Monsters, of course he has to take risks. It is good for the ratings. But reading this lively and well written account of his adventures you pretty quickly realize he’d be doing this stuff anyway, even if he wasn’t getting trailed by a camera crew. Television, it’s pretty clear, is just a way to pay the bills while he chases around the planet for the biggest, meanest, most dangerous and most exciting fish he can find. If you can call some of these things fish, that is. With names like Goonch, Wels and Bols kata (a name that sounds scarily like balls cutter for good reason) you have to wonder. Some of them really are monsters, and not just in size but in attitude. Take the Goliath Tigerfish, for example, which earned it’s name one suspects because it has teeth like a tiger. Often people who see the book cover, which shows the author holding a fish with enormous, rapier-like teeth, express disbelief that it’s real. But it is – and yes, it really does have giant teeth, all the better to eat you with.

River Monsters isn’t about fly fishing and some may wonder why it is reviewed here. The simple truth is, this is a book that will appeal to anyone who fishes. If you ever stared down between the planks on a dock as a kid, watching with fascination as fish materialized and vanished in the shadows, you will like Jeremy Wade and the tales he tells. He describes himself as a biologist and fishing detective, and others have called him “the greatest angling explorer of his generation.” That he is, and a bit of showman too, but more than anything else I think Jeremy is just a guy who loves fish and who has never become bored with the great sport of angling. It’s true most fly fishermen would never want to fish with the big, stinky gobs of bait, or big spoons he often uses, not to mention the thunderstick rods he uses to subdue his catch, but most of us would be thrilled to hook any of the fish that he tracks down and pulls out of distant, murky waters. He has a blast doing it and it is hard not to get caught up in the sense of adventure.

One might expect a book by a television host to be self aggrandizing and shallow. But River Monsters is neither. Jeremy Wade has done his homework on the biology and he has worked hard for the amazing fish he’s caught. His story is inspiring really, for though most of us may never pursue any of the species in this book, the great stories about how they were caught, and about how much he put into the chase, serve as a reminder of how fun and exciting this sport is – and of how much more there is for us all to discover.