The Flylords team was lucky enough to catch up with Jeremy Wade, master angler biologist, and tv host of River Monsters. He shares with us his passion for fly fishing and the low down on his new show Mighty Rivers.
Flylords: Tell me about the first time you picked up a fishing rod. Do you remember the first fish you caught?
Wade: I was 7 or 8 when I first picked up a rod, but I didn’t have a clue. I found some fish in about a foot of clear water and bombarded them with lumps of bread. Some months later I learned a few basics and caught an eight-inch roach, float-fishing from a semi-collapsed wooden bridge.
Flylords: Where did you grow up? As a kid did you have any mentors in the fishing industry?
Wade: I grew up in south-east England, fishing a winding lowland river. My first mentor was one of my school friends, who knew how to fish because his grandfather was a fly fisher. Later I was inspired by the village cobbler (shoe repairer), who caught some astounding fish on the simplest of tackle. He was deaf-mute, so when I visited his workshop we’d communicate with chalk on a small blackboard. No mentors in the fishing industry.
Flylords: At what point did you know you were going to make your living in the fishing industry? What did you do for work before this dream became a reality?
Wade: At about the point where many people are thinking about retirement. River Monsters was originally going to be just one programme. Somehow that became a season, and somehow we kept having enough ideas “for maybe one more year”. Before that, I’d spent 25 years traveling 3-6 months most years, including three times to the Congo and multiple times to the Amazon. I recouped some of the cost by writing but mostly had to get odd jobs. Originally I trained to be a biology teacher, but the reality of the job falls too far short of what it should be. I’ve also worked as an advertising copywriter and a newspaper reporter.
Flylords: Do you remember your first aired TV show? What fish were you targeting? What was it like seeing yourself on the big screen?
Wade: That was Jungle Hooks in 2002, later aired in the US as Lost Reels I believe. I was trying to catch an arapaima in the Amazon. I’ve always had trouble watching myself on screen (a bit like that common aversion to hearing recordings of one’s own voice) but I’m slightly less offended now by my on-screen persona than I used to be. The other feeling was a relief to be alive (see below). Even though I knew the outcome, watching a 200-pounder come in on a handline still had me on the edge of my seat.
Flylords: I know you enjoy fly fishing, what species is your favorite chase on a fly rod?
Wade: I came to fly fishing fairly late, and while I’ve been lucky to fish for quite a variety of species, each time has been just a tantalizing taster for a few days. I’d love to go after tarpon and arapaima again, but carp, bowfin, and long-nosed gar were also fascinating in their own way.
Flylords: Do you remember the first fish you landed on a fly rod?
Wade: Fly fishing in the UK is quite limited. When I was about 13 I got a couple of day tickets on a stretch of stocked river near where I lived and caught a brown trout of about ten inches. To this day I’ve still caught very few trout.
Flylords: How would you compare fly fishing and conventional fishing?
Wade: Mostly I tend to sit there with a lump of dead fish on the bottom, on ridiculously heavy gear. The challenge is in working out the right place. I like fly fishing as an antidote to that: it’s a hunt rather than waiting on a trap. But both are ultimately about reading the water.
Flylords: Have you had any near-death experiences on any of your adventures? If so could you tell us about one.
Wade: In 2002 I was filming aerials in the Amazon from a light aircraft when our engine failed. What felt like 3-4 minutes before tearing through the canopy was in fact 14 seconds, according to the one camera which wasn’t destroyed and kept recording. We brushed the tops of a couple of trees, then the lights went out. I remember a loud crack, an overpowering smell of fuel, then liquid pouring over me and rising up my chest. But instead of the fireball came the realization that we were in the water, which had been invisible from above. Miraculously, nobody even had a scratch.
Flylords: What are your favorite species to target?
Wade: Maybe arapaima. Not just big but in some specimens the most striking red/black coloration. In some places they’re quite easy to tempt but they can be infernally clever. And I love the spooky atmosphere of secluded Amazon lakes.
Flylords: Do you think social media has had a negative or positive impact on the fishing industry?
Wade: I’m not a great fan, but I think the potential is there. Right now there would appear to be a massive gap in the market, for some kind of social network but without the data mining and political meddling. Maybe based on small subscription payments.
Flylords: I know you have a new series coming out on Animal Planet, can you tell us a little about it.
Wade: Mighty Rivers has just premiered. It’s about the fact that big freshwater fish have suffered a serious decline in the last hundred years or so. As apex predators these species are indicators of the overall health of our rivers, so their absence should be cause for concern. Is it just over-fishing or a symptom of something more complex? And is there anything we can do about it? So it’s an attempt to make conservation palatable and engaging for a mass audience. Although numbers took a bit of a dip, compared to River Monsters, I’m pleased to say that ratings have been very respectable.
Flylords: Where is your next trip?
Wade: I’m forbidden to say, but we’re sure to be spotted and word will get out. It’s a part of the world I’ve been to before a couple of times, but I’ve only scratched the surface. Fly fishing definitely on the menu.
Flylords: Is there one species that still haunts you? Maybe something that is still on your bucket list?
Wade: Somewhere in the mountain rivers of the Indian subcontinent, there is a goonch catfish significantly bigger than the man-sized specimen which launched my River Monsters career.
Flylords: Favorite drink, movie, musician?
Wade: Good quality tea. Jacob’s Ladder. The two drummers who used to wake me up before daybreak in a riverside village in Zaire in 1985. I’ve never heard anything like it since.
Flylords: Have you read any good books in the last year you would recommend?
Wade: Being a Beast by Charles Foster, who goes to extreme lengths to imagine himself inside the skin of five different animals. No fish included, but fishing is about applying a similar process. Common Ground by Rob Cowen. An intensely up-close look at an “ordinary” patch of land, on the edge of a northern English town.
Flylords: For all the young anglers out there who one day aspire to be on the big screen, do you have any advice for them?
Wade: Every catch is a story. And what makes a story significant is the emotional dimension. Getting this across is the big challenge. Keep an angling diary, as a means of digging down into your fishing. This could be a video diary, but pen on paper takes you deeper.
Flylords: What kind of cameras do you guys use on your set, how big is the crew?
Wade: Main camera is Sony F55. Plus various others including Canon 5D and GoPros. The basic crew is five: director, camera, sound, assistant producer, plus a data wrangler locked in a room or tent somewhere. Sometimes a second camera/ drone operator.
Flylords: What’s next?
Wade: Not quite sure what exactly after this year, but it looks like I’m going to stay busy for a while yet.
We’d like to thank Jeremy for taking the time to sit down with us. Jeremy is currently filming his next project which will hit US TV screens in 2019 – Be sure to check him out on instagram @thisisjeremywade
Photo Credit @IconFilms