River Monster presenter Jeremy Wade explains how casting a line can snag you a better understanding of your travel destination
In regions such as the Amazon and Congo, where fishing is central to people’s lives and survival, fishing with the locals isn’t just about fish; it’s also a unique way to see beneath the surface of human life. You become an anthropologist in a way that isn’t possible for a non-participating observer.
Sometimes fishing doesn’t require any tackle – just bait. In summer, North American flathead catfish (which grow to over 100lb) will grab your hand or foot if it gets too close. Then it’s down to who can pull the hardest, or how long you can hold your breath, if you happen to be underwater.
Although most river “monsters” are now much rarer than even a half-century ago, there are still fish out there that are potentially dangerous to people – by biting, drowning, stabbing, poisoning, paralysing or penetrating. But the chances of falling foul of them are very small. It’s all about being in the wrong place at the wrong time – in other words, it’s our responsibility to understand their behaviour and to coexist with them. This is one reason I put them back alive.
When in Mongolia, do as the Mongolians do: make offerings to the river spirits, to charm the fish into taking a bait. But in the Solomon Islands, swearing at the fish will annoy them into biting.
If you want to go swimming, first check what the locals do. If they don’t get in the water (as, for example, on a short stretch of the Kali River, on the India-Nepal border) there could be a good reason. On the Kali it’s fear of a giant ‘goonch’ catfish that’s believed to drag people under. But in parts of the Amazon, people will happily and safely bathe among piranhas.
Jeremy Wade has been travelling to the world’s remoter rivers and lakes for 30 years. Season four of River Monsters starts Tuesday 1 January at 6pm on ITV1.
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