River Monsters: From Adventure to Obsession

River Monsters is one of the most successful wildlife shows of all time. First airing in 2009 and running for ten whole seasons through 2017, the show follows British biologist, author, and angler Jeremy Wade as he travels the world in search of amazing aquatic creatures.

Jeremy Wade / Jeremy Wade / Jeremy Wade / Goliath tigerfish.
Source: Getty Images

Viewers quickly developed a fondness for the show, thanks to Wade’s charisma and the thrilling nature of each episode, in which the host would attempt to track down and catch a fearsome fish or intimidating marine animal. Here’s the full story of how it all got made.

An Exceptional Host

A big part of River Monsters’ success is down to the charisma, charm, and personality of its host, Jeremy Wade. In fact, many TV critics and experts agree that the show wouldn’t have been so successful were it not for the presence of Wade leading each episode.

A picture of Jeremy Wade.
Photo by Frederick M. Brown/Getty Images

One of the big things people love about Wade is that he so clearly cares about what he’s doing. Rather than simply being a host or presenter, he exhibits the spirit of a true adventurer and shows all the signs of someone who is clearly passionate about the natural world.

His Love for Nature Started in Childhood

So, when and where did Jeremy Wade become so passionate about nature and so interested in fish and marine life? Well, it all started off in his childhood in the area of East Anglia in the UK, where Wade was born and raised.

A dated picture of Jeremy Wade fishing.
Source: Pinterest

Wade was born in the city of Ipswich on March 23, 1956. He grew up in the village of Nayland, where his father worked as a vicar. The village had a river, the River Stour, flowing right through it, and Jeremy was drawn to the water from an early age.

His First Try at Fishing

Fans of River Monsters see Jeremy Wade as one of the best fishermen on the planet, able to catch even the deadliest and largest denizens of the deep, but it might surprise you to learn that his early attempts at trying to catch something were very unsuccessful.

A still of Jeremy Wade fishing.
Source: YouTube

In his own words: “The village where I grew up had a river flowing through it. So it was inevitable, I think, that I should be drawn to it in the same way that people born in sight of Alpine peaks become climbers. My first attempts to catch fish, age 7 or 8, were unsuccessful.”

A School Friend Showed the Way

Young Jeremy was clearly struggling to catch a single fish, despite having so much interest in the concept. Other kids of that age might have simply given up and moved on to a different hobby. Luckily, Jeremy persisted and got a little help from a friend at school.

A picture of a young Jeremy Wade after fishing.
Jeremy Wade. Source: Pinterest

He says that a school friend gave him some guidance about how to catch fish more successfully. He used his friend’s method and finally got his first catch. After that, in his own words, Jeremy “never looked back.”

Jeremy’s Parents Were Pleased

Jeremy wasn’t the only one who was happy about his newfound love of fishing. His parents were very pleased that their son had found a hobby that allowed him to get out of the house and into nature. It was a fine activity for a young boy of the time.

A dated picture of Jeremy Wade fishing by the river.
Jeremy Wade. Source: Pinterest

As time went by, Jeremy’s love of fishing only grew stronger. It wasn’t just the act of catching a fish that he found so interesting, but also the adventurous aspect of the hobby and how it led him to find new places and explore his surroundings.

He Started Off as a Teacher

After growing up, Wade obtained a degree in zoology from Bristol University and then proceeded to the University of Kent to obtain a postgraduate teaching certificate. He then worked as a high school biology teacher for a while, but never lost his love of travel and fishing.

A dated portrait of Jeremy Wade.
Source: Pinterest

In 1982, he made his first overseas trip, heading to India. There, he traveled into the mountains and fished in the rivers, catching a range of fish in the process. He also learned how to cope with limited resources, taking just £200 to last him for a 3-month journey.

Catching the Travel Bug

Wade’s trip to India had thrilled him. He’d had a wonderful time exploring the landscapes and catching some big, rare fish, like the Himalayan mahseer. After he got back to England, all he could think about was setting off again for more fishing expeditions.

An image of Jeremy and his crew in India.
Source: otterreserves.com

He wrote some articles about his experiences for a local fishing magazine and immediately started saving up his cash in the hopes of traveling somewhere else. “I wasn’t sure where at that point but I knew there must be other exotic fish out there, although probably not as well documented as mahseer, but possibly even more spectacular.”

The Idea for the Show Was Born

After saving up, Wade was ready to return to India in 2005, and it was on this trip that the idea for River Monsters was born. While chatting with locals, Wade heard stories about how people had been going missing in a nearby river.

Fishermen hold a Stingray of 530 lbs. in a still from the show.
Source: YouTube

He started to investigate, learning that the locals believed a giant fish was terrorizing their people. Wade instantly knew that this concept had the potential to be an amazing TV show, not only for folks who are interested in fish and fishing, but also for those who love mysteries, nature, travel, and countless other subjects. In other words, it was an idea with almost universal appeal.

The Very First Episode

Wade was convinced that his idea could be successful, so he started filming his investigation into the Kali River attacks, which were being committed by a very large species of catfish called the goonch catfish, also known as the giant devil catfish.

Wade poses for a publicity shot for the film.
Source: Animal Planet

Wade theorizes that the fish in the area had been feeding on the remains of funeral pyres, which were carried out on the shore of the river. This would have helped the fish grow and also given them a taste for human flesh. By the end of his investigation, Wade managed to catch a 161-pound goonch.

Traveling Far and Wide

After that initial episode, which actually never ended up being aired in the UK, Jeremy knew he was onto something. He set about traveling all over the world in search of other rare, mysterious, and deadly fish and river creatures.

An image from the bottom of the river.
Source: YouTube

For the first season of the show, his travels took him far and wide. He went to Brazil in search of red-bellied piranhas, headed to Texas to find an alligator gar, and flew to Germany to look for Wels catfish, one of the biggest species of catfish known to man.

An Instant Hit

The first season of River Monsters premiered on ITV in the UK in 2009 and was picked up by Animal Planet for broadcast in the US. It was an instant success, becoming the best ever premiere in Animal Planet’s history, with 1.3 million viewers.

A photo of Jeremy Wade relaxing on prow of a boat.
Source: Animal Planet

The second episode did even better, with a 39% increase in viewers, up to over 1.8 million. Every episode averaged over 1 million households, with the season finale attracting close to 1.5 million households. In the UK, too, the show was a big hit right away, turning Jeremy Wade into an overnight celebrity.

An Authentic Adventure

When asked why they love the show so much, many River Monsters fans state that they enjoy how real the show feels. While a lot of nature and wildlife reality shows are staged or controlled in some way, River Monsters is one of the most genuine examples of this genre.

An image of Jeremy Wade inside a river.
Source: Animal Planet

While filming the episodes, Wade and his team really did have to travel to the far corners of the world, chat with locals, carry out investigations, and work hard to try to find the fish they were looking for. Wade’s passion and commitment really shone through in each of the show’s adventures.

A “Fearless” Host

Many fans of the show also have a certain impression of Jeremy Wade. To many fans, he seems almost like an action hero, a kind of fearless daredevil who is ready to go into the deepest and darkest corners of the world in search of adventure.

A still from the show.
Source: Animal Planet

While Wade is undoubtedly a brave and bold individual, he admits he isn’t fearless, and he’s had plenty of scary encounters while making the show, explaining, “A lot of the things I deal with are pretty scary. Fear makes you pay attention — it’s about absolute concentration.”

Dealing with Electric Eels

When asked about some of the most dangerous creatures encountered while filming the show, Jeremy always mentions the electric eel. A large specimen is capable of delivering a shock of 500 volts, so extreme care is needed for anyone in the vicinity of these animals.

Jeremy Wade is attacked by an electric eel in a still from the show.
Source: YouTube

In order to handle eels while filming River Monsters, Wade had to take a lot of precautions. He teamed up with people who worked on power lines to get the thickest and strongest rubber gloves and boots in order to protect himself and his crew against any unexpected shocks. He also had a defibrillator on standby, ready to use in an emergency.

A Hit to the Heart

Another scary encounter occurred while Wade was exploring the Amazon in search of the arapaima. This is a very large fish, with the biggest specimens weighing up to 400 pounds! The one that Wade caught was significantly smaller, at about 80 pounds, but could still pack a punch.

Jeremy Wade catches an arapaima in a still from the show.
Source: Animal Planet

While Wade was handling the fish, it lurched forward and struck him right in the chest. It hit Wade in the sternum, right above the heart, and he says that he felt the pain for six weeks afterward, worrying that his heart had been damaged in the process.

Stabbed by a Catfish

The biggest fish seen on River Monsters often seem like the scariest and most dangerous of all, but the show has also proven that sometimes, the smaller fish are the ones you need to worry about. Jeremy found this out firsthand when a little fish did a lot of damage to him.

Jeremy takes a picture after capturing a catfish.
Source: Animal Planet

While exploring Argentina, Wade captured a small catfish. He was handling it when the fish stabbed him in the hand. He said that it was an “extremely painful” experience, thanks mostly to the fact that the catfish he was handling emits a kind of “toxic slime” to poison its prey.

Accidentally Hooking Himself

Even the most experienced and accomplished of anglers can sometimes injure themselves while working with hooks and other fishing equipment. And Jeremy Wade is no exception, as he admits in interviews that he has accidentally managed to hook himself a couple of times.

Jeremy Wade hooks himself by mistake.
Source: Animal Planet

“Once I was landing a small piranha… As I’m reaching to unhook it, it kicked and one of the other points end up in my finger.” Wade added that the director was actually pleased to have captured the scene on camera as an example of “a moment of real pain” to share with the viewers.

Extreme Weather Conditions

The cast and crew of River Monsters have filmed in all kinds of conditions while exploring the world, from Africa to Asia to South America. From arctic environments to harsh winds and rains, they’ve seen it all. But one of their most memorable and terrifying experiences involved a thunderstorm.

A still of Jeremy Wade during a televised interview.
Source: CNN

They were filming an episode when a big storm hit and a bolt of lightning struck one of the sound technicians. Fortunately, the technician wasn’t badly injured and didn’t even lose consciousness, but he did have a very bad headache afterward and lost the hair on part of his legs.

It’s Not All About the Fish

For Jeremy, finding extraordinary fish and catching them is only one part of the experience. Another big aspect of his adventures that he enjoys is the human side, and he has stated in interviews that he “accidentally became a bit of an anthropologist” over the course of his journeys.

A dated picture of Jeremy as he prepares himself to go fishing.
Source: Pinterest

He says that in the Western world, fishing is often seen as a hobby, but in places like the Amazon or Congo, it’s an integral aspect of people’s lives. By fishing with these people and engaging with them, Jeremy was able to learn so much about their ways of life.

Jeremy Has Been Threatened at Gunpoint

Unfortunately, Jeremy’s interactions with the locals weren’t always pleasant! During a Q&A, one fan asked if he’d ever been openly threatened by any of the people he’d met over the years while exploring the world. Jeremy revealed that he was once threatened by a man with a gun in Brazil after talking to the man’s ex-girlfriend.

A closeup on Jeremy Wade in a still from the show.
Source: Animal Planet

Jeremy was frightened but didn’t want to back down. So he carried on talking with the ex-girlfriend to find out what he wanted to know but started carrying around a pipe wrench in his shorts, just in case he needed to defend himself.

Surviving a Plane Crash

Yet another of the most extraordinary and terrifying experiences of Jeremy Wade’s life came when he was actually involved in a plane crash! This happened before River Monsters, while Jeremy was flying over the Amazon in a small, single-engine plane.

A photo of Jeremy Wade and his crew after the plane crash.
Source: Facebook

As the plane was descending, Jeremy heard a loud sound and the plane began to shake. He realized that the engine had suffered some sort of problem and the plane was heading straight for the trees. It crashed into the forest and fell into a swamp. Jeremy nearly drowned but was cut free from his seat and saved.

The Thing He Fears the Most

So, after having been through so many scary situations and encountering so many creepy creatures, what is it that scares Wade the most? Well, the answer might surprise you, and it’s not actually any of the strange and deadly animals that he has met along the way.

An image of a fish’s teeth in a still from the show.
Source: Animal Planet

Wade says that the thing he worries the most about is road traffic. He says that he has been on several journeys in which road conditions are terrible and locals drive around in unsafe cars, simply hoping for the best.

The Creepiest Fish of All

So, how about in terms of fish and river creatures? Which one does Wade dislike or fear the most? In a Q&A, he revealed that the fish that creeps him out most of all is actually the candiru asu, a small fish that lives in the Amazon.

Jeremy Wade holds a scavenging catfish in an episode from the show.
Source: Animal Planet

This “scavenging catfish” has the ability to take “circular bites out of flesh.” Wade said, “It just feels very disgusting to handle. It’s very slimy, and wriggly, and just looks creepy. They have tiny luminous eyes.”

The Hardest Fish of All

When asked about the toughest fish to track down in his entire career, Jeremy Wade has one clear answer: the Goliath tigerfish. This fish is only found in the Congo, able to grow up to 100 pounds in size and similar in many ways to a piranha.

A picture of a Goliath tigerfish at the bottom of the river.
Source: YouTube

Wade first went to the area as a young man in 1985 and spent two months there, but was unable to catch it. He went back a few years later and caught malaria, but still not the fish. At that point, many people might have wanted to give up, but not Jeremy.

Finally Landing the Big One

On his third trip to the Congo, Jeremy Wade finally managed to reel in a Goliath tigerfish. He was proud of the achievement but disappointed with the particular specimen he’d caught; it was only a mid-sized fish, weighing less than 50 pounds.

An image of Jeremy Wade fishing the Congo River.
Source: Icon Films

Jeremy still felt like he hadn’t quite accomplished what he was hoping for, so he went back once more to the area while filming River Monsters in an attempt to capture a full-sized specimen. Finally, he was successful, reeling in a 78-pound fish for the cameras.

Jeremy Spent Six Years Searching for One Fish

Jeremy had spent about 25 years of his life trying to catch a big Goliath tigerfish, and that wasn’t the only extended expedition he’s had in search of a single creature. He also spent six years trying to track down an arapaima in the Amazon.

An aerial view of the Anavilhanas Archipelago in Brazil.
Photo by Andre Pinto/Getty Images

Jeremy remembers being “a bit cocky” on his first trip to the Amazon and assumed he’d easily catch one. In the end, he had to go back again and again over a six-year period to finally reel one in, but he learned about himself and the local area during that time.

The Longest Fights

Sometimes, Jeremy is able to reel in the fish he’s trying to capture quite quickly, in a matter of minutes. But other times, the battle between man and fish can be much longer, sometimes lasting for several hours, in fact.

Jeremy Wade poses next to a giant short-tailed river stingray.
Source: Animal Planet

One of the biggest battles he had was with the short-tailed river stingray in season three. However, the longest of all came in season nine, when it took six hours for Wade to overcome a very strong and stubborn yellowfin tuna. That was one fight that Wade will never forget.

He Can’t Catch Them All

Even though most episodes of River Monsters involve Jeremy Wade successfully tracking down the fish that he has been looking for and solving the local mysteries with the help of science and logical deductions, he isn’t always successful.

Jeremy Wade poses for a promotional shot for the show.
Source: Animal Planet

There are times in which Wade desperately wanted to catch a certain fish but wasn’t able to do so. One such situation happened in India when he was looking for a fish that locals call sareng. Due to the fact that the locals weren’t very helpful, Wade was unable to find this fish and had to give up on the quest.

The Show’s Crew Saved a Castaway

The cast and crew of River Monsters have had all sorts of amazing adventures over the years, but one of their most memorable moments came while searching for the giant grouper around the islands of Australia. There, they found something they hadn’t expected!

Images from the rescue.
Source: YouTube

While sailing around Barranyi (North Island), the crew spotted a blue and white cooler box sitting on some rocks, which caught their attention. One of them joked that Tom Hanks (famous for playing in Cast Away) was going to appear, and suddenly, a real man did indeed appear on the beach, calling out to the crew for help.

A Life Was Saved

The team sailed over to the beach to speak with the man, who was weak and disoriented, desperately calling out for water. They gave him some water and helped him get his strength back, before listening to his story.

Jeremy Wade speaks to the camera after saving a castaway.
Source: YouTube

The man, known as Tremine, had been digging for oysters in the area and lost track of his boat. He became dehydrated and had spent two whole days on the island, waiting for rescue. Jeremy Wade said that it’s highly likely the man would have been left stranded if the crew hadn’t been passing by.

Climate Change Has Had an Effect

Jeremy and his team have seen and felt the effects of climate change firsthand while filming their show and exploring the world. In fact, it has had a direct effect on some of their adventures, making it more difficult or even impossible for certain kinds of fish to be found and caught.

A picture of Jeremy Wade feeding manatees and arapaima.
Photo by Suhaimi Abdullah/Getty Images

Jeremy has explained in interviews that climate change has affected river cycles, making them more and more unpredictable. It has also caused more flooding, spreading fish out across greater areas, making it harder to track them down. Not only that, but Jeremy says that fish sizes have notably decreased in recent years, too.

Wade Is Passionate About Preservation

A big part of the show isn’t just the thrill and excitement of finding big, scary fish, but also educating viewers about the different kinds of fish in different places around the world and how important it is to look after lakes, rivers, and other water sources.

Jeremy Wade speaks to his fans.
Photo by Suhaimi Abdullah/Getty Images

During an “Ask Me Anything” session on Reddit, Wade said, “Looking after our rivers is quite an urgent concern. But people need to know of the existence of these creatures before they can start caring about them.” That’s a big part of why he did the show in the first place.

Teaming Up with Scientists

Since he is so passionate about conservationism and the natural world, Jeremy has also teamed up with scientists and research teams on several occasions in order to help with various projects. He has worked with scientists to help catch sharks in places like South Africa and the Bahamas, for example, so that these creatures can be tagged and studied.

A photo of Jeremy Wade holding a shark.
Source: Animal Planet

He’s also helped scientists get closer to fish that are critically endangered in various locations around the world in order to collect samples, find out more about these creatures, and potentially discover ways to keep them from dying out, too.

A Very Diverse Audience

One of the more interesting aspects about the fans and followers of River Monsters is that the show has quite a diverse audience. Statistics show that 40% of the people who watch the show are female, and there are a few different theories behind this.

Jeremy Wade poses for a picture next to his fans.
Photo by Suhaimi Abdullah/Getty Images

Some people say that women like to watch the show due to the sex appeal of Jeremy Wade, while others simply say that the show is accessible to everyone, regardless of age, gender, or background, due to its thrilling stories, explorations of nature, and unique mysteries.

The Show Was Not Universally Admired

Like any show, River Monsters had its share of fans and critics. Some of the critics were more vocal than others, including science communicator Kyle Hill, who wrote an open letter to the creators expressing his concerns.

A still from the show.
Source: Animal Planet

Hill argued that the show was actually harming the reputation of certain animals and putting them in danger by “demonizing” them and using scary language to describe them, with terms like “monster” and “killer” routinely used on the show, making people more likely to be scared of these animals and try to hunt them down, rather than wanting to preserve them.

Jeremy Defended the Show

Jeremy read Hill’s letter and understood his concerns. He admitted that the show was guilty of sensationalism and used exciting language to make the adventures and episodes sound more exciting in order to attract more viewers. However, he defended the show against any claims of “fear-mongering.”

Jeremy Wade speaks on stage.
Photo by Suhaimi Abdullah/Getty Images

Wade wrote, “So while the programs do have a theme of fear, it’s a positive message: instead of hiding from the thing you fear, or trying to destroy it, you work to understand it and through understanding find that you can live with it.”

Wade Never Expected the Show to Last So Long

At first, Jeremy just hoped that people would be interested in following along with his adventures and finding out more about different creatures from rivers and lakes around the world. He wasn’t really sure if the show would be a success and he could never have predicted how big it became.

Jeremy Wade poses for the media.
Photo by Dimitrios Kambouris/Getty Images

Once it was clear that the show was doing well, he expected it to run for a couple of seasons, but no longer than that. He never imagined it would run for even four seasons, let alone ten! Fortunately, it exceeded his wildest expectations.

All Good Things Must Come to an End

Many longtime fans of River Monsters hoped that the show would run for many years to come. However, in the end, Jeremy and his team didn’t want to simply keep on making episodes until their ratings dwindled or their show got canceled. Instead, they wanted it to have a natural, fitting end.

A portrait of Jeremy Wade speaking on stage.
Photo by Frederick M. Brown/Getty Images

So, once they’d voyaged all over the globe and encountered pretty much every single “river monster” that they could think of, they decided to call it a day. In other words, the show only ended once Jeremy had seen and caught almost all of the craziest creatures out there.

The Adventure Continues

Even though River Monsters is now over, the adventure of life continues for Jeremy Wade. Since the show ended, he’s continued fishing, exploring, and doing his part for conservation and nature, as well as filming new shows like Mighty Rivers, Dark Waters, and Mysteries of the Deep.

Jeremy Wade stands next to locals by an Amazon River.
Source: YouTube

In 2021, Jeremy launched a brand new show, entitled Unknown Waters. This show involves Jeremy exploring the most remarkable rivers, lakes, and bodies of water on the planet, looking at the creatures that live there and finding out how they live and how they might survive in the future as the world continues to change.