River Monsters, which recently ended its eight-year run, was one of the most successful and beloved series that Animal Planet and the Discovery Channel has aired (sorry, American Stuffers).
It followed angler and conservationist Jeremy Wade on his worldwide hunt to figure out the truth behind local tales of dangerous, terrifying fish.
This almost always ended in him catching a huge animal and showing the audience that the people telling the stories are totally right to be afraid.
Then he'd let the creature go so that the legend could continue, which is obviously the right choice. We just hope that the show provides the people who still have to live there with the information they need not to receive a flying fish head-butt that sends them tumbling out of their boats.
Behind all of the education and adventure of River Monsters are several odd secrets about the production.
The show is already pretty candid about the unplanned things that happen on its trips, including the time in Suriname when lightning struck the sound guy. He was alright-- don't worry.
However, some crazy stuff about both the series and its star don't always end up on TV because editors have a job to do, and they're really good at it.
With that said, here are the 15 Behind-The-Scenes Secrets About River Monsters.
15 Authorities have arrested Wade as a spy
You won’t see this in any episodes of the show because it happened years ago, but Jeremy Wade has been fishing around the world his entire life-- and it hasn’t always gone without incident.
That doesn’t just mean that he’s fallen out of his boat or chosen the wrong bait, however. Those things have almost certainly happened, but other incidents have gotten a little more serious.
Wade says that he got into a bit of trouble when he was fishing in the Mekong River back in 1984.
Authorities arrested him as a spy and even subjected him to interrogation.
He doesn’t specify why they suspected him, but considering the political climate in that area at the time, with invasions and border skirmishes happening and the Cold War having everyone looking out for people who seemed too different, it makes a strange bit of sense that a British man might have raised some eyebrows, even if all he was doing was fishing.
We can add this to our running list of things that make Jeremy Wade one of the most interesting people currently living. If the guy’s life were a movie, we’d call it out for being too implausible because it doesn't seem like all of that could happen to one person.
14 Local bureaucracy often caused delays
One of the reasons why reality TV is so heavily edited is because reality is, more often than not, incredibly boring. It’s mostly just sitting around, and that’s especially true when events delay filming.
This happened to Wade and company when they went to the Congo River. The region is a volatile one, and the governments aren’t always as helpful or efficient as they could be.
It kind of makes sense, though. If we were in charge of administering a place with that much other stuff going on, we probably wouldn’t be super concerned about keeping a televised fishing trip on schedule.
In fact, difficulties in getting permits and even securing a boat took up about a week of the expedition.
Even once they were on the water, the crew had a few limitations.
This was because they didn’t have papers for the country on the other side of the river, which probably would have taken another week to attain.
Eventually, however, Wade got to where he needed to go and caught his subject: a Goliath Tigerfish.
Then, when he was trying to release it back into the water, it passed away. It was really disappointing, but at least it was consistent with the rest of the trip.
13 Permits weren't the only problems in the Congo
The River Monsters crew wasn’t just in a hurry to get on the Congo River because the local government was taking so long to process their paperwork. They also had some issues with local people.
This was because a villager had disappeared while fishing just about when Wade and his team showed up. This villager was also the chief’s brother, which made it even more of a problem.
The locals connected the two events — the disappearance and the arrival — and decided that the film crew had something to do with it.
Relations between the two groups were pretty tense for a while, but they subsided after the missing man showed up again.
However, the situation was actually worse than Wade or his partners realized. Some of the villagers were ready to take action to seek justice for what they presumed to be a crime.
One group blamed the chief and thought that he’d done something to his own brother, while others stuck with the “outsiders did it” hypothesis and focused their suspicion on the film crew. Either way, whoever ended up with the blame would have been in trouble.
Wade revealed during his second Reddit AMA that he didn’t find out until later that some villagers were planning on “dealing with” the crew, possibly with rocks.
12 Crew does not have a dedicated paramedic
This is obviously a bad idea, but Wade told Reddit in his first AMA that he travels so lightly that “we don’t have space in our crew for a paramedic.” This sounds like a really bad idea, and that’s because it is.
However, they aren’t quite on their own out there.
Most of the crew has some medical training, and they carry equipment to help with small emergencies.
So they can do dressings, deal with closed airways, and so on. Also, even though they’re usually out in the middle of nowhere and can’t count on an ambulance, they aren’t completely alone.
“We also have a satellite phone so we can get advice and inform our production company if anything happens, if we have reception,” Wade said.
“And the production company always asks two questions on the rare occasions we call them if there is an emergency: question one, is everybody okay? Question two, immediately afterwards, did you film it?,” he stated.
It’s good that the production company has the order correct there.
While Wade said that they didn’t used to film constantly, they got into the habit later on. It’s good that they did because you never know when, for example, your sound guy might be on the wrong end of lightning.
11 It was only supposed to be a one-off
It’s kind of hard to believe that after nine seasons and over 100 episodes, specials, and extras, the original plan for what ended up becoming River Monsters was just a single program.
That was “Killer Catfish”, which took Wade and his team to India to investigate a series of strange drownings in the Kali River.
Possible culprits include whirlpools and crocodiles, but the title of the episode kind of destroys the suspense for that part of the investigation.
Wade decides that this is caused by the goonch, a species of catfish that can grow to be human-sized or larger. Thanks to the local habit of building funeral pyres at the edge of the river, the goonch had developed a taste for human flesh.
We aren’t sure about that last part, honestly. However, it does make for some pretty interesting television, and Wade draws out his quarry by lighting a huge fire on the bank of the river.
The goonch shows up for the fire, expecting a hot meal, but instead some guy hooks it and shows it off to the world.
However, at least Wade let the fish go afterward, and they didn’t end up making the most of those hot embers. The one-off garnered a lot of attention, and eventually a show was made.
10 'Killer Catfish' is Jeremy Wade's favorite episode
We don’t know if it was because of the destination, the sentimental value of it launching his show, or what, but reportedly, “Killer Catfish” is Jeremy Wade’s favorite episode of River Monsters that he ever made.
It’s definitely a good story. The pacing is good, and it’s exciting watching the investigation unfold as Wade eliminates suspects and eventually figures out what’s probably going on.
The catch itself is also extremely exciting.
At one point, the “extreme angler” realizes that he doesn’t have enough bank left to pursue the fish, so he swims across dangerous waters with a single hand, all while still keeping a grip on his fishing pole.
Also, if you know about Wade’s life, which includes surviving malaria and a plane crash, you will discover that this is only about the fifth most dangerous and interesting thing he’s ever done.
However, it worked, and he caught the fish and helped secure nine more seasons of doing what he loved.
“Killer Catfish” has a lot going for it. And the rest of the series is fascinating, too. But it’s kind of a bummer to think that it peaked for the host at the pilot. That’s not to say that he isn’t clearly having a blast the rest of the series, but apparently the goonch was a tough act to top.
9 Wade appeared in an Asylum movie
The host of River Monsters doesn’t just catch fish with a rod and reel. In one, incredibly creepy case, he let a lamprey latch onto his neck to demonstrate how they operate.
If you’ve never seen a lamprey’s mouth before, you probably don’t need to, as they are the stuff of nightmares. It’s like a bottomless pit full of teeth with a barb that comes out of it.
We don’t know if this episode directly inspired “mockbuster” factory The Asylum (creators of the Sharknado series) to make a B-movie about the vampire fish, but they did-- and it even premiered on Animal Planet.
It’s called Blood Lake, and it’s about mutated, amphibious lampreys who attack a small tourist town.
In it, the head of the local police force wants the mayor to shut everything down, but the mayor is not open to it. Because of this, a lot of people lose their lives. This is basically the plot of Jaws, but it’s cheesier in every way.
Jeremy Wade appears about 17 minutes in — on a computer screen — as a “lamprey expert” who reveals that the aggressive animals have run out of food and will get nutrition wherever they can.
He also reveals that they can jump. It’s just a throwaway exposition scene that sets up the leaping lampreys we’ll see a bit later.
8 It was cancelled because it ran out of fish
This is maybe a bit of an exaggeration, as the show didn't really run out of fish, but it was a little surprising that Animal Planet would end one of its best received shows ever while it was still popular.
It did, however, seem like they were running a little short on ideas during the later seasons.
The eighth year, for example, dealt entirely with ocean life, and you don’t have to be a scientist to recognize that oceans and rivers are not really the same things. They don’t even have the same kind of water in them.
Even before that, Wade’s travels took him to sites like Loch Ness and the cooling pool outside of the doomed Chernobyl nuclear power plant.
Both of these episodes were good, don’t get us wrong, and he caught a normal-looking but incredibly radioactive catfish on that second trip, but when you sit down to watch a show called River Monsters, you probably expect to see some rivers.
During his second Ask Me Anything session on Reddit, which took place just before the oceanic season, Wade mentions that he prepared a list of fish that he wanted to catch when the show first started.
At that point, he said he’d caught most of them, so it’s not hard to imagine that it was just time to move on two years later.
7 Wade often destroyed his clothes
Shooting a reality show, especially one out in Nature under occasionally dodgy conditions, can cause some havoc on your gear-- and clothes are no exception.
Wade learned early on that he was going to need multiple outfits to keep looking neat and fresh throughout the shoot.
In fact, this lesson goes all the way back to the pilot episode, “Killer Catfish”. We’ve already talked about his search for the immense goonch catfish in that one, but between all of the investigation and fishing, you might notice something else: Wade’s shirt is slowly disintegrating.
He talks about this in the special episode “Jeremy’s Monster Story”, which aired after the series finale.
Wade says that while on later shoots, he brought multiple outfits along “for continuity,” he’d only brought the one T-shirt to go up against the goonch-- and it's obvious.
Between rough terrain, days of hard work, and the final confrontation with the fish, that shirt saw some tough use.
Wearing a ratty shirt while catching a human-sized catfish doesn’t really diminish the accomplishment, but since he pointed it out in that special episode, it’s all we’re going to notice whenever we catch footage from the pilot.
It’s distracting and takes attention away from a man swimming across a fast river with one arm while fishing.
6 The cameraman's journey
It’s not often that you see much from the crew shooting a reality show, even one as rough and rugged as River Monsters. That is, unless one of them takes a bolt of lightning-- that’s definitely going on TV.
However, remember that this is a show about Jeremy Wade going around to dangerous places and doing risky things, which means that his crew has to be right along with him.
That’s not always possible, though, as a cameraman reveals in the “Jeremy’s Monster Story” special episode.
There was a moment in which Wade decided to swim across the river, which was foolish for more than one reason. The first reason, obviously, is that he could have lost his life, which would have made terrible television.
However, second reason is that the cameraman still had a job to do, and that was pretty tough after his subject just did something that would ruin his equipment (at least) if he tried to follow.
“I had to scramble up a 45-degree hill,” camera operator James Bickersteth says. “I had to cross the bridge to get across the river and then run along the main road far downstream, go down a boulder-covered hill, and then cross a boulder-strewn field to get to where Jeremy was on the edge of the river.”
All you see in the main episode is the camera running up behind Wade just before he pulls in the catfish. However, kind of a lot happened before that.
5 The Muskie took over 15,000 casts to catch
One of the most tedious and frustrating pursuits on all of River Monsters was Wade’s hunt for the muskellunge in Ontario. However, it wasn’t really his fault because “muskies” are a notoriously difficult fish to catch.
Anglers even gave the stubborn beast a nickname: “the fish of 10,000 casts.” This is because muskies are so finicky and elusive that people typically only snag one through raw persistence bordering on obsession.
Thankfully, Wade did not give up. It didn’t take him 10,000 casts to catch his fish, though. Instead, by his count, it took him at least 15,000 tries, and he still didn’t hook anything.
He broke the monotony by bringing as many different lures as he could and using different ones to keep it interesting-- well, as interesting as throwing out a lure 15,000 times in a row without catching anything can be, anyway.
Eventually, he gave up and decided to regroup.
He decided to try to catch something smaller to remind himself what that felt like and in order to regain some confidence.
So of course, that’s when the muskie decided to bite. Not only was Wade not expecting it, but he wasn’t even prepared.
He wasn’t using strong enough line, for one thing, but somehow he managed to pull in the huge fish because Jeremy Wade’s life is just straight-up drama.
4 Shoots took way longer than they looked
In River Monster, shots took a lot longer than they looked, though this more or less goes without saying about all reality shows, since few if any take place in real time. However, usually the hour or so of television that we end up with covers somewhere around a day or a week of filming.
This isn't really the case with River Monsters, tough, and that’s the case for several reasons.
The first, obviously, is travel. It takes time for the crew to get where they’re going, even if they take private planes. Also, then they have to get through customs, maybe scout out filming sites, and then make sure everything is in order.
The experience with the red tape in the Congo shows that this isn’t always as easy as it sounds for the crew to get where they need to be.
However, even assuming that they get to where they’re going and figure out what Wade is going to catch right away, that’s no guarantee of a quick shoot.
“Killer Catfish” required quite a bit of prep work before any fishing ever actually happened. Even then, once Wade was finally able to fish, the fish refused to cooperate.
We understand, of course. Fish are wild animals, and they don’t care about Wade or his filming schedule. However, the goonches in the Kali River played hard-to-lure for four weeks before one finally took the bait-- and the crew was filming almost that whole time.
3 Wade still eats fish
Considering the fact that Wade does everything he can to let the fish that he catches free at the end of each episode, he admits that he still eats some from time to time.
We don’t mean the “feature fish” like the goonch or the muskie-- that would be a lot of food for such a small crew, and dealing with leftovers would be a nightmare.
However, Wade told Reddit that he does sometimes eat smaller catches, but that’s only “if there’s plenty of them in the river," which is pretty reasonable.
Because Wade goes to remote and exotic locations all over the world, though, this means that he isn’t just talking about perch or another typical kind of fish. Wade has actually eaten piranha before-- and he’s not afraid to talk about it.
“They’re not very good,” he said. “I do it more for the role reversal.”
Of the fish he does deign to eat, though, he does have a preference. “My favorite is a tambaqui, a relative of the pacu. The tambaqui has teeth a bit like a horse’s teeth used for crushing nuts ... they have a very rich, organic diet. Their meat is delicious,” he stated.
He could have stopped at “teeth like a horse” because that’s absolutely what we’re looking for in a meal.
2 Wade hates handling one fish
Do an image search for River Monsters on the internet, and you’re guaranteed to see dozens of pictures of Jeffrey Wade holding enormous fish. He’s smiling in each and every image because this is his favorite thing in the world.
However, it turns out that he doesn't love every kind of fish.
In the episode “Amazon Flesh Eaters”, Wade discusses two of the most terrifying species in the world-- and we don’t mean piranhas, which are pretty scary on their own.
No, these are two members of the candiru family, and if you’ve never heard that name before, we encourage you to finish eating before you look it up.
The smaller, more famous candiru is known for “infiltrating” unsuspecting male swimmers in the least comfortable way possible. However, its cousin, the candiru-acu, is somehow even worse.
They’re larger and more voracious, and their victims look like they came straight out of a horror movie-- and not a classy one. We’re surprised that The Asylum hasn’t made a candiru movie yet, let’s put it that way.
However, the candiru-acu’s fright factor isn’t why Wade doesn’t like handling them.
“I don’t mind handling fish,” he told Reddit in his first AMA, “but it just feels very disgusting to handle. It’s very slimy, and wriggly, and just looks creepy. They have tiny, luminous eyes.”
You can spot his revulsion during the episode, but we assumed it was because he’d seen what the voracious eaters had done to his bait fish.
1 Episodes are longer in the United Kingdom
River Monsters is a production of British television network ITV, where it debuted before an export to the United States. However, it apparently lost some footage on its way across the Atlantic.
It didn't just lose a scene or two, either. The versions of episodes that air in the U.S. are up to 10 minutes shorter than the “extended” ones that show on ITV.
American viewers are missing out on all kinds of animals that Wade showcases in each episodes.
Okay, we say “all kinds," but they’re mostly fish, obviously. However, it’s the principal of the thing-- pieces are missing.
We assume that the difference is because Animal Planet needs that extra space for more ads. That’s not to say that the series is commercial-free on ITV, though. Rather, the show-to-promo ratio is a bit smaller in the United States.
We aren’t necessarily saying this is a good or bad thing-- it’s just different. However, it is disappointing that some of the audience gets less of a show that they enjoy. It’s just how TV works over here, sadly.
Nobody complains about the Puppy Bowl being one long commercial break, but that’s because it bribes us with the cute dogs.
Can you think of any other secrets behind River Monsters? Sound off in the comments!