The untold truth of River Monsters

River Monsters is the hit Animal Planet show that follows adventurer and "extreme angler" Jeremy Wade all over the globe in his search for the rarest and most terrifying freshwater fish in existence. Where other nature-based reality shows are clearly staged, River Monsters is regarded as one of the most authentic, thanks to Wade's obvious passion and thorough knowledge of the creatures in the murky waters of rivers, lakes, and ponds. Here's a look at how the show came to be, as well as some interesting facts behind the fishing show that's somehow not a colossal bore. This is the untold truth of River Monsters.

Jeremy Wade used to just do this for fun

What started out as a childhood hobby turned into a lifelong passion for Wade. After learning from a friend, he started fishing the local waterways of his rural English hometown. But the hobby became too popular, so Wade took a three-month trip to India, the first of his international fishing excursions.

After the India trip, Wade longed to explore other remote areas for fish, which led to a life of simple living and odd jobs he'd do until he'd saved just enough for his next trip, according to Singular City. Wade even nearly died from malaria during one disastrous trip to the Congo, yet he returned to the remote African country multiple times. Eventually he started making a little money writing for fishing magazines, but his singular purpose in life seems to be simply to travel, discover, and fish. "You do get addicted to that kind of life," he mused. "Opening yourself up and being vulnerable to the forces of nature and whatever else is out there."

It took him 25 years to catch one kind of fish

Wade often talks about his favorite catch being the Goliath Tigerish, which is a kind of "giant piranha" only found in the Congo that can weigh over 100 pounds. According to an interview with The Telegraph, he travelled to the African jungle three times over a six-year period—this was pre-River Monsters—before catching "a medium size one." But of course that wouldn't do for a guy who's accustomed to having his photo taking with giant nightmare fish.

The show returned to the Congo in the second season despite Wade's admission that "traveling there is very tiring and potentially dangerous." Nonetheless, they ended up hooking a 78-pounder, which Wade described as "the big one I had been after for almost 25 years."

Climate change has affected the show

Water levels greatly affect Wade's ability to find and catch these monsters of the deep—in fact, there are certain times of year when fish are so spread out due to high floodwaters that, as Wade told The Big Lead, "they can be impossible to find." Some of that actually has to do with climate change, which Wade has attributed to making the annual river cycle "unpredictable during the past decade." And rising global temperatures have other detrimental effects on aquatic wildlife as well.  

Speaking with The Guardian, Wade said, "There has been a marked decline in fish sizes over the last few years. I've witnessed that myself and talking to people." As he sees it, his preferred catch-and-release approach is "the only way that freshwater fish stand a chance, worldwide." Though Wade happens to hold a degree in biology, this is admittedly not a scientific claim, although if combatting climate change helps to keep this guy pulling real-life horror movie props out of the water, we're all for it.

The show has been beneficial for scientific research

Clearly a conservationist and environmentalist at his core, Wade once stated in a Reddit AMA that part of his mission with River Monsters is science education. "And what is great now is having the platform to inform people about what lives in our lakes and rivers, which … was not on people's radar at all," he wrote. "And 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."

To that end, Wade also told Metro that he's "worked with scientists to catch bull sharks in South Africa and tiger sharks in the Bahamas," so they can be tagged and studied. He also said he's been able to help scientists get close to fish that are "under a particular threat," so they can retrieve specimens and collect DNA samples. See? It's not just about Wade getting that trophy pic next to a fanged fish that will haunt viewers' dreams for weeks.

The show ended because they basically found every river monster

Wade has said that when River Monsters started, he never expected the show to become so huge. "I was never thinking in terms of a series that goes on for four seasons or more," he told Singular City." In fact, he's said that the first two seasons were based on his previous 25 years of individual travel and study, leaving a huge question mark as to how they were going to proceed after that. But the show went on for seven more seasons, even dipping into more sensational waters with its Chernobyl and Loch Ness Monster episodes.  

So, instead of riding it out until low ratings or lack of ideas forced it off the air, Wade and his team decided to hang it up once they felt they'd wrangled every river monster out there. "Some shows can run forever, but our subject matter is finite," he wrote in a press release announcing the end of the show. "Ten years ago, I had a list in my head, which seemed impossibly ambitious at the time, but everything has now been ticked off—and then some."

It was criticized for 'demonizing' the creatures

"Science communicator" Kyle Hill penned an open letter to the creators of River Monsters voicing his concern over what he views as the show "taking up the torch and pitchfork as if these amazing animals truly were abominations." Hill's argument is that the colorful terminology used to describe the animals, like "killer, man-eater, assassins, and flesh-eaters," combined with the show's graphic reenactments of the stories of monster attacks, contributes to a wrongful perception which could lead to the "mostly harmless" animals being "feared or killed." 

"If you reach into the mists of pseudoscience just to pull out some good ratings, while at the same time demonizing some of the most astounding subjects of biology I have ever seen on the end of a fishing line," warned Hill, "it won't be long until the only monsters out there will be us." That's pretty dramatic, but in fairness to Hill, he did give Wade his dues as being "incredibly concerned for the well-being of these fish."

Wade responded to Hill, admitting to the sensationalism, but saying it's intentional in order to reach "a very wide and diverse audience." Specifically addressing Hill's claims of fear-mongering, 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." It boils down to competing for eyeballs against programming with titles like Naked and Afraid. After all, is the average viewer going to be more apt to check out an episode called "Guy Goes Fishing Again: Part 47" or one called "Alaskan Horror"? It's really not that complicated. 

Wade's one true fear is on land

Over the course of his adventurous life, Jeremy Wade has contracted malaria, had a gun pulled on him, and been interrogated by authorities on suspicion of spying—and that was all before River Monsters. Since then, he's been bitten, jabbed, and rammed in the chest by an 80-pound arapaima in the Amazon—so hard that his heart was bruised. A sound guy on the show was even struck by lightning in one episode, which they managed to capture on camera.

But when asked by Wanderlust what the biggest danger is when "going after these big fish," Wade had a surprising answer. "The thing that I worry most about is road traffic," he said. "Indian mountain roads, for instance. No tread on the tyre [sic], a driver whose belief is that it is karma that will decide his fate, not the state of his vehicle." Cool, so this TV crew literally almost dies on the way to hunting massive fish that could kill them. Insane.

The one fish that totally grosses Wade out

During his Reddit AMA, Wade revealed, somewhat unbelievably, that he's most creeped out by the Candiru Asu—and not the one that's been known to "penetrate the urethra of a human being" and can only be removed by surgery. It's in the same family, but a little larger—Wade estimates "about the size of a finger." 

Describing it as a "scavenging catfish in the Amazon" that "takes circular bites out of flesh," Wade wrote, "It just feels very disgusting to handle. It's very slimy, and wriggly, and just looks creepy. They have tiny luminous eyes." He doesn't mind grabbing flesh-eating piranhas or the freshwater sawfish whose mouth literally looks like a hedge-trimmer, but he's skeeved out by a tiny little thing with creepy eyes. 

The show started with a documentary

As previously mentioned, Wade wasn't specifically (ahem) angling for a TV show when he started documenting his worldwide fishing expeditions; according to Singular City, he "saw the potential of TV but didn't know how to make something happen." It was only after a producer saw a newspaper photo of Wade holding a monster fish from the Amazon that he got his first shot—a 2002 documentary called Jungle Hooks, during which he returned to the Amazon and captured a 200-pound arapaima.

Jungle Hooks also captured a harrowing plane crash that Wade and his crew survived after their single-engine craft went down in the trees of the rainforest after an explosion resulted in a total loss of power. A few years later, Wade got the greenlight for a limited series based on Jungle Hooks, which resulted in a trip to India where his capture of a 60-pound gooch eventually caught the eye of Animal Planet. The rest is history. 

A cameraman refused to film an injury Wade received

River Monsters is known for its dramatic reenactments of supposedly terrifying and sometimes deadly encounters people have had with the monstrous freshwater giants. Part of the drama of the show is that suggestion that Wade and his crew could be seriously injured or die in pursuit of their prey, which is why Wade was so surprised during the first season when a cameraman refused to shoot an injury he sustained during production.

In an interview with TV and City, Wade said one of his "most dramatic injuries" was never recorded, because the cameraman basically freaked out. "We've got real blood, we're making a program about bull sharks," he recalled, "and he was just saying 'no you're hysterical, we've got to get you to a hospital.'" In fairness to the cameraman, Wade's injury was a result of getting his hand "shut in the door of a vehicle," so it doesn't exactly sound fishing-related. Nevertheless, they now rely on a five-to-seven second "preroll" function of the cameras, which gives them the ability to recapture those moments before the record button is even pressed. Wade may be an expert fisherman, but he also seems to have learned a thing or two about making compelling TV. 

40 percent of the show's audience is female

One of the most remarkable things about River Monsters is the diversity of the audience. Normally, fishing show audiences are limited to dedicated fishing aficionados and people in full body casts whose caretakers have cruelly left the remote just out of reach. But this isn't the case at all with River Monsters—according to Singular City, its audience is 40 percent female. 

The speculation here is that the drawing power is silver fox Jeremy Wade, whose rugged good looks have generated a number of Facebook fan pages like "Jeremy Wade Shirtless." As far as we can tell, it doesn't actually feature any shirtless photos of Wade, but it does have this photo of him dramatically pointing at Africa on a world map while wearing a sweater featuring a fish leaping out of the water on the back.

Wade has a more humble opinion of the show's broader appeal, telling Real Screen, "We decided early on to go at this as a bit of a detective story. We're also showcasing different areas of the world and different people, which audiences are interested in."

As of 2016, Wade still didn't have his own house

With Wade traveling almost year-round in search of the world's largest and scariest marine life, it's probably not a huge surprise that up until 2016, he didn't own a home. But he's taken his minimalist approach to another level by not even renting his own apartment. According to his brother, Martin, who spoke with Singular City in April of 2016, Wade was actually living "in a couple of spare rooms in the home of a friend" at the time. 

Granted, Wade was in the process of building a home at the time of the interview, but Martin also said of his famous brother, "He won't accept the way we are pushed in the direction of being consumers and exhorted to spend money and accumulate things. He just doesn't believe in that." 

Wade and the crew are trained to deal with medical emergencies

Given that many River Monsters locations are remote jungle regions, the danger posed by injuries is heightened even further. In his Reddit AMA, Wade wrote that they're often in places with "no emergency services," so both he and the crew are trained for those type of situations. "We have very small trauma packs which will include dressings, nasopharyngeal tubes for airways, epipens, those kind of things, just basic simple stuff," he wrote. "We also have a satellite phone so we can get advice and inform our production company if anything happens, if we have reception." 

That all makes sense, given the circumstances, but then Wade tacked on this little tidbit of info: "And the production company always asks 2 questions on the rare occasions we call them if there is an emergency: question 1 is everybody okay? question 2, immediately afterwards, did you film it?" Classy, Animal Planet. Real classy.