It all began about 40 years ago. Hopping on an Ariana Afghan DC-10 bound for India, with “very little money and very little idea about how to survive in a foreign land,” Jeremy Wade first ventured into the unknown — all for the love of fishing.

“I found out about a fish that lives in India, and I just had this idea that I’d like to go and catch that fish,” the British TV host, biologist and “fishing detective” recalled to The STAR in a recent Zoom interview.

This was the Goonch catfish, which earned a reputation as the deadliest fish in the world.

“It was a bit of a baptism of fire. It was trial and error. I just turned up and made lots of mistakes but managed to survive.”

From that experience, Jeremy realized there’s a whole world out there teeming with remarkable creatures living in the water and waiting to be explored.

His foray into media work started with magazine articles about these fishing adventures. “Nobody has written much about these things, nobody has really shown them on TV. (I thought then) maybe in the long run, there is a job somewhere… a way I could combine my interest with making a living.”

This “turning point” led him to a career in wildlife television via shows, including the hugely-successful River Monsters that ran for nine seasons, as well as Mighty Rivers and Dark Waters.

“It took a very, very long time to get there. Basically, I did about 25 years of unpaid research, traveling to different places. But that meant that when finally, I’ve got a TV show, I have like huge mental files of information. I’ve done so much of the research. So off we go, you know. Once it started, it got some good momentum.”

Unknown waters

Jeremy, now touted as the “best-known explorer of the underwater world,” is still at it with Unknown Waters.

In his brand-new series, Jeremy offers an evolved version of his River Monsters and previous shows, still carrying a “gentle conservation message” as viewers don’t want to be “lectured,” promising “a little bit more science in there, but not heavy, boring science that sends people to sleep,” and showcasing “big fish, ugly fish, dramatic fish, weird fish, exotic places, interesting people.”

That’s putting it “mildly” though. The series actually sees Jeremy searching for the ferocious predator that is the Amazon bull shark and finding out what it can reveal about the health of the river. He also goes on a fishing trip through Iceland’s river system for another elusive fish, the Atlantic Salmon. He also travels the length of Kenya and visits two gigantic lakes to look for one of the largest freshwater fish in the world, the giant Nile perch.

“You’ve got three very different places, very different fish. In a sense, what I’m doing is I’m telling the story of the place through the fish,” he said.

Jeremy further described the show as a “new take on travel.”

“Fish was the thing that got me into traveling around the world and that’s the way that I sort of see the world. The obvious ways of doing travel are, you know, food is a very good one. Music is a good one. Football is a good one. Fish is actually a brilliant one,” he said.

“And you will always find people who are interested in fish. It’s like a subculture and those people will accept you immediately and what they will do, they will show you the place. If it was just you, on your own, you would feel like an outsider. But if you’re accepted by the people, they show you the place. It’s sort of like a new way of looking at the world through fish,” he added.

Pandemic challenges

Jeremy has been to the riskiest areas — he was once arrested and suspected as a spy in Southeast Asia — and faced the most dangerous fish species. The COVID situation, however, posed a whole new challenge to his show’s filming process.

Originally, he and his team wanted to produce a one big series focused on the world’s greatest river system, the Amazon, but the pandemic “came along and took the world by surprise… and we couldn’t go back to Brazil.”

“It became a case of, where can we go? Is there a way we can go? We’re looking at the world, where is there a story and where can we physically, legally and safely go and film?” he said.

“The available world is smaller. There’s a lot of places that we just can’t go to now. And then the ones that we can go to…  the process is still a lot more complicated.”

He noted how the protocols became an added layer of difficulty and believes these will continue since the situation still very much exists.

“Places are opening up, but that doesn’t mean that everything’s all right. For the TV industry, luckily, it has sort of kept going to a certain extent. But, you know, doing it safely, not just for ourselves, but for the people that we work with is going to continue to be a challenge and an extra thing for quite some time.”

Phl visit?

The STAR asked Jeremy that if adventure is his work, what then is his idea of leisure.

He said, “Well, it’s quite weird because I’ve just had a holiday in France but I was fishing, I have to say. Other than that, it’s a long time since I’ve had a proper holiday. And I feel really guilty when I say this, because people look at me and they think and they say, ‘Your entire life is a holiday.’”

“But my TV programs, normally in non-COVID time, are a full-time job that keeps me occupied the whole time. You know, in my free time, I hesitate to admit this, but I tend to just sort of vegetate. I just sort of sit and just recover and recharge my batteries. I do my washing, I read some books. And I have a fairly dull time when I’m not out making the programs,” he mused.

Meanwhile, Jeremy noted that the Philippines is still unknown territory to him, which he would like to explore in the future.

“I did a sort of a physical press tour a few years ago and (the Philippines) was on the list. And then for some reason, it didn’t happen. But, you know, with all that water out there… Okay, most of it is salt water, isn’t it, it’s the sea. But with all those islands of water, I should do (visit) some time.”

Unknown Waters with Jeremy Wade: Amazon River Shark premieres tonight at 10 on National Geographic via CIGNAL: CH 141 (SD) | CH 240 (HD) and SKYCABLE: CH 41 (SD) | CH 195 (HD).

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