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Animal Planet's Jeremy Wade Risks Life And Limb To Capture River Monsters


First Posted: 06/03/11 09:25 AM ET Updated: 11/15/11 05:21 AM ET

You don't have to travel all the way to Scotland's Loch Ness to search for a real monster. There may be one lurking in water much closer to home.

For those who doubt such things, just ask the folks who live near Mississippi's Chotard Lake. In February, a fisherman pulled a 327-pound, 8 1/2-foot-long prehistoric-looking alligator gar from the freshwater site.

One well-known angler, Jeremy Wade, doesn't know the meaning of the phrase "the big one that got away." As host of the hugely popular Animal Planet series, "River Monsters," the 55-year-old biologist's life is a series of detective stories as he travels the world searching for unimaginable creatures that lurk in the murky depths of inland waterways.

"It starts with a crime scene or a story, and then it's an investigation," Wade told AOL Weird News from his home in England. "Following the analogy, I will have a list of suspects and will narrow it down to the prime suspect.

"I'll then apprehend the culprit and then I'll let him go. It's all about motivation and understanding, like why did this fish grab the leg of a person who was swimming in a lake?"

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  • River Monsters

    Jeremy Wade snapped a picture of this unusual creature in 1994. While some may suggest its multi-humped back gives it a prehistoric look, Wade actually believes the animal was a malformed, rare pink dolphin.

  • River Monsters

    Jeremy Wade holds a 161-pound goonch that Himalayan villagers believe is a man-eater. Wade plunged into monsoon floodwater to capture the beast.

  • River Monsters

    With a snout that resembles a chainsaw, Jeremy Wade urges careful handling of a sawfish.

  • River Monsters

    Jeremy Wade holds an alligator gar that looks like a 'gator with fins.

  • River Monsters

    This 250-pound Queensland grouper is of a type known to sometimes attack divers by grabbing their arms, legs and, according to one story, a man's head.

  • River Monsters

    Jeremy Wade displays a fearsome-looking goliath tigerfish in the Congo.

  • River Monsters

    Amazon stingrays can sometimes measure 6 feet across and weigh more than 100 pounds. They're also abundant in rivers and lakes. Jeremy Wade examines the spine which can produce pain that feels like holding your foot in a fire, just before it results in death.

  • River Monsters

    Cover of "River Monsters" book.

Wade is on a six-week trip to begin filming the fourth season of compelling adventures that would make Indiana Jones jealous. While he's obsessed with capturing the most fearsome, dangerous fish in the world, Wade introduces his audience to fascinating cultures who cautiously welcome him into their villages and lives.

He's been angling ever since his parents gave him his first fishing rod when he was around 7 years old.

"Fishing was a way for families to get their sons out of the house and out of trouble," he recalled. "I wasn't at all successful when I first started. There was just something about the whole experience -- something about a line in the water, just hanging there limp, nothing happening, and suddenly, it's alive.

"I was almost frightened to catch my first fish -- it was a very alien thing, from another world. For me, the attraction was to go back and catch something different, bigger and more demanding."

Wade's TV companion book, "River Monsters," (Da Capo Press) takes readers along on some of his more daring and dangerous journeys, revealing monster-sized fish in some of the most remote rivers and lakes on the planet.

What he finds is truly the stuff of nightmares. It's a rogues gallery that includes fearsome-looking catfish, tigerfish, piranha, alligator gar, as well as deadly stingrays, sawfish and electric eels.

One of the fish Wade set out to find was the fearsome goliath tigerfish of the Congo.

"From the accounts I'd read, it sounded completely impossible, like some giant piranha," he said. "The teeth of the fish are about 1 inch long. To put that into some kind of perspective, that is the same length of the teeth in a 1,000-pound great white shark. But this is something that actually swims up a river."

Wade is constantly reminded that while rivers of the world, like the Amazon and the Congo, are essential to people's lives, danger lurks nearby.

"If you haven't got running water in your house, you've got to go down to the river and wash your dishes, clothes, yourself, and you've got these fish, which are predatory, and they often have a reflex that can cause you to lose fingers or other parts of your body," Wade explained.

One of the more amazing pictures Wade snapped was in 1994 of an animal that's come to be known as the Amazon lake monster. At an estimated 9 feet long, the very prehistoric-looking beast appeared to have at least six humps on its back as it broke the surface of the water.

"In the end, the explanation turned out to be a bit mundane," Wade said. "I think it was a malformed, adult pink river dolphin.

"What probably happened is that it was likely caught in a fishing net and the fisherman possibly used his machete to mutilate it, and it became this mystery monster.

"I almost wished that I never knew that. But in some ways, the most important thing for me out of that whole story is the fact that I saw something in the water, nobody believed me, but the evidence of my eyes was correct -- I wasn't hallucinating."

Wade says that compared to the oceans of the world, scientists know very little about what lurks in the planet's vast number of rivers.

"Fresh water is a bit of a last frontier and, in many cases, the only way to find out what's in a river or a lake is to put a fishing line in there.

"There are fish that can grow up to 10 feet long, with a mouthful of nearly 500 teeth. And these are things that live really close to big populated areas. So if that doesn't fulfill the criteria for a monster, I'm not sure what does."

Most people go fishing to relax. What does Wade do?

"I take a break from fishing."

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