'River Monsters' host Jeremy Wade goes with the flow – USA TODAY
NEW YORK— Jeremy Wade can’t straighten his arm. Not because a stingray bit him with a powerful jaw, or a catfish stabbed him with a spiky fin — though he’s had both happen — but because the host of Animal Planet’s River Monsters just woke up with a mysterious elbow injury.
He’s not worried, though. In fact, he’s more concerned for the fish he’s about to handle.
“This is a much higher altitude than they’re used to,” he says from a 14th floor hotel suite in front of four tanks of fish. The experienced angler picks up a piranha, shows off the predator’s razor-sharp teeth, and puts the fish back in the water, worried that he’s covering the creature’s gills too much. “I’m a lot more comfortable than he is,” says Wade, elbow injury and all.
After all, this is the adventurer who let an eel-like lamprey suck blood from his neck on the last season of River Monsters, his show that uncovers murder mysteries of the water. In Season 6, which premieres Sunday (9 ET/PT) and is set in South America, Wade investigates stories about a creature rumored to swallow men whole, a species that could be the biggest freshwater predator in the world and the search for a fish rumored to have attacked up to 200 passengers of a sinking river boat. In a preview video for the new season, the host compares navigating the Amazon River to “driving a convertible through a lion enclosure.”
Wade delivers the line with gravitas that can only come from experience. And having a British accent. Wade, 58, has been fishing since “age seven or eight” when he used “very cheap plastic fishing kit” in England. After his hometown “was lacking something for me,” he started traveling to remote rivers to fish and write. That led him to TV. He’s been hosting Animal Planet’s No. 1 docu-series for five years. “We’re hoping we’re going to produce the goods for this (season) as well,” he says.
River Monsters has resonated with viewers, because “people like stuff that looks weird, that looks gnarly, that looks big.” Plus, “everybody is fascinated by predators. It’s in our DNA,” says Wade. The show offers that winning, attention-grabbing combination.
“I mean everybody likes dinosaurs, but we’re actually quite familiar with dinosaurs now,” compared to our limited understanding of creatures that inhabit the river, he says.
The goal of Wade’s show is to inspire people to educate themselves on river-dwellers; not scare people away from the water.
“What I’m careful to say is, ‘Yes you should be afraid of what’s in the water, but the chances of any one individual falling foul is very small. The way to keep yourself safe is to find out what’s in there. Most of the stories that we look into are people who haven’t done that,” he says.
On River Monsters, Wade makes sure to return the beasts to the river after he’s displayed them for the cameras.
“The way that we live with potentially dangerous animals is not to kill them, but to understand them and to coexist with them. I make a big point of putting (fish) back into the water.”
But before he does return the piranha to the tank again, Wade takes a moment for a photo shoot that would make a James Bond villain proud.