Jeremy Wade, biologist and extreme angler, cocked his head and gave an ugly conger eel the once-over. "It does have a strange medieval quality," he announced. "We have 'congers' back home, but they look nothing like this one."
Home for Wade is southern England, but as host of the widely popular Animal Planet "River Monsters" television series (Sundays, 10 p.m.), he doesn't get there often. Instead, he and his crew are busy with filming and the heavy research that goes into prepping for their next fishing adventure -- which might take place anywhere from the Congo River to the Amazon Basin.
Wade was in New York last weekend promoting the show and his new book, "River Monsters: True Stories of the Ones That Didn't Get Away," when he agreed to an abbreviated fishing trip aboard the renowned Freeport charter boat, Codfather. Our goal would be to find a fish he had yet to sample.
"It's a tough order," advised skipper Mike Barnett, before leaving the dock. "There's not enough time to run offshore for cod and inshore water temperatures are still cold -- but we'll find something."
The time constraints were unfortunate, for earlier that morning Barnett, mate Anthony Gillespie and the Jason Belcher group had crushed the codfish two hours outside Jones Inlet. Still, our skipper made good on his promise. Drifting across nearby Atlantic Beach Reef, we picked congers and a pollack while chatting about the show and Wade's fishing insights.
"Overall," Wade said, "I find those who fish for food are better at the game than those who fish for sport. Subsistence fishermen seem more patient and are open-minded about trying new approaches. In a way, their shortage of equipment seems quite liberating. It's one thing to land a fish with quality gear, quite another to wrestle a toothy monster with a hand-line."
Ever persistent, and driven to find new challenges, Wade made six trips to the Amazon in consecutive years to land his first arapaima -- possibly the world's largest freshwater fish -- and pursued his dream of catching ferocious goliath tigerfish over three trips to the Congo spanning 25 years. Along the way he's targeted giant catfish, electric eels, piranha, poison sting rays, freshwater sharks and various potential man-eaters. He describes pacu, an Amazon species that feeds on rubber tree seeds but is also known to snip the private parts of swimmers, as "unnerving, given their jaws are designed to crack nuts."
An Amazon forest small plane crash in 2002 ranks as Wade's scariest moment to date. Nearly as harrowing, however, was seeing the crew's sound recordist survive a lightning strike in the remote jungles of South America last year. That episode is scheduled for this season.
Of his book, Wade noted simply that it contains interesting stuff that didn't fit into the show. It's far deeper and more serious than that. In fact, I found it a terrific read -- intense, captivating and insightfully written.
For more information on Wade, or to view River Monster clips, visit: animalplanet.com/rivermonsters.
Striper season opens
Striper season opens Friday. Expect the first linesiders to come from back bay areas and Long Island Sound harbors. Flounder are also an option with Jamaica Bay already producing and the Captree fleet picking a few flatties on the Heckscher flats.