For the best part of three decades, biologist and angling enthusiast Jeremy Wade has been fascinated by the weird and wonderful creatures that lurk beneath the rivers of our world, and as presenter of the hugely popular River Monsters series on Animal Planet, he has brought viewers up close and personal with fish species that are normally only found in our nightmares. From gigantic stingrays and venomous species that can kill in an instant to the small but equally creepy finds like the blood-sucking lamprey, it’s fair to say you won’t find any cuddly river dwellers on his catch list!
Across a whopping nine seasons of River Monsters, fearless host Wade has traveled by car, boat and light aircraft, scouring the globe to reel in some of the largest and often, some of the deadliest freshwater fish known to man. If an image can say a thousand words, then the ones you’re about to see might scream one thing to you: “never go near a river again!”. While letting CNN Travel in on his tips for where to find the strangest river beasts, the River Monsters host relived some of his most memorable catches. Take a look at some of Wade’s most incredible catches on the show (as well as ten other creatures that have largely remained a mystery in angling circles – even to Wade!)
21 Queensland Grouper (Caught)
Anyone who’s watched presenter and angling fanatic Jeremy Wade in action on River Monsters will know that some of the highlights of the show (and no doubt for Wade himself) are the accidental catches along the way – and this is one he couldn’t throw back in a hurry!
While on the lookout for bull sharks in Australia’s Brisbane river, Wade instead stumbled across this gigantic beast known as the Queensland Grouper. Groupers are the kind of fish that can change their sex from female to male to allow the biggest and most dominant female of the group to become male. If only they could change into something a little cuddlier?
20 Giant Stingray (Caught)
Forget the cute small-ish kind of stingrays you might see swimming by you at the aquarium -this is the daddy of all stingrays – the Giant Stingray - and one which took Jeremy Wade nearly four hours to catch! While in Argentina in the Parana river, Wade set his sights on this colossal creature.
Weighing in at a whopping 280 pounds, this alarming river beast was anything but an easy catch to haul in, as Wade will attest to: “There’s no finesse to bringing in a stingray, you’re just using very heavy gear and trying to break the suction that it has with the bottom.”
19 African Bull Shark (Caught)
Officially Jeremy Wade’s largest freshwater catch ever was the moment he grappled with the giant African bull shark. Proof positive that the River Monsters host is never one to shy away from a challenge, Wade persevered to catch this beast of the rivers – taking him 2 and a half hours just to reel it in with a fishing line.
The bull shark weighs in at almost 500 pounds and can grow to reach a staggering 9 feet in length! Wade and the team reeled this particular beast in from the Zambezi river, but they can also be found in both fresh and saltwater locations along the coast of Brazil and eastern Angola.
18 Yacumama (Mystery)
The mythical giant anaconda, or the “Yacumama” as its also known has long been the stuff of legends that have the tribespeople of South America terrified of its existence an has the scientific world curious as to whether a modern-day prehistoric river beast really is in our midst.
Talk of the Yacumama can be traced back to Aztec writings in Mexico when it was known instead as “Quetzalcoatl” and featured in ancient carvings of a gigantic snake god devouring a man. The closest real-life encounter of the Yacumama was recounted by British explorer Percy Fawcett who claimed to have shot a “62-foot long anaconda” in the Amazon river in 1906. Over a century later, there’s still no sign of this river serpent - but give it time!
17 Sawfish (Caught)
These intimidating – and aptly named – sawfish used to be found quite extensively across the globe, but since they have become repeatedly tangled up in fishing nets, their worldwide numbers have declined pretty rapidly. Now, the sawfish is quite a rare sight, so we can rest a little easier!
River Monsters host Jeremy Wade, of course, was able to catch one while in West Australia. While it seems like a sizeable catch to us, Wade revealed that he had essentially only caught a juvenile sawfish! “This one was about seven feet long – it’s believed they grow up to 20 feet long, but the adults are never really seen”.
16 Arapaima (Caught)
Although he may have made it look easy, reeling some of the world’s largest freshwater fish wasn't always a straightforward task for the River Monsters host and one fish in particular almost made the catch seem impossible.
The Amazonian arapaima fish are known for their incredible strength and lightning speed, making them a dangerous one to reel in. Wade’s first attempt with an 80-pound arapaima didn’t end so well: “I don’t know if it was making a last bid for freedom or aiming at me, but it hit me in the sternum. I could still feel that after six weeks.”
15 Goliath Tigerfish (Caught)
Host Wade reeled in this catch, which can only be found in an incredibly remote part of the Congo River – thank goodness for that! The Congo Tigerfish, also know as the “Goliath Tigerfish” is related to the Piranha as you can probably tell. It’s essentially a giant piranha, which Wade confirms can “grow to the size of a man”. We don’t know about you, but the Congo just got struck from our wanderlust list!
But wait, it gets more nightmarish – The Goliath Tigerfish has something in common with one of our main predators of the sea. “The tigerfish I caught on camera”, revealed Wade, “had teeth the same length as those on a thousand-pound great white shark.” Gulp.
14 The ‘Montauk Monster’ (Mystery)
This bizarre-looking creature known locally as the “Montauk monster” washed ashore on Long Island 10 years ago and to this day, no-one can seem to agree on what the creature’s real identity is, nor why the carcass mysteriously disappeared shortly after making the rounds on the internet.
With its claws, leathery skin and beak, experts weighed in on what it could be from a raccoon to a sea turtle! William Wise of the Living Marine Resources Institute at Stony Brook University deemed it a “fake” or otherwise a “diseased dog or coyote”. There have been no other sightings of the “Montauk monster” since.
13 Electric Eel (Caught)
When you consider that the largest type of electric eel can deliver around 500 volts to you, this has got to be one of the bravest wildlife photos ever taken! With 30 years experience under his belt, host Jeremy Wade and his River Monsters team took every possible precaution not to get zapped by this freshwater predator.
“We got the kind of people who work on power lines”, said Wade of the risky catch, “Thick rubber boots and gloves. Swe also took a defibrillator.” Thankfully, the latter turned out to be unnecessary, but Wade and his team took extra caution after hearing about a local’s death by an electric eel that wrapped tightly around the chest and delivered repeated shocks to the heart.
12 Nile Perch (Caught)
The title of largest freshwater fish in all of Africa belongs to the Nile Perch, and ever the ambitious angler, Jeremy Wade caught the impressive creature in the second season of his River Monsters series. The Nile Perch reeled in by Wade weighed just over 100 pounds, but they can grow up to as much as 250 pounds in weight.
By even attempting to catch the Perch, Wade put his life at risk, since Africa’s Rift valley which they inhabit is know as the most dangerous place to fish on the planet – storms can brew in an instant and giant crocs and hippos that can maul you to death are waiting beneath!
11 Goonch Catfish (Caught)
The gargantuan Goonch Catfish caught in the foothills of the Himalayas is a strange specimen indeed. Not only is the sheer size of this creature pretty intimidating, but this fish was also responsible for a few cases of disappearances in the area, so you know this river monster is every bit as powerful as it looks!
Before heading out to India in search of the Goonch, Jeremy Wade had heard stories of people “being pulled under the water”. Knowing that there were no crocodiles, pythons or bull sharks in the area, Wade decided the Goonch was the likely culprit: “The water’s very muddy, so they tend to grab whatever’s in front of their face.” Yikes!
10 Sea Mouse (Mystery)
At first glance, this may look like an exotic species of caterpillar or an overturned porcupine, but this strange creature is far rarer – a sea mouse. The sea mouse is a rare sight in marine life circles since it usually inhabits depths of 3,000 meters below sea level in the North Atlantic, the Baltic Sea and the Mediterranean.
This one was instead found washed up on Crosby beach in Liverpool. Though possibly too small in appearance to qualify as a river or sea “monster”, the sea mouse is, in fact, predatory and lies in wait, burying itself in the sand before preying on small crabs and worms.
9 Marbled Eel (Caught)
Jeremy Wade fought hard to catch this monstrous eel in the dark while on a night shoot in Fiji. After wrestling to get the nearly 5-foot long beast into the net, Wade observed its sharp rows of teeth, and this quickly confirmed what the local villagers had feared in relation to people being injured by the Marbled eel’s bite.
“There were stories about these mythic beasts grabbing people”, Wade explained, “but the reason a lot of fish do that is that they don’t know they’re grabbing a person. If the visibility is poor in the water, they assume a small fish is in front of their face.”
8 Alligator Gar (Caught)
River Monsters host Wade refers to the creepy looking Alligator Gar as a “prehistoric beast”. No kidding. These bizarre creatures have actually been inhabiting rivers since the Jurassic period, and owing to their oddly long snout of unforgivingly sharp teeth, they’re even thought to be more dangerous than sharks!
While traveling along the Trinity River in Texas, Wade caught this 123-pound Gar and during the course of filming the catch, Wade himself actually suffered a bite and drew blood. Considering that some Alligator Gars can grow to as large as 300 pounds, Wade was lucky to wrestle with this one and come away – relatively – unharmed.
7 Giant Oarfish (Spotted)
The magnificent giant oarfish are very rarely seen, but of course, Jeremy Wade was lucky enough to come face to face with the elusive creature. While he may not have taken the opportunity to “catch” it like his other river monsters, Wade was happy enough to just encounter the 11 meter-long “messenger of the sea.”
Despite spending three decades pursuing some of the rarest and strangest marine life out there, the River Monsters host was still beguiled by the Oarfish, admitting: “Here was a fish I never thought I would see in my lifetime.” adding, “If it hadn’t been on film, I’d probably be thinking ‘Did that really happen or did I just imagine it?”
6 Ganges River Shark (Mystery)
Marine scientists have scoured the freshwater rivers of India for more than 20 years on the lookout for this incredibly rare species of shark. The Ganges river shark is so rarely spotted that experts had all but given up and believed them to be extinct already – up until one was spotted in a fish market in Mumbai earlier this year.
Speaking to New Scientist, Rima Jabado, founder of a shark research and conservation organization in the United Emirates, revealed that the Ganges shark is “a species that’s never really been seen in the western Indian ocean.” Sadly since no samples were taken of the shark before it was sold to market, the mysteries of the Ganges river shark still remain largely unsolved.
5 Piraiba Catfish (Caught)
Over the course of 9 series of River Monsters, Jeremy Wade came across many species of catfish, but the largest catch of all was the Piraiba catfish of the Amazon. Wade reeled in this beauty which can be found in the basins of the Amazon river and is thought to be one of the most beautiful of their kind.
It was certainly a thrill for Wade to catch, admitting “This is the one I wanted, the Paraiba, the real monster of the Amazon! He continued, “This is the fish that people say when it gets big enough, it goes after people as well!.”
4 Kaluga Sturgeon (Caught)
Sturgeon aren’t normally aggressive or particularly predatory, but the Kaluga species of sturgeon, otherwise known as the “river beluga” is in a whole other ballpark. Kaluga sturgeon are thought to be the largest freshwater fish on the planet – able to reach a maximum length of around 18ft and can weigh up as much as 1,000kg!
Jeremy Wade reeled in a smaller but nonetheless intimidating Kaluga while out on the Amur river in East Russia. Wade noted how much their mouth differs from a regular sturgeon: “A normal sturgeon mouth is just a tube that sucks things off the bottom, but a (Kaluga’s) mouth extends forwards, like a catfish.”
3 Lamprey (Caught)
This might be the smallest river monster on Jeremy Wade’s catch list, but if these creatures ever latch on to you, you’ll know about it, as they pack a considerable punch of pain in self-defense! The lamprey Wade found were discovered on the border between New York and Vermont, in Lake Champlain, and ever the adventurous angler – Wade tested the lamprey’s suction power for himself!
I had one stuck to my neck to experience what it was like. It’s a very strong suction, and if you wait a couple of seconds, the teeth will start to penetrate.” Ouch. “The lamprey’s tongue has teeth on it as well.” Nope!
2 Golden Dorado (Caught)
To spot one of these gold giants shimmering beneath your fishing boat, you could be forgiven for thinking you’d stumbled upon bars and bars of the real thing. The colossal Golden Dorado gleams like the mythical city of El Dorado it’s named after and is one of the most prized species of freshwater fish in the world.
While in the Rio de la Plata river between Argentina and Uruguay, the River Monsters host reeled in the Golden Dorado by accident! While on the hunt for a short-tailed river stingray, Wade hooked this 43-pound beast. As pretty and shimmery as they look, these things have been known to sever limbs!
1 ‘Hairy Sea Monster’ (Mystery)
This incredibly odd fur-covered creature washed ashore on a Siberian beach over the summer, and it set people’s minds boggling as to its identity. Upon first glance, it may have been easily dismissed as a giant fur coat if it weren’t for the apparent tentacle or tail attached to it. So what could it be?
Marine biologist Sergei Kornev revealed that it could be “part of a decaying whale”. Whereas, more extreme theories swapped over social media included that the washed up mass could be a hairy octopus or the prehistoric remains of a wooly mammoth that was frozen in ice under the sea! Whatever it really is, it definitely gives off monster vibes.