Fish Stories Reel In Viewers

Posted By Jeff Pfeiffer

One-stop shop for your yearly fish oil supplement supply -- the Mekong giant catfish

Something fishy’s going on in the world of cable. Piscine programming is no longer being restricted to early Sunday mornings, where on a few local and national networks you can usually watch some guys floating lazily on a lake and rather easily reeling in a couple of fairly unimpressive bass or other harmless catches, all the while exclaiming excitedly about what beauties they are. Sorry, but no matter how sexy and adventurous ESPN tries to make the Bassmasters look, they’re just feeding us a line.

But certain fish — not necessarily fishing — related programming seems to be catching on in primetime, at least in the more interesting category of giant fish (and I’m not talking SCI FI Channel original movies). In order to hit the prime airwave real estate, you have to do a little more than just show us small-mouth bass or crappies.

Some networks have been doing just that, baiting viewers with irresistible titles like Hooked: Monster Fish! In fact, this National Geographic Channel program from a few years ago began a string of successful specials for the net — Hooked Again: Monster Fish!; Hooked: Fish Gone Wild; Fishzilla: Snakehead Invasion; Monster Fish of the Amazon; Monster Fish of the Mekong; and the new Monster Fish of the Congo, premiering Feb. 10. History’s MonsterQuest has also presented an episode with this theme, and Animal Planet has announced the April premiere of a similar series called River Monsters. All of the programs explore the unexpectedly large versions of common, and not-so-common, fish found in lakes, rivers and oceans.

It’s kind of a creepy premise, realizing that monsters like the sort seen in these shows aren’t just relegated to the ocean depths, but are also found in the very lakes and rivers where you may fish — and swim. It reminds me of a time many years ago, when I was water-skiing on a small Wisconsin lake. After I inevitably fell off, and had to wait for my party to turn around and get me, treading water in the middle of that somewhat murky water, I felt occasional brushes against my legs. Whether they were little bluegills or a large pike I don’t know, but it disturbed me nonetheless, and made the slow arrival of the boat seem all the longer.

Big enough to satisfy even a Wisconsin fish-fry patron

That mystery of what may be swimming with you is part of the primal fear that made Jaws so successful, so perhaps that’s the reasoning behind viewers tuning in to these programs, with a combination of fascination and dread. Maybe it’s just the unusual, out-of-place sense of seeing a common fish, particularly a freshwater one, enlarged to such proportions; we’re used to seeing shows about massive great white sharks, but a catfish the size of a bear? That’s off the hook. Or maybe it’s the nasty, mean-looking appearances of many of these fish, especially the pike and muskies; that sort of toothy, unblinking, snarled, ferocious, screw-you look that makes you glad to be the one that got away.

Whatever the case, networks keep casting the line, and viewers keep biting, on these fish stories. So will I, but I won’t be water-skiing any time soon.

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Monster Fish of the Mekong: Credit: National Geographic Channel

River Monsters: Credit: Animal Planet