Earth’s Wildest Waters: The Big Fish is a fishing-based reality show which first aired on BBC 2 in November and December 2015. The show begins with eight anglers from all over Britain who are taken around the world to fish for a range of different species. Each of the six episodes are set in a different country, and at the end of each episode the worst performing contestant is sent home, until one emerges as the overall winner.
Broadcaster and writer Ben Fogle presents the show, along with well-known fishing personality Matt Hayes providing expert commentary and advice. As well as this a local expert from each of the countries visited is on hand to advise on the methods and techniques which will be used in each place they visit. At the end of each episode Matt Hayes and the local expert decide which contestant will be sent home, analysing not only the amount of fish caught but also the watercraft, skill, technique and how well they have adapted their own knowledge to the new environment they are fishing in, and taking into account the ways the contestants changed their tactics to adapt to the conditions.
The first episode takes place in Iceland. The area they are in is on the edge of the Arctic Circle and is described on the show as Europe’s last wilderness. They begin by presenting baits on the seabed for cod and lures for pollack in mid-water. There is some talk of terminal tackle, with animations and diagrams to explain to the non-angling minded viewer how the equipment works. Barbless hooks are used as this is described as being “kinder to the fish” and fish are returned (although in future episodes fish are often retained and eaten). There are great underwater shots of the fish taking baits and the high production values of this programme are clearly apparent. The next challenge involves commercial style fishing for cod from a boat with a jig line with a 3kg weight on the end and the final challenge in Iceland is based around fly fishing for lake trout, although heavy rain hinders the contestants.
At the end of the Icelandic challenge one contestant is sent home and the others progress to the next country which is Cuba. All episodes follow the same format with three very different types of fishing carried out in each country, at least one of each is a team task where the contestants are divided into two groups who must compete against each other. In Cuba the contestants have to catch bonefish with fly rods from a skiff, and then go out to sea in a rubber ring to catch fish with a hand-line. Other destinations and fishing techniques include throwing nets from narrow boats in Laos, targeting sailfish off the coast of Costa Rica and catching white sturgeon which are over 6ft long in river in Canada. While the vast majority of the challenges are entertaining one or two fall flat, such as the Laos episode where they have to use Western fishing equipment to catch fish in a fast-flowing part of the Mekong River. While the locals catch fish the contestants struggle badly in the conditions and fail to catch anything of note.
Despite this Earth’s Wildest Waters: The Big Fish (weird title: why not put the word fishing or angling in there?) is an excellent show which anyone with an interest in UK fishing will enjoy. The contestants travel to some intriguing destinations and have to take part in a wide range of different fishing techniques ranging from kayak fishing to fly fishing and even aspects of commercial fishing. To progress in this show anglers need to be all-rounders, and those who are only good at one aspect of fishing are soon found out and end up getting sent home. While the programme is simple enough for non-anglers to understand it contains more than enough detail for people who have been going fishing their whole lives to enjoy. Indeed, the combination of the different types of fishing, high BBC production values and camerawork and the presence of Matt Hayes and Ben Fogle make this one of the best fishing programmes on TV over the last few years.