Fishing Impossible is a fishing-based TV show which first aired on ITV in September and October 2016, although it is a co-production with the BBC. Taking a prime-time 7:30 slot on Tuesday nights, the show features three very different presenters as they take on the challenge of catching different species in different ways all around the world.
Fishing Impossible immediately sets its stall out as a fast-paced, high energy show which is also high on hyperbole. In the starting credits we hear phrases such as “catch the uncatchable,” “world’s most extreme destinations” and are told that the presenters will go to “extreme lengths to catch extraordinary fish.” The main presenter is and narrator of each episode is Charlie Butcher, a 34-year-old commercial airline pilot and amateur fisherman, who presents the show with Jay (a former Royal Marine who is from Cornwall) and ‘Blowfish’ – a man who describes himself as a “heavy metal marine biologist” on his official website.
The tone of each episode is fast-paced, and the extreme enthusiasm of the presenters is quickly apparent. As most episodes are only half an hour long (with a few being one hour) there is little preamble and we are straight in with the fishing action. In the episode set in Canada we are informed that the team will “face the ultimate fishing challenge” and it is immediately clear that the extreme nature of what they do will be highlighted at every opportunity, even when it is forced – the threat of bears being present is massively hyped up, even when a local expert tells them that most encounters with bears will be “passive and calm.” Despite this is an eventful episode with the team catching lingcod off the Canadian coast, and then a 6ft 9in white sturgeon before going fishing for coho salmon. The crazy humour which the show uses also become apparent at this stage, with one team member dressing up in a bear suit to catch the salmon by hand, and other dressing up in a massive, wearable tent to hide from the bears.
The book which accompanies this series explains a lot of what went on behind the scenes during filming and takes a much more measured tone. In the foreword they talk about this series being Fishing Impossible and not Fishing Irresponsible and discuss following local regulations, handling fish correctly and following the principle of putting a fish back unless it is going to good use. They also talk about the “battalions of safety personnel” who were present but not on camera. Many anglers – who are more interested in the fishing than the hype – may have wished that this measured tone was more prominent in the programme itself.
Not all episodes are about extreme fishing with a rod and line. The episode set in the Bahamas is based around the team dealing with the invasive and venomous lionfish which are destroying the livelihoods of local lobster fishermen as they feed on juvenile lobsters. Blowfish feeds lionfish to sharks which inhabit the areas in an attempt to get develop a taste for lionfish and keep the numbers in check naturally. The culmination of the show sees the three presenters using different methods to catch a large number of lionfish which they will then barbecue at a beachside party. They say they are doing this as local people do not believe that lionfish is edible because of its poison, when they could in fact be used for human consumption. While there is no doubt whatsoever that the Fishing Impossible team have their heart in the right place and want to help the local people some viewers may have issues with three outsiders going to a foreign country and definitively sorting out the problems which local people are encountering with minimal involvemnt (on screen at least) from the locals themselves. The fact that the team feel it necessary to have a barbecue to physically demonstrate that lionfish is edible (rather than simply telling people) can be viewed somewhat patronising.
Another episode sees the team travel by boat ten hours from shore into the Pacific Ocean to try and catch the ferocious Humboldt squid which are capable attacks which lacerate human flesh. The team devise chain mail covered suits to protect them as they plan to dive for the squid and catch them by hand, but bad weather scuppers a practice dive and then the main dive, leading to a damp squib (squid?) of an ending to the episode. This is not a criticism – many anglers watching will find it refreshing to see a fishing programme where the reality of not catching/encountering the target species is reflected on screen.
In another episode the team travel to the Falkland Islands to fish for Patagonian toothfish, a species more commonly known as Chilean sea bass, although it is never referred to by this name during the episode. We are told how delicious this species is to eat, and how in demand it is by restaurants. Indeed, we are told it can sell for up to £100 per kilo. This is another episode where they use crazy inventions (this time a cycle with the back wheel modified to act as a reel/spool) and another episode where they completely fail to catch their target species. While regular sea anglers will be all too aware that it is common to go fishing and fail to catch members of the general public may be less forgiving of episodes which seem to end on a negative and unsatisfying note of going home empty handed.
Another disappointing aspect of this episode is that the conservation issues associated with Patagonian toothfish are not mentioned. This species has been prominently featured in the media for several decades now due to overfishing and illegal fishing badly hitting numbers. This is not mentioned in the show (although it is addressed in the accompanying book) and at the end of the episode the team eat Patagonian toothfish prepared by the ship’s cook, with no mention of whether or not the fish they are eating has been responsibly sourced.
Other episodes feature more conservation-focused moments. In the hour-long episode set in Thailand the team try to track down a moray eel so that they can shoot it with a spear gun, the method that the locals use to catch this species. As usual the episode is high on hype with the power and strength of the moray eel highlighted (some would say exaggerated). Indeed, Charlie (the team member who is going to shoot the eel) says he needs to go for a head shot as a wounded moray eel may attack him if he does not kill it instantly. SPOILER ALERT: once they have finally tracked down a moray eel in its hole Charlie finds himself unable to shoot it with the spear gun, as he says it is not right to shoot a static target at point blank range. It is a heartening end to the episode and sends the message to the viewer that fishing (of any form) is about more than simply killing and retaining fish, and there are unwritten rules which all good fishermen follow.
Overall Fishing Impossible is an entertaining show which anyone interested in any aspect of angling will enjoy. The presenters are certainly enthusiastic and their light and cheerful manner, along with the fast paced editing and quick running time make it an easy programme to watch. There is certainly a lot of action packed into each episode and it should also be praised for showing (rather than editing out) the times when the team fail to catch their target species. The show also takes a no-nonsense approach to fish without seeming cruel – the lingcod they catch are killed and happily eaten (something which some reviewers did not like) although sometimes the conservation issues are pushed to the back (as with the Patagonian toothfish episode). While the jokey tone may put off some people (the Guardian describe this show as being somewhere between Top Gear and Wish You Were Here …?) the vast majority of people who like fishing will enjoy this programme.
In December 2016 it was announced that a second series was being filmed and will feature an episode set in Nepal where the team fish for golden mahseer.
The tie-in book which accompanies the TV series (which is a good read in its own right) can be purchased from Amazon by clicking here.