By Abigail Rodriguez
First Day of Filming:
I took a tiny step forward. The pressure of my foot sent a rotten green board flipping up like a see-saw in front of me. I tried not to look down at the waters of Lake Victoria thirty feet below the rotten pier I was standing on. Grip the railing. Breathe. I looked back. Somehow I had tiptoed my way over rotten boards and gaping holes this far, balancing a tripod in one hand and clinging to rusted, cobwebby railing with the other. All in search of a great shot. Breathe.
“This is a perfect angle!” Cameraman Bob Poole’s cheery voice boomed back to me from where he stood with the camera at the end of the pier. “This better be worth it!” I yelled, and gingerly tested the one other board left to try. It only sagged. I scurried across. Bob happily took over the tripod and commenced to shooting the launch of our research fishing vessel, the Hammerkop. I tried to remember the last time I had a tetanus shot.
The Hammerkop set sail as we filmed (from our perfect angle) and then it swung by to pick us up. We were headed out into the vast waters of Africa’s biggest lake—Lake Victoria is the size of Ireland—to hunt for Africa’s biggest freshwater fish: the six foot Nile perch. Our crew was in Uganda with show host Dr. Zeb Hogan to investigate the status of this giant—and hopefully find some big ones ourselves.
A few hours later we pulled into the fish landing site on Bugaia Island. Nile perch fishing is one of the biggest industries in Uganda. People from all over the country have come to the lake for the chance to cash in on the lucrative fishing industry. But over the decades, overfishing has wiped out the perch populations near the shore, and so fishermen have ventured farther and farther out into Lake Victoria. As we pulled up to the island, the first thing I noticed was that every tree on it had been chopped down to use for charcoal. It was like a big bald head poking out of the lake. A tiny cluster of about a hundred shacks clung to a little cove on shore. From far off, it was a picturesque sight of brightly painted shacks and fishing boats, and humming with activity as fishermen prepared to head out for the night. But as we landed on the island and took a look up close—it was definitely still picturesque, but the smell was incredible! Nothing like the aromas of fish, trash, and sewage—all I can say is that it’s a good thing smells don’t come through on TV, or nobody would be watching this episode of Monster Fish. Or maybe any shows about fish, for that matter!
Video Preview: “Good Ol’ Basket Fishing” — Zeb joins local African fisherwomen for some traditional fishing to see how the native fish population is doing.
We immediately ran across a big Nile perch, about four feet, freshly caught that day. Its proud owner was happy to show it off to the camera, and then promptly turned to me, “I would like to marry you. I am in love with you. I will make you happy. Yes?” I was at a loss. I had never considered the proper etiquette for turning down a marriage proposal. “Thanks, but no thanks” seems a little harsh. I decided to go with, “Very kind of you, but I’m already married.” He was undeterred. “Here in Africa, we can have two wives… You could have two husbands.” Very egalitarian of him, but it now seemed a “Thanks, but no thanks” was in order.* Once the marriage question was resolved, we got our sunset shots and headed back out into the lake as a heat lightning storm flashed in the distance. I climbed into my top bunk in the hull of the Hammerkop, falling asleep to the drone of the boat engine, ready to dream about big fish. First day of our film shoot down, fourteen more to go!
*If you watch the show, you’ll see my suitor in the yellow coat holding a four foot fish!
Don’t miss Monster Fish “Monsters of the Nile“ premiering August 30th at 10P et/pt.