HOOKED ON THE REEL THING
Calum Henderson on the unfakeable enthusiasm behind a fishy reality show.
Give a celebrity a fish, they might do an Instagram post about it. But take a celebrity fishing? Then you’ve got a whole television show on your hands.
Prime’s ITM Hook Me Up! (Mondays, 7.30pm) is that show. A natural evolution of the Saturday afternoon staple ITM Fishing
Show, which has been taking couch potatoes on vicarious fishing expeditions for well over a decade, the new format offers a feel-good twist on one of New Zealand’s classic telly genres.
Judging by how easily it was able to be parodied by Leigh Hart and Jason Hoyte on Screaming Reels earlier this year, the
ITM Fishing Show had probably done its dash. No matter how flash your kit is, there are only so many ways to catch a snapper. Now evergreen host Matt Watson has wisely pivoted to focus on the part of the sport he loves the most — seeing the joy it brings others when they catch the fish of their dreams.
In the first episode he took “champion boxer and champion bloke” Joseph Parker and his dad, Dempsey, on a three-day fishing odyssey with a brief to find some good eating fish they hadn’t tried before. The Parkers, like many Kiwi recreational fishers, had previously only ever caught the likes of snapper, kahawai and kingies.
Without giving away his co-ordinates, Watson, who rose to prominence in 2009 after jumping out of a helicopter to catch a marlin with his bare hands, took the father and son a little further out to catch some monsters of the deep. The crew were soon pulling up bluenose after bluenose from 300m — Parker doing it manually to make up for a day off training despite being armed with a flash-as electric reel. “Pulling up fish from the deep is hard slog and genuine fitness!” said Watson, a man never short of a fishy fact.
Even though this is his job, you believe him when he says nothing beats “a day full of promise and a crew full of real good guys”. Rounding out the crew on this trip was a deckhand, Julian, whose official title seemed to be “good bloke” and someone called Nick who spent the whole time in the foetal position at the bow, being violently seasick. Nick managed to inadvertently provide the moment of the trip when his constant vomiting forced Watson to head for calmer waters
— on the way in the skipper spotted a broadbill swordfish, a sight so rare he slipped into a kind of hysteria.
“I’ve only ever seen one on the surface before,” he raved, frantically baiting his line. “I’ve got a speargun too, ya know. I could jump in the water and try to shoot him.” He had gone fish-mad; he wasn’t thinking straight. In the end, after a couple of close calls, the enormous fish got spooked and the crew left only with video footage.
This unfakeable enthusiasm is what makes the show. At one point later in the trip he interrupted Parker in the middle of a piece-to-camera, emerging from a dive yelling “Hey, Joe!” and waving two massive crays above his head.
The crew certainly filled their chilly bin, adding albacore, golden snapper and porae to the list of new eating fish, but Watson's fishing philosophy ensured at least as many of their whoppers were released back for someone else to enjoy catching another day.
It feels weird watching a fishing show in a timeslot outside weekend afternoons, but ITM Hook Me Up! has the crossover appeal to make the leap. It’s as much a spiritual successor to the heartwarming Arnott’s Dreams Come True as it is to ITM Fishing Show — viewers are invited to go to the show’s Facebook page and make the case for their own dream fishing trip. Maybe on one of them Watson will finally spear that mythical swordfish.
Watson's fishing philosophy ensured at least as many of their whoppers were released back for someone else to enjoy catching another day.
Matt Wilson on ITM Hook Me UP.