Calum Hen­der­son on the un­fake­able en­thu­si­asm be­hind a fishy re­al­ity show.

Herald on Sunday - - ENTERTAINMENT -

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.

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