Snags, river sharks, sudden shifts in direction and gravel beds that came out of nowhere. We were dodging left, right and left again around various obstacles, including dangerous gravel bars that shot most of the Upper Sacramento River from bank ...
“Big Angry Fish” television show taps into big New Zealand fish (and audience)
TAURANGA, New Zealand – Weaving a 7,800-mile course between the Tasmanian Sea to the west and the Pacific Ocean to the east, the coastlines of the two islands of New Zealand intersect with some of the fishiest water in the Southern Hemisphere. And if Milan Radonich has his way, he and the crew of the Mercury-sponsored hit television show “Big Angry Fish” will cover every square inch of it.
Radonich, co-creator and co-host of a show that has grown into a hit on New Zealand’s TV3 (and is attracting a rapidly growing legion of followers on Australia’s 7mate), matter-of-factly describes New Zealand’s shallow coastal fisheries as “some of the most prolific in the world” for certain species. And through five seasons of “Big Angry Fish” (BAF), he’s put his money, crew, boat and body where his mouth is in search of giants.
“I’d be lying to you if I told you that we’re happy just catching a lot of fish; we prefer the big, angry ones,” Radonich said jokingly.
Over the show’s 65 episodes, there’s been plenty of “big” fish – giant white sturgeon, Murray river cod, bronze whaler shark, red tail Amazon catfish, etc. – and even more “angry” (episodes titled “Nothing Goes to Plan” and “Defeated by the Harbour Monsters,” if that gives you an idea). Radonich and co-host Nathan O’Hearn let their viewers in on the whole story, chaos and all, in a welcoming, friendly, storytelling style that focuses much of its time on flat, calm waters that are easily accessible to small boats.
It’s a show concept born of Radonich’s lifelong love of fishing, and his desire to promote the untapped excellence of New Zealand’s shallow coastal fisheries.
“Coming back from an exceptionally good fishing trip to the very northern tip of New Zealand nine years ago, my partner Nikolaj Mathieson and I decided ‘You know, we really need to make a television show that shows people exactly how great the fishing is here’,” said Radonich. “So, we quit our jobs, bought cameras, and away we went. Simple as that.”
Radonich chuckles as he says the word “simple.”
He and Mathiesen spent innumerable hours of filming and editing, and nearly three years of pitching, to get “Big Angry Fish” on a network. Since then, he and the BAF team have expanded to a crew of nine, the show has built a library of 65 hour-long HD episodes, and he and O’Hearn (a two-time Mr. New Zealand winner) have taken viewers on big-fish hunts from Thailand to the Amazon to British Columbia, Canada.
But as BAF gears up to shoot season six, Radonich and the crew find themselves right back where they’re the happiest: motoring their converted Tristram Cabriolet Bowrider and 150 hp Mercury ProSport around New Zealand’s bays and beaches in search of big, angry yellowtail kingfish, or powering up their Mercury 300 Verado FourStroke to hit local near-offshore snapper reefs in their Tristram 701 Offshore.
“We all enjoy fishing those international places like Panama and Thailand, but if I had my choice, I’d rather catch a kingfish in two meters of water in one of our local harbors than anything,” Radonich admits. “I’ve fished a lot of places in the world, but I don’t know if there’s a harder-fighting fish than a kingfish. You hook into a 50-kilo king in shallow water and you’re going to get pulled sideways.
“We’re fortunate to have a great abundance of really good shallow-water fishing in our harbors and coastlines, and some really exceptional opportunities to catch fish without having to run 100 kilometers offshore. We try to showcase places in New Zealand where everybody can go fishing – places where a husband, wife and family can fish in their own waters and have some success.”
Teaching for success
Even though he was an architect by trade before BAF, one could easily confuse Radonich for an educator. He peppers his speech with words like “learning” and “teaching,” and the educational aspect of BAF is hard to miss. Where many fishing shows are purposely vague about the locations they fish and many of the techniques and gear they use, Radovich and co-host O’Hearn are explicit about their fisheries, and they fill each hour-long episode with specific how-to instruction that Kiwi viewers can utilize on their own fishing trips.
“I don’t know that anybody had really tried to teach New Zealand anglers how to fish their own waters before we came along,” Radonich says. “We don’t hide anything; as a matter of fact, we’re careful to show people exactly how we do everything. We show people how we rig for kingfish, for sharks, for trevally. We tell them ‘This is the harbor we go to, this is exactly where we catch the bait, this is the reason we’re at this spot on this tide, and here’s how you fish it.’
“We have a full-time underwater cameraman who goes in and films the bait and all the underwater bits and pieces that illustrate, for example, why fish are on a specific sand bar from 6 to 9 o’clock on an incoming tide. We show the whole process, and I think that’s what people really gravitate to.”
Gearing up for more adventures
Heading into New Zealand’s summer months (December, January and February), the BAF crew is geared up for the heaviest part of its shooting season. The show is already committed to an episode in the Vanuatu Archipelago in the South Pacific, but the remaining season structure is surprisingly unstructured, thanks mostly to the team’s desire to be nimble and flexible.
“We used to hinder ourselves a little bit by trying to set these rigid schedules to go here and go there,” Radonich admits. “It didn’t do us a whole lot of good to plan a trip to the East Coast and then find out that the best weather and fishing were actually on the other coast. We tend to just go wherever the weather and fishing are the best for any given episode, so we can concentrate on making a clean, beautiful product that makes you feel like you’re right there in the boat with us.”
Find more information about Big Angry Fish at www.bigangryfish.tv … the show is available in the U.S. via FishFlicks, which offers online viewing for a fee.