Nationally acclaimed underwater filmmaker and photographer Jack Perks is also a keen all round angler. With his work featuring everywhere from BBC Wildlife shows to the recent series “Fishing in the Footsteps of Mr Crabtree”, he hit national media earlier this year as the first person ever to film all 53 species found in fresh water around the UK. We caught up with him on the road to talk fishing, filming and more…
First of all, congratulations on your amazing feat of filming every freshwater fish species in the UK! What was it like and how long did it take you?
Over seven years in total! I’ve been to every corner of the UK and met so many great people along the way. The headlines are great and I’m always keen to bring that unseen world to the general public- but behind the scenes it’s not all fun and games, but a lot of hard work. There aren’t many underwater filmmakers because nobody wants to do it! It’s a cold, wet and antisocial business.
We know you’re adept when it comes to making special devices and getting into every nook and cranny, but what does it take to get the footage you do?
Nobody makes a fish filming kit, so you have to make your own solutions. I can’t give all my tricks away, but I have a boat rod with a camera on it, various weights and special stands. It’s quite a specialised artform really, not many people do it. Every so often, there’s a meeting of underwater filmmakers and it’s a bit like Hermits United! It’s interesting how people find different solutions. I know a guy in the Hebrides who uses an underwater buggy, for example.
What were the easiest and hardest fish to film?
I must have captured thirty or more of the species within an hour or so of my home in Nottingham. The different species vary a lot in how bold they are- and water clarity is also critical. Fish like roach and perch were quite easy. In fact, the perch would often come and inspect the red, blinking light on my camera!
Barbel were harder, at least on the Trent. Because of the murky water you had to film a long time to have a chance. It was similar with zander, so I went to Rutland- but the very deep water there made it hard, too. Other species, like Arctic char, needed some tip offs and I also joined some EA surveys.
What else do you see in rivers and lakes these days? Do they seem healthy beneath the surface?
I’ve been working for Greenpeace lately on a plastic project, so basically they pay me to jump into manky rivers and canals and record what I see! It’s a double edged sword, because in the past few years they’ve got worse, but at the same time you could say largely because of Blue Planet, a lot more is being done about it.
You’d hope that anyone with half a brain cell isn’t chucking plastic into the rivers, but sadly you still see a lot. Many people don’t realise the long term effect of this, as it slowly breaks down and chemical are then released into the water.
We hear the line quite often that rivers have never been cleaner, but they’re still in a really bad state. When you think of the industrial revolution, a lot of waterways were pretty much open sewers. So perhaps they’ve improved from being totally lifeless, but they are still nothing like the pristine places they once were. They’re often still in quite an alarming, horrible state.
I went to the Stour in Birmingham the other day and it was literally blue from the amount of detergent that was in it. It stank! It was like a steam of toilet Duck. There was the occasional stickleback, but that was it. I’m not a particularly emotional person and it wasn’t even my local river, but you felt like crying to think that this river that once had salmon was now awash with chemicals.
What fishing do you enjoy the most currently?
Well, with all my filming gear I often feel like a human game of Buckaroo, so when I fish I like to travel light. I’m really enjoying fly fishing at the moment, whether it’s for trout in the Peak District or Derbyshire Wye, or little chub and dace on a stream nearer home. I also love lure fishing and have done quite a bit of LRF style angling with Andy Mytton and Dom Garnett as part of a recent book project called Hooked on Lure Fishing. It’s so much fun and the gear is so simple it’s very easy to stow in the car.
Do you do much filming when you are fishing, or do you keep those things separate? Does filming remove any mystery for you?
I tend to keep them separate- and I think with either fishing or filming you often have to be quite single minded to get the best results. So, perhaps the two are not always natural companions? I get asked quite often whether I can film fish taking baits or whatever by angling companies, but to be honest I have a lot less interest in that. I don’t want to film tench or carp gulping down pellets- I’d much rather see them going about their normal, natural business.
As for the element of mystery, every dive and filming session has the capacity to surprise you, so I wouldn’t say it took away that element. That said, perhaps the biggest compliment I ever had from an angler was one who, half joking, said that I had “ruined” fishing for him because he had been given such a clear perspective of the fish! I should get that quote framed: “Jack Perks: Ruining anglers’ lives”!
What’s the strangest thing you’ve seen in a waterway?
That depends if you mean live or dead? In terms of fish, I was quite a way up the Tamar- miles form sea and saw a huge bass, which I never expected. Some sea fish will penetrate an amazingly long way upstream.
I get access to some quite private and exclusive waters – I’m quite lucky in that respect! Places I’d never afford to fish, but I can visit with my camera. As for random objects, I’ve seen guns, sex toys, ipads- you name it, it’s in our rivers and lakes somewhere!
On the subject of junk, it’s as much about what’s dropped on the bank as what’s underwater- sooner or later much of it is washed in, hence I’m right behind the Angling Trust’s Take 5 campaign and the new Anglers’ National Line Recycling Scheme. I don’t come across too much lost fishing tackle underwater and on the bank, I have to say, although I always hate seeing that too.
Catch more from Jack online and in print…
You can see more of Jack’s stunning photography and footage, including a highlights reel of every fish found in UK freshwater settings, on his YouTube channel, Facebook and Instagram (@fishtwitcher), while his website has stacks more stunning fish photographs, books and info on his current projects: www.jackperksphotography.com
He has also produced and contributed to various books, including the beautifully illustrated Freshwater Fishes of Britain, also available from his website, and the brand new Hooked On Lure Fishing (Merlin Unwin Books) in collaboration with Dominic Garnett and Andy Mytton.