Disregard the double-entendre name of Animal Planet’s new, eight-part competition reality series premiering Sunday. Top Hooker might be about the world’s oldest profession, but it’s not what you think — despite the racy trailer featuring Melanie Housh of Key Largo saying “I’m gonna get the longest rod and reach out and touch it.”
Nope, the new series is about one of America’s and South Florida’s favorite pastimes: fishing. It pits 10 contestants — eight men and two women from around the country — against each other in a series of zany angling challenges to win $30,000 and a new truck and the title of Animal Planet’s first Top Hooker.
But about that title …
“It’s catchy. It grabs your attention. It gets people watching,” acknowledged the show’s publicist, Bonita Lynch.
The network put out a casting call last summer, and Housh, urged on by a friend, was one of hundreds who responded.
“I’m like an adrenaline junkie,” she said.
Housh, 32, is an 11-year veteran firefighter/paramedic/diver with Miami-Dade Fire Rescue. The Homestead native and graduate of South Dade High School said she has been fishing and diving with her family since she was a tot — catching sailfish, cobia and other species on rod-and-reel and diving down to catch lobster and spear hogfish and other quarry. Her audition video for Top Hooker demonstrating her fishing prowess above and below the surface wowed the crew at the Animal Planet.
“It was awesome,” Lynch said.
Along with her fellow competitors, Housh was given a special nickname by the show’s producers, “Sexy Spearfisher.” Others include Larysa Switlyk, 27, of Sarasota, the “Bowfishing Babe;” Ian Esterhuizen of Trabuco Canyon, Calif., “Beefcake South African;” Kevin Vendituoli of Little Compton, R.I., “Al-lure-ing Lawyer,” and Patrick Crawford of Charleston, S.C., “Cocky Captain.”
Housh said she was at work when she first learned of her new nickname and took some ribbing from her fellow firefighters. However, the “Sexy Spearfisher” didn’t actually get to use her talents with a speargun during the various contests on Top Hooker.
For example, “we get in a big fish tank at the very start,” she said. “You have no rod or tools. We had to catch goldfish with our mouths and spit them into a tank. I’m never gonna live that one down.”
Other challenges involved sliding down a zip line while trying to net fish and balancing on logs to get to a small fishing platform where the contestant catching the final fish gets eliminated.
“There is drama in the very first episode,” Housh said. “One of the guys gets hurt really bad after he ran across a log and slipped and nailed his knee against a log. He had to get surgery. I hope they bring him back.”
In the days leading up to the premiere of Top Hooker, Housh and dad Tim, who works for Miami-Dade County Schools, took a little time off to do what they love best — fishing and diving in South Florida’s offshore waters.
Guided by family friend captain Jon Cooper on his 32-foot Contender open-fisherman Dive Version, father and daughter teamed to catch five dolphin to up to about eight pounds in about 1,100 feet of water southeast of Fowey Light. After the dolphin fishing dried up, the party cruised around until they came upon a floating trap buoy with line dangling from it. Instead of trolling past or casting live baits, Cooper and Melanie decided to dive in.
“It might be worth it. There could be a wahoo,” Cooper told her.
The pair donned masks, snorkels and fins and took a large speargun with a line and buoy attached and dropped into the abyss, leaving Tim to drive the boat.
The two divers each took a deep breath and plunged about 20 feet below the surface where, to their excitement, they saw two wahoo to about 25 pounds circling the dangling trap line.
The duo returned to the surface, and Cooper gave Melanie the gun. With little experience in blue water hunting, she wanted to give it a try.
They went back down, and Housh aimed and fired at one of the wahoo. She missed, but inexplicably, the fish swam back toward her, “checking me out,” she said. “I was really amped up.”
But by the time they readied the speargun for another shot, both wahoos were keeping their distance, and the hunters returned to the boat.
“She did all the right stuff,” Cooper said. “Wahoo have a force field. You go here, he goes there.”
Housh didn’t seem disappointed.
“It was cool,” she said. “I’ve never shot at a wahoo.”
Housh said she thoroughly enjoyed her experience as a contestant on Top Hooker and would like to appear in another reality show — perhaps Survivor, where she could use her outdoors skills in competition with others.
“I’m into anything adventure,” she said. “I’d pick up and go in two seconds.”