Professor Barrie Rickards
Professor Barrie Rickards is President of the Specialist Anglers Association (SAA) and the Lure Angling Society (LAS), as well as a very experienced and successful specialist angler with a considerable tally of big fish to his credit.

He is author of several fishing books, including the long awaited ‘Richard Walker – Biography of and Angling Legend’. He has been an angling writer in newspapers and magazines for nigh on four decades. Barrie takes a keen interest in angling politics.

Away from angling Barrie is a Professor in Palaeontology at the University of Cambridge, a Fellow of Emmanuel College and a curator of the Sedgwick Museum of Geology.

Politics: The silly season

I know we are shortly heading for the silly season in politics, but that should not apply to angling with the new season just begun. But the Swiss have combined both: dozy politics and a kick in the teeth for their anglers.

Those of you visiting for sometime will have heard the warnings from this pen before: that in some areas, most notably Germany, the pressure of the greens can result in catch and release of fish being banned. Such flakey philosophical ideas can spread, and now we see that they have, and Swiss anglers, like Germans, have to kill the fish they catch. We need to be clear about the so-called arguments because many British anglers, whilst being appalled do not seem to realise the danger. The argument goes that it is cruel to pull in a fish purely for sport, and then return it to the water; the only justification for pulling in a fish is to eat it. It completely ignores the wealth of scientific literature which proves that there is no cruelty or pain in landing a fish; and the fact that immature or unclean fish can be accidentally landed (and must be returned quickly); and it disregards the conversation issues and environments issues.

The problem is that facile and flakey arguments like those used by the Swiss and German governments, although shallow, have a habit of catching on. (Think just how far “political correctness” “health and safety” and “human rights” have drifted in this country and you can see how it happens). I think that our leading organisations, such as FACT, should have robust arguments carefully in place, and when these idiot ideas raise their heads make sure they quickly blow their heads off.

More moronic McCartney nonsense

None of this would worry Sir Paul McCartney, of course. He was quoted in the national newspapers as saying that he gave up fishing because he could see the small fish dying as he reeled them in! Perhaps he should go to Switzerland. Anyway, if he was killing fish as he reeled them in, angling is better off without him. None of the rest of us kill fish as we reel them in, so what on earth was he doing? I don’t know whether his music is any good or not, but I do know that his philosophy as a grown up is rubbish. I mention this case for a good reason. Here we have a famous person getting press coverage because he is anti-angling; but we, as anglers, often use the same ploy with people who are pro-angling, and so on. They may not actually know much about angling, but we want their support. So we can’t really complain when the opposition use the same tactics can we?

Climate change debates

I don’t know whether many of you are into the climate change debates, but if you are you may have noticed the bizarre story of how the BBC’s chief reporter on climate change, Roger Harrabin, had some mild sceptical comments suppressed after pressure from a body called Campaign Against Climate Change. You can’t argue, it seems, against the idea of human input to climate change these days. There is a short cut to all this; read an excellent book by Fred Singer and Dennis Avery called “Unstoppable Global Warming” (Newman & Littlefield) published and reprinted in 2007. It is excellently researched, readable, well referenced and it deals with what would happen/will happen to various species as temperatures rise. On the other hand it isn’t the doom and gloom scenario we hear so much of today.

The Walker Bandwagon

One of the reasons I’ve been doing more reading recently is that I have been laid up in a hospital bed for a few weeks! And something I recall reading, as I was carted away, was a comment in our letters and debates section complaining that the recent interest in Dick Walker – partly engendered by my biography of him, I am sure – was just a bandwagon where people were out to make money. I have to say that there is probably a little truth in this. I did notice that as soon as I started work on the biography, and announced it in, any number of ghosts reared their heads!

Long planned books about Walker were resurrected; items appeared at auctions selling at amazing prices and so on. Books themselves are a slightly odd category. Any author will tell you that little money is made by the author of a book unless he is very very famous and the publisher does a mega-marketing stint. Most authors do not write a book to make money, but to try to set the record straight as they see it. If you break even you are lucky. So, there have already been several books on Dick Walker’s trout fishing, such as those done by Peter Maskell. These are excellent books and extremely useful, and I don’t think one could conceivably describe such works as exploiting the Walker name. I suppose someone might try to make money out of a Walker book, but it won’t work.

Auctions are a different matter. I simply cannot understand the feelings of someone who owns, shall we say a Walker float, or hat, or rod, or whatever, wanting to sell it. Of course, it might well go to a very good home, to someone who appreciates and values it a great deal more than the person selling it – by definition I suppose. Giving something to a good home is rather different, and I am aware myself of several very kind acts which have taken place during this recent upsurge of interest in Walker. For example, Tim Walker received, as a gift, two of his father’s letters which the then owner was actually planning to sell at quite a high figure. Realising Tim’s interest he made a gift of them: people like that will go to Heaven.

In summary, then, I am sure there will be attempts to exploit Dick’s name in both small and large ways, but I am hoping it will be tempered with commonsense too. For many of us in the 1950s onwards it was an amazing time and, as we have seen from the writings of Bob Buteaux, it isn’t all told yet.

Sir Fred J Taylor – it should have been anyhow

It was good to see all those memories of Fred J. Taylor following his recent death. He should have been knighted, of course. I think I came out of hospital the day of Fred’s funeral and I remember thinking of a day I spent with him over near his home. He had offered to give me a few fly casting tips, and we spent the best part of a day in the meadow of a farmer he knew, casting with both split cane and glass rods (before carbon rods!). Later I fell out with him – my fault entirely – but we later patched it up; and only a couple of weeks before he died he readily agreed to my using one of his articles in a lure fishing book I have just finished. Fred was a strong personality – indeed he would have to be to survive amongst Walker, Thomas, etc, and a very kindly man too. I have a suspicion also that he got to the root of angling problems rather more quickly than Dick walker did. In fact, I vaguely recall Dick saying this at some stage. Fred’s was an enormous contribution to angling and its image. They say he got a bit cantankerous in his later years! Well, don’t we all?

The RSPB issue

Somewhat belatedly perhaps, I will come back to the RSPB issue. I am not opposed to the RSPB in general and am happy to concede that they do some good work – I have worked with them, on the ground, and so I know first hand, but the present tense is important here. They do good work, and have done for some decades, but before that, when waters were stinking and polluted it was ANGLERS through the ACA, who did the work. Those waters which had little life in them then, birds or anything else, would not have had the birds today had it not been for anglers. Waters which have, now, more bird life on them when anglers do not fish there, only do so if others are excluded too: dog walkers, cyclists, sailors, etc. On waters where anglers are part of the human activity then they are the least disturbing of the environment. And the realities, I am afraid, that the track record of the RSPB shows that when it can get rid of angling it will do so. After all we do more bird watching than they do. I look forward to the day when FACT has the ears of anglers, more power, and when the success of the tackle industry economically is such that the buying power of angling will mean that it will not have to go cap in hand to get pitiful sums of money from people like Sport England who, like the BBC, are opposed to angling.

Ray Webb

I know I have mentioned this matter before in Fishingmagic and have had a reasonable response too, but I would welcome anything anyone has on Ray Webb. My biography of him is now well advanced but I am a bit short of information in some areas, especially his youth. I know when and how his fishing began and have a lot of material from then on. I would also like to get in touch with the following anglers, so if anyone can help then I would be grateful: Bob Ranby; Dave Mansell; Don Savage and Roy Jackson. I have quite a lot of photographs and letters, but any would be welcome (on loan, of course) and it is fortunate that many of the maps we made of waterways and lakes are in my possession and were not in Ray’s house when it was burgled and all his angling things stolen. I am quite determined to put on record the achievements of Ray Webb, because, possibly unknown to so many today, what he discovered does underpin a lot of what we now take for granted, especially in pike fishing.

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