Richard Walker – The best angler ever?

It began as one debate and, as these things do on the forum, ended up a little differently: Who’s The Best? – Forum. In the opinion of many, perhaps most, freshwater anglers, the best angler that ever lived was Richard Walker. Why? Well, let Walker himself answer; here’s an extract from a letter from the man himself, sent to us by Murray Rogers.

Out of touch? Not me says Dick Walker

A few weeks ago, a letter from a reader was published in Angling Times which accused me of being out of touch with the average angler and of advocating archaic methods of fishing.

What this had to do with the subject under discussion, which was whether anglers should support other fieldsports, I didn’t understand. But if these comments were meant to provoke a rise from me, like a well-chosen trout fly, they have succeeded.

I’ve been fishing for a very long time, during which I’ve never met either an average angler or an expert. The longer I fish, the more I realise how much remains to be learned. But, far from being out of touch with anglers generally, I doubt if anyone else answers more letters, ranging from ten year old schoolboys to university professors, barristers and other professional men, than I do.

I have long since abandoned false modesty, and there’s an old saying that if you don’t blow your own trumpet, nobody else will blow it for you. So this week, I’m going to blow mine, by asking some questions. Here they come!

  1. Who wrote the first book about Stillwater fishing, with special reference to the problems of catching specimen fish?
  2. Who designed and built the first satisfactory carp rod and has been designing carp rods, in cane at first, then fibreglass, and now carbon fibre, with calculated tapers, ever since?
  3. Who designed and made the first net big enough to hold a 50Ib fish, yet light enough to be used with one hand?
  4. Who invented the electric bite alarm?
  5. Who invented the Arlesey bomb, now to be found in nearly every coarse fish anglers box?
  6. Who devised the combination of paste and crust that produced a slow sinking bait that would come to rest on silkweed or soft mud?
  7. Who invented vanes, like dart flights, for float tops, visible at long range and able to make use of the wind to take a bait to the right place? These vanes are now used by many Pike fishers.
  8. Who invented a type of rod rest that ensured that the line would not be trapped between the rod and the rest?
  9. Who pointed out, again and again, that fixed spool reels needed rotating pick-up rollers, at a time when not one production reel was so fitted?
  10. Who campaigned for knotless keepnets, year after year, until Mr C.J. Field pioneered their commercial introduction, with the result that they are not only in universal use, but in most areas compulsory?
  11. Who invented the single and double Grinner knots, superior to any other kind of knot for joining nylon line?
  12. Who was the first to detect the ‘vibration’ bite from barbel, as different from the simple rod-bending pull, and explain how to detect it?
  13. Who, after hearing that a former colleague, Mr Leslie Phillips, at the Royal Aircraft Establishment at Farnborough, had invented carbon fibre, went racing down there with Jim Hardy, of Hardy Brothers, to see how this new material might be used in fishing rods?
  14. Who was the first angler in the world to catch Trout on a carbon fibre rod?
  15. Who, after experimenting with a wide variety of different ways of joining hooks in tandem trout lures, finally discovered the best and easiest, namely a treble plait of 12Ib nylon monofil?
  16. Who made a thorough investigation of the cause of loss of strength in nylon monofil, and discovered that it is due to either the effect of ultra-violet light, bright sunshine, to wet oxidation, or both, refuting makers claims that monofil was rot proof?
  17. Who discovered that the cracking of PVC coatings of modern fly lines was due to the loss of plasticizer, brought about by a variety of factors including heat, the use of ordinary greases, or simply time in storage? Who devised a special grease to restore lost plasticizer?
  18. Who with the aid of expert chemist Arnold Neave, devised a dip-in liquid that would thoroughly impregnate and waterproof dry trout flies, consisting of Silicon and suitable wax in solvent, and which didn’t alter the colours of the flies?
  19. Who, year after year, kept insisting that legering was a valuable method for the matchman, at a time when float-fishing was considered the only method worth using, and predicted that the day would come when the National Championship would be won with leger – and proved right?
  20. Who first advocated the streamlined float with a central tube to allow its use as a slider, instead of the then universal cork bung with slit and peg? And illustrated it in a book published thirty years ago?
  21. Who in the same book, described the running paternoster, now more commonly called the link leger – and illustrated it?
  22. Who first described and advocated, for some conditions, the method now known as freelining?
  23. Who first explained how modern glass or carbon fibre rods could be broken by violent efforts to make such rods flex against their own slight weight, without sufficient load, in the form of either lead or fly line on their tips?
  24. Who explained that if you halve the thickness of a line, it becomes sixteen times more flexible, and vice-versa?
  25. Who popularised the use of betalights in floats and other bite-indicators? Fair enough, I know Peter Wheat was the first in the field, but his efforts failed because the betalights used were too feeble by far. It was left to someone else to point out that a cheap betalight float that can’t be seen beyond 5 to 7 yards was a poor buy; better to spend a few pounds more for one that you can see at thirty yards or more?
  26. Who explained to the tackle trade that centrifugal governors on multiplier reels were the wrong way round; that instead of adding extra braking as the spool speeded up, they should add it as the spool slowed down?

I leave readers to answer these questions and to decide how many of them have the same answer!

As for archaic methods, well, fish don’t change in less than millions of years. If I fail to advocate the use, for example, of a range of fifty different carp baits involving organic chemicals and proteins, it is because I know that carp will eat almost anything unless experience has taught them that certain baits are dangerous.

Richard Walker, 26 January 1983

‘Who’s The Best?’ – Forum