Not so much an epitaph, more my own personal tribute to Fred Buller, first published on FM over 10 years ago, but the sentiment remains the same,
RIP Fred, and thanks for everything
'There be Monsters……..'
The recent and much heralded launch of Dick Walker's biography caused the few grey cells I have left to lurch into activity. Whilst my own, relatively small collection of angling books numbers less than a hundred in total, the subjects they cover are diverse, to say the least.
There are a few 'all round' type of volumes, listing just about every fish that swims in and around the British Isles and how, even sometimes where, to catch them. I have instructional books on subjects such as making your own tackle and rod building (ask someone over 40 if you don't know what this is) beach casting techniques (handy for pike bait launching), match fishing, float fishing legering, etc, etc.
I have a few of the 'must have' and generally regarded as seminal works by, shall we say, well known authors, both past and present, and few very good books by far less well known anglers. My recent trip with Jeff Woodhouse to the Thames at Marlow was almost certainly subliminally suggested by a passage on spinning for trout in the very same spot, mentioned well over 60 years ago in a book E. Marshall Hardy. Very same spot, very same tactics, pity the trout moved out some time ago.
Some of my books are hopelessly out of date with regard to tackle and tactics. In particular, I suspect that the instruction in one tome about getting your batman to carry all your tackle and 56lbs of groundbait to your match peg might not be relevant today, and Spanish reed match rods, quill floats, stewed wheat, spiral leads, Fishing Gazette bungs, gags and gaffs et al have all but passed into disuse.
It's probably true to say that the instructions given in some of the books written today could may well be obsolete almost before the ink is dry on the page, such is the pace of development in some areas of fishing. But by the same token, there is much of what was committed to print many years ago that still has a significant relevance to angling and anglers today, and quite rightly, will continue to do so.
I have books that I pick up and put down after reading a few pages and then come back to every so often, there are books that I have read once and never yet turned the pages over again. But amongst them all there is one book that has pride of place, not due to any great rarity or value (although it is a signed, first edition) but due to the effect it had on me when I first read it.
It contains very little in the way of instruction, the references to successful tackle and tactics are limited, sometimes not mentioned at all, but what it does have to a certain group of anglers is inspiration, and that leaps forth from every page of the book. This lucky band of anglers are pike fishermen and their bible is the 'Domesday Book of Mammoth Pike' by Fred Buller.
When ancient cartographers sketched out those early maps, in certain wild and uncharted places they would put the legend 'Here be Monsters', never was a phrase so apt for a subtitle. Page after page of truly huge pike, all 35lbs and above, monsters every one of them. Meticulously gathered details of those captures, some stated in so matter of fact way that they have the ring of truth running through them like lettered seaside rock. Other accounts so embellished as to tailor made for the term 'Fisherman's tale'.
Some of these captures were thought worthy of nothing more half a line of text in a provincial newspaper, others deemed so momentous as to have an engraved obelisk raised to mark the fateful day. Reading these stories just reinforces how much that fate, skill, luck and pure chance play in landing one of these leviathans. Most of the captors may well have set out on the day with the hope of catching a pike; probably none of them dared dream just how big that pike might be.
It is more than twenty-five years ago since this book was first published, so does it still have relevance today? Further research in the intervening years may have shed doubt as to the veracity of a few of the entries. Even the claims of the late, great Alfred Jardine appear to have been massaged slightly to enable him to keep his position as the nation's No.1 pike hunter. Does this matter, not a jot!
Just take a while to appreciate the amount of painstaking (pre-internet, don't forget) research that the author undertook in compiling this tome. Hour upon hour of searching through library records and dusty archives, checking, and cross-referencing stories, half stories and rumours. Hundreds of letters writing requesting information, hundreds of replies to be checked through and any information gleaned. Such a project is a continually growing process, with new captures being logged all the time. New editions of this book have been, and probably will continue to be issued, but it is the original work that is of concern here.
That original research leaves us with a book that deserves to be read by the warm glow of a crackling fire, with curtains tightly drawn against the icy rain sighing against the windowpanes of a winter's evening. Pour out generous single malt and settle back to immerse yourself in stirring tales of battles with truly monster pike. If you are a pike angler, you can't fail to be impressed, if you're not a pike angler, then prepare yourself for the possibility that you might just be converted.