Paying a sad final farewell to another fishing hero

Robbie Northman'’s PB Broadland can feel the adrenalin flow through the page Picture: John

Robbie Northman'’s PB Broadland can feel the adrenalin flow through the page Picture: John Bailey - Credit: Archant

I type this with tears in my eyes. Friday, January 11, was the saddest of days with its dreary, damp, cold afternoon.

Remembering Rob Picture: John Bailey

Remembering Rob Picture: John Bailey - Credit: Archant

At 4.15pm, at St Faith's Crematorium, the service of celebration for the life of Robert Shanks was held. It was a remarkable occasion, the road to the chapel awash with those coming to pay respects.

I knew Rob as a superb angler, a valued member of the Kingfisher/Manor Adventure carp syndicate and an integral partner to Daniel Brydon at Wensum Valley Angling tackle shop. The hundreds and hundreds of those present revered him also as a special family man, friend and fan of Norwich City.

The overflowing crematorium spoke of this young man's impact on every aspect both of his angling life and the life of Norwich and Norfolk in general. His all too early passing is an incalculable loss.

Why do we fish? Those hundreds attending who are not anglers must have asked themselves that question, hearing of Rob's outstanding exploits with rod and reel. Perhaps it is a basic instinct to hunt and survive that dates back millennia to a time so long ago but which is still alive in some of us at least? Perhaps it is the love of the natural world, the way that angling draws you in to mystery of dusks and dawns and nights that no one but an angler knows? In his moving speech, Daniel stressed how important this aspect was to Rob.

Perhaps it is the awe of fish that drives us and, goodness, Rob worshipped his colossal carp. Possibly, it is watercraft that holds us in thrall, that ability to read rivers and lakes in a way unguessable at by those outside the brotherhood. In this respect, too, Rob excelled. It could be the skill-sets we find so alluring as anglers. Fly casting, fly tying, trotting, beach casting and placing a carp bait on a bar a hundred yards distant are all up there as sporting art forms. And Rob was master of that last one, no doubt.

The intricacies of rig set-ups and bait choice have anglers absorbed and Rob was a professor in this regard. I can't count how many times over the years I went to him to have a seemingly unsolvable problem ironed out for me during one of his extraordinary rig clinics.

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Challenges and campaigns must play a part in driving us anglers out one freezing winter day after another. I know how involved Rob was in catching the impossible, in putting a net under a fish many of us would feel to be impregnable. Wow, he was good that man. Let's acknowledge how important friendship is in the making of a true angler. There are some loners out there and I respect their isolation. But Rob was not one of those carpers to keep his secrets, or his tea bags, close. I can remember happy mornings aplenty gathered around his bivvy, a gang of mates preferring to yak about fishing rather than being the other side of the lake, actually doing it. Yep, as St faiths testified, Rob was a magnet all right, one of those happy few who can amuse and inspire equally.

I remember Rob coming alight after he had caught a particular fish of his dreams and this is a central theme in the career of a lifelong angler. That feeling of completeness after that special fish has been landed is impossible to replicate in any other sport, if my long experience is anything to go by. The adrenalin that pumps during a long fight that goes the angler's way one minute and the fish's the next is impossible to describe to anyone who hasn't experienced it.

Perhaps that is it at the end of everything-the adrenalin rush. On the Thursday before Rob's so moving 'celebration' I saw this aspect at close quarters. Another young friend, Robbie Northman, and I were on a secluded broad as the light faded from the sky and the pike began to move in for the kill. The small silver fish were skittering here and there in their fright as the big black backs of the predators surged amongst them. The tension was palpable, I could see Robbie had almost forgotten how to breath as he worked his lure through the feeding carnage. The take... explosive. The fight... awesome and endless it seemed. The fish... a monster and a personal best for him on a lure. The feeling... pure elation. A young man with a smile almost too wide for the camera's lens to take in.

That was something else that Rob and I talked about a good deal during the far too short a period I knew him. Children. Rob was so dedicated in introducing this amazing sport to a new generation so that they too could know its all absorbing pleasures.

So, those of you present at St Faiths last Friday afternoon, perhaps we should all make it a priority this coming year to take a kid fishing whenever we can. That is just one way we can honour the memory of an extraordinary man who will be missed by so many.

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