John Bailey: Dick Walker – a man who left an indelible mark on angling

John Bailey and friends James and Alan with an enormous crucian. Picture: John Bailey

John Bailey and friends James and Alan with an enormous crucian. Picture: John Bailey - Credit: Archant

Just on 100 years ago, the Titan of the 20th century fishing scene, Richard Walker, was born.

Driven mad by bubbles! Picture: John Bailey

Driven mad by bubbles! Picture: John Bailey - Credit: Archant

He died tragically prematurely in the mid-1980s, but even by his later 60s, Walker had transformed angling. There won't be a reader today born anytime between 1950 and 1980 who won't fully understand Walker's impact.

To try and précis Walker's angling life is almost impossible. He was an engineer by training and he brought a logical mind and an analytical brain to a sport that had previously been guided by heart, soul and passion. Through his writings, primarily, Walker created the specialist angling scene and the specimen hunter. When he caught the record carp, a 44lb common, in 1952, he also transformed the carp fishing world forever. The fact that he then went on to design and develop carp rods, lines and even bite indicators only further cemented his reputation and his unforgettable impact.

Many of us will remember Walker as the long-term carp record holder, but he caught massive fish of every species and in his later life turned to stillwater trout fishing and transformed that, too. He helped develop better rods, lines and some famous fly patterns.

He was the first amongst equals, the most famous and influential of a group of anglers that included Fred J Taylor, Fred Buller, Peter Stone and even a young Peter Drennan. He was the first angler to appear on Desert Island Discs. He was the first angler to have his obituary written in The Times. No wonder. As an angler, an innovator, a communicator and a man, he has never been surpassed and, in all probability, never will be.

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'Fishing with Mr Crabtree', as a very young lad was my bible, but 'Stillwater Angling' by Richard Walker replaced it as I grew up. Walker's birth and this one of Walker's books have been very much on my mind this week. In 'Stillwater Angling', Walker talks about how and why fish bubble and how you can catch bubblers. I wish I'd had him with me on a couple of crucian carp sessions.

How can you be driven mad by a fish no larger than two or three pounds for a whole 16 hours? I don't think there was a minute of those 16 hours, spread over two days, when I didn't have crucians bubbling in my swim. And if they weren't bubbling, then they were rolling.

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There is no doubt they were on my bait because they simply weren't bubbling anywhere else. They might have been on my bait but they certainly weren't taking my hook bait. It didn't matter what hook arrangement or hook bait I used, the float never did more than waver, lift or occasionally curtsey. It never once went down firmly enough for me to respond with a strike. It was a puzzle. Would that Walker had been with me to find a solution.

When I appeared the morning of the second session, there was another head scratcher awaiting me. Although the lake I was fishing was otter fenced, there, right by my swim, lay an ottered crucian of perhaps a pound and a half. Though the owner and I toured the entire perimeter of the fence, we could find no way that the otter had intruded. There were no signs on the bank, no otter spraints, absolutely nothing to indicate that an otter had been, hunted and feasted. It was a complete mystery and perhaps an otter wasn't even to blame in the first place. Perhaps a mink had crept in, or had the hungriest of herons done some dirty work?

Three days ago, I was walking to a pitch on a tench lake high up above the River Wensum. On a gravel bar beneath me, I saw perhaps the biggest chub it has ever been my privilege to witness. I watched him for all of perhaps 15 seconds before he sensed my presence and simply fled. He was like a torpedo disappearing downstream and eventually vanishing into bankside, marginal vegetation.

I thought back to Walker. In one of his books he mentions that a 'scared' chub comes 'unscared' at a rate of about 10 minutes per pound in weight. I guess the chub that I saw had to be close on 8lb pounds which, according to Walker, would mean that it would be back on those gravels, in full view, in around one hour and 20 minutes. As I've said, that sighting took place some days ago and he's still not returned. Chub are evidently much more easily scared now than they were in the great man's day.

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