Next up in the angling heroes series is Fred Buller, who is almost certainly the greatest angling historian the sport has ever produced.
Fred was born in Fulham in 1926 and spent his early years living within sight of Wembley football stadium. As a boy, Fred first learnt to fish on the nearby River Brent, catching gudgeon and occasional roach. He often walked two or three miles to fish the Grand Union Canal, into which the River Brent feeds.
It was on holiday in Dorset, near the River Stour where he saw his first small pike, an experience that had a profound effect on the young Fred.
Leaving school and the war years
Fred’s dream as a boy was to run a fish farm. After leaving school, he managed to find a job at the Freshwater Biological Association, Windermere. As well as working on insects, he had involvement in netting experiments with pike and perch, studying how their removal impacted on indigenous trout and charr populations. Windermere perch were actually canned and sold as sardine substitutes during the second world war period. Aged 19, Fred then joined the navy.
At the end of his spell in the forces, Fred and his father started a film processing business and following early success he also started a gun and fishing tackle business. To attract customers, he began match fishing with the Beehive Angling Society, with significant success. In one match in 1957 he put together a winning bag of 64lbs of dace, over 260 fish. Through Chubbs, he met Richard Walker, Maurice Ingram, Hugh Falkus, Leslie Moncrieff, Bernard Venables, Jack Hargreaves, Fred J Taylor and many others.
"The biggest freshwater fish I have ever seen," was how Richard Walker described the huge pike that Fred lost whilst they were fishing together in a boat on Loch Lomond, not long after Walker had broken the carp record.
The loss of that pike, caused by an inadequate knot, haunted Fred to his dying day. Although Fred was considered the pike guru, he never caught one large enough to qualify for entry in his own 'Domesday Book of Mammoth Pike'. His best fish was an Irish 32 pounder, whereas the qualifying weight for his own book was 35lbs.
In later years, Fred accompanied Welsh rugby genius Gareth Edwards in the boat when the legendary scrum-half landed the 45lbs 6oz fish that broke the British record.
Fred the author
Fred’s favourite fish species was actually the salmon and one of his most famous books was the 480-page 'Domesday Book of Giant Salmon' published in 2007, some 28 years after his 'Domesday Book of Mammoth Pike'.
His first book was a small paperback, 'Fred Buller's Book of Rigs and tackles', published in 1967. With Hugh Falkus, he co-authored 'Freshwater Fishing' which was published in 1975. Fred undertook the majority of the research and many observers still feel, more than 40 years later, that this book is the definitive guide to angling in British freshwater.
Not only did Fred write about all the freshwater fish, he caught them all too, except for burbot and vendace. Again writing with Falkus, 'Dame Juliana: The Angling Treatise and Its Mysteries' was published in 2001. Unknown to most anglers today, Dame Juliana Berners was born in around 1388. She was by all accounts a keen angler and her 'Treatyse of fysshynge wyth an Angle' is the first known fishing book written in the English language.
Fishing tackle development
In 1963, Fred along with Leslie Moncrieff and Richard Walker set up the Moncrieff Rod Development Company. The company actually made the first carbon fibre rod in the world and went on to create innovative rods that were made and marketed by Hardy’s of Alnwick. Fred was awarded the MBE in 2010 for his services to angling.
Fred died in early 2016 aged 89, and the funeral took place at his local place of worship, the Church of St John the Baptist in Little Missenden, Buckinghamshire. This church is also featured in one of his lesser known books, 'Fish & Fishermen in English Medieval Church Wall Paintings'.
Keith Elliott, editor of 'Classic Angling magazine' believes that Buller should stand in the top five most important figures in British angling for his books and their impact alone. Keith argues that another aspect of Fred's life raises him to the highest pantheon of angling and that is his role in a group that might be called the shapers of modern angling.
Ostensibly lead by Walker, the loosely knit group of Peter Stone, Fred J Taylor, Falkus and Buller, with a few others in the wings, changed the face of British fishing, both with their scientific approach and their willingness to share their knowledge with the angling public.
Last date edited: 11 January 2021