To the pike angling world, Professor Barrie Rickards, aka the ‘Pike Doctor’, holds a rightful place as an angling colossus. This man quite simply changed the lives of thousands of fishery owners, club officials and pike anglers, including Chris Leibbrandt, who wrote this profile.
Changing the landscape of pike fishing
In terms of influence, Barrie’s contribution to pike angling in particular is incalculable. At one time or another he presided over the Pike Society, the Lure Anglers’ Society and the National Association of Specialist Anglers. With some 800 articles published in magazines over many years and as author or co-author of 31 books, he was a prolific angling writer.
It’s arguable that his greatest achievement was when he and his colleagues Hugh Reynolds and Bill Chillingsworth established and grew the Pike Anglers’ Club (PAC). Barrie and his fellow members caught and rode the wave of changing pike angling opinion. For the first time the PAC collected pike anglers together and gave us a voice, an ability to bring about a change in the fortunes of pike.
The PAC was set up as a direct consequence of the need to protect pike, Esox lucius, the UK's freshwater apex predator. Despite their size and (some say) fearsome toothy countenance, they are fragile and enigmatic creatures that are vital to the ecology of freshwaters in the UK. Despite this knowledge, the majority of clubs and water owners at the time had kept up a relentless policy of eradication.
As a scientist, rather than taking the received wisdom that pike were bad for waters, Barrie investigated and researched the evidence. Using data from scientific studies, he realised that eradication, rather than improving fisheries, was positively detrimental and set out to share this knowledge.
In 1991, as secretary of the PAC, I worked with Barrie to produce a groundbreaking publication titled ‘Pike in Your Waters.’ This is still used to improve the welfare and place of pike in freshwater more than 30 years later.
Reversing the trend of pike killing
As well as reversing the trend of pike killing, Barrie was also a catalyst for the revolution in pike handling techniques, changing tackle, wire traces, terminal tackle and bite indication, providing us with the correct way to unhook and return these fabulous fish.
There can be very few pike anglers who have not been inspired by Barrie, having their fishing changed and improved on all sorts of levels.
It is Barrie’s intellect and academic brilliance that sets him aside from many anglers, and these are worth noting here. Barrie was born in Leeds in 1938, attending Goole Grammar School. Apart from his sporting prowess, his aptitude for chemistry led to his BSc in Geology in 1960 from the University of Hull, followed by a PhD in 1963.
After short postings to University College London, the University of Cambridge, the Natural History Museum and Trinity College Dublin, he returned to the geology department at Cambridge in 1969. Here he remained as lecturer, reader and professor, becoming a Life Fellow of Emmanuel College.
His academic career is quite staggering. He published more than 270 papers, winning the Geological Society’s Lyell Medal in 1997 and becoming Emeritus Professor in Palaeontology and Biostratigraphy at Cambridge, as well as curator of the Sedgwick Museum.
Whilst Barrie was a colossus in the world of palaeontology, he also brought his intellect to bear on his hobby: fishing. Few of us in the angling world knew his academic achievements, and being the modest man he was, few in the world of academia knew of his angling exploits.
Fishing is about enjoying yourself
I can’t pretend that Barrie was a bosom buddy, but in my business dealings in the tackle trade and other correspondence with him he became a friend. I was always delighted that I was so readily welcomed into his peer group, one where I was always a bit star struck.
We may not have seen eye to eye on many subjects, for example we were polar opposites in our political views, but with Barrie you could always debate a subject. This dispassionate approach to analysing situations and evidence is what made Barrie the great angler and communicator he was.
One thing that Barrie and I did share was the notion that fishing is about enjoying yourself, something that gets overlooked by far too many anglers. If there are more anglers out there enjoying better pike fishing because of his writing, then that is a legacy that would have delighted him.
Last date edited: 14 January 2021