Angling heroes - who will you vote for?

Most anglers at some stage in our lives have our angling heroes. Perhaps it was the person who took you fishing for the very first time or someone you read about in the angling press.

Ivan Marks with a Nene roach

In the latest angling heroes series on our website we have carefully selected a range of unique individuals who have made massive contributions to the development of angling, fisheries or in some cases both. Some of these heroes may be angling household names; others will have been almost forgotten to all but surviving relatives and historians.

Choosing a shortlist isn’t easy

If we had the time and the volunteers to compile the articles, we could have come up with literally dozens of angling heroes. They are all people who had given way more to fisheries and angling than they had ever taken out. There are hundreds of individuals out there who have given a lifetime of voluntary service without expectation of financial or other reward. David Kent, Terry Fell, David Crookes, Alan Hughes, Trevor Johnson, Dennis Meadhurst, John Woods, Harry Lodge, Richard Knowles, Martin Callow, Dave Wales, George Bateman, Fred Lancaster, John Castle, Mike Mann, Peter Dawson, Terry Nutt, Alan Gough, Kevin Jessop, Brian Eccles, Richard Gibbs; there’s more than a dozen names without my even stopping to draw breath.

It’s make your mind up time

Was it Hughie Green who used to say that? I have to confess that I still have not decided who to vote for. Should I take into account my personal relationships or try and stick dispassionately to the fundamental question of which character made the greatest contribution to putting fisheries and angling where it is today.

I grew up avidly reading Mr Crabtree and so Bernard Venables is an obvious contender. I wonder just how many youngsters did likewise. Can you believe how many copies Mr Crabtree sold? Having spent many years match fishing, particularly in my younger days when my back and eyes were still in some sort of working order, I have to ponder voting for Dick Clegg or Ivan Marks.

In the 1970s and early 1980s we all hoped year after year for that elusive team world title. Dick took over as team manager and the goal was finally achieved and thereafter repeated on numerous occasions. Growing up, Ivan was my hero as he was to so many in that era and he may get my vote; for I am convinced his match fishing feats will never be achieved again.

Two personal friends

I spent many a long evening drinking copious quantities of black coffee in Ken Ball’s home/office in Newport Pagnell whilst discussing fisheries matters. I don’t think there was ever an evening when his phone did not ring on at least half a dozen occasions. He was a tireless worker with amazing patience. On one occasion, Ken gave Mebrat and I a pair of Ethiopian Airlines china coffee cups.

I later found out they were originally used only in first class and phased out in the 1970s. Ken had picked them up for a few pennies at a car boot sale. With our Ethiopian connection, we were somewhat touched.

Not long before Terry Mansbridge passed away, we spent an afternoon with Terry and his wife Christine in Norfolk. Doubtless there was British Waterways business to discuss, but it was the hospitality which sticks out most in our memories. A huge fruit laden Victoria plum tree grew in the middle of Reg and Ron’s paddock and Terry presented us with a carrier bag full to take home. To this day we have never tasted better Victoria plums.

Barbara Castle

One angling hero who I actually gave quite serious thought to including on the list was Barbara Castle MP. It was Ken Ball, not long after I first joined British Waterways, who first recounted to me the history as to how fishing ended up being specifically mentioned in the 1968 Transport Act and Fred French later confirmed the story.

The feisty MP for Blackburn was Minister of Transport in Harold Wilson’s Labour government. When the future of canals was under discussion as they were throughout much of the 1960s, she invited a couple of key National Federation of Anglers officials down to the House, including the president, Major Brian Halliday. 

To pay or not to pay, that is the question

She put two options forward and famously gave them ten minutes to advise her of their preference (apparently, it was put somewhat more bluntly than that). She explained that angling clubs had the option of having the fishing free of charge or of paying for it. The former option would come with no service and the possibility that the board (BWB) would have been free to have stopped fishing on the network should they have so chosen. With the latter alternative would come a statutory duty for BWB to provide fishing on the cruising waterways.

There was much support for the latter option amongst Labour MPs in particular. There was the promise of a small fisheries team being recruited. Fishing was also given one representative on the new advisory body, the Inland Waterway Amenity Advisory Council (IWAAC). As a consequence of the NFA’s advice, Tom Leatherland was in due course appointed as the first National Fisheries Manager.

A brace of Barbaras to thank

So as I wrote this article it suddenly dawned on me that I might not have had the privilege of doing this job if it had not been for the decision that Barbara Castle took all those years ago. And I would certainly not have survived in the job for long either without the second Barbara, (Ms Wilder) who does so much of the hard work behind the scenes to ensure the fisheries teams’ affairs runs smoothly.

Last date edited: 6 May 2016

About this blog

The fisheries & angling team

The team undertake a diverse range of work including looking after the Trust's £40 million worth of fish stocks, managing agreements with over 250 different angling clubs and helping more people, especially youngsters, take up angling on the canal. Follow this blog to keep updated with the thoughts and work of the team.

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