Fisheries and angling has its characters and anyone who has met him would certainly describe Ray Barber, secretary of the Todmorden Angling Society, as a major character in the north-west angling world.
Before I first had the privilege of a face to face meeting, Ray had been variously described to me as a stalwart, successful campaigner, superb fishery manager and local hero. Others referred to high levels of stubbornness and occasional lack of diplomacy. I could not wait to meet Ray to find out what really makes him tick.
It turns out that Ray and our new fisheries team member, Paul Breslin, were both born in Boundary Park Hospital, Oldham, which overlooks Oldham Athletic Football Club. Ray’s angling career kicked off in the late 1950s at Elton Reservoir. Elton is a Trust owned reservoir that feeds the Manchester, Bury & Bolton Canal. Little Britain Anglers have now leased a section of this waterway. Ray joined Todmorden Angling Society in the 1960s and has remained a member ever since, save for one short period. Following his marriage in 1972, Ray briefly lived more than 15 miles away from Todmorden town centre. In those days, he was ineligible to join the Society because of the 15 mile residency rule that applied at the time.
Ray was appointed society secretary in 1981 and remains in post to this day. He talks with fond memories of the Yorkshire stolen fortnight and of the 500 peg sell out matches held on the Rochdale Canal in that era. He particularly recalls one occasion when he took an extra 30 reservations, banking on the fact that not all the competitors would turn out. When at the draw it became apparent that they all had, some hasty re-pegging ensued!
Ray had the vision that the club should not rely solely on fishing rights rented from others and he was determined to assemble a portfolio of club owned fisheries. More details of all the clubs' waters, several of which Ray has developed, can be found at Todmorden Angling.
Todmorden Angling Society, along with neighbours at Hebden Bridge Angling Society, were awarded the National Federation of Anglers Division 4 National on the Rochdale and Calder & Hebble canals in 1999. Ray was at the helm in organising the event on the ground. 71 teams of 12 anglers lined the canal banks that day; that’s over 850 anglers. Will we ever see the likes again? The individual winner was Pulborough’s Paul Holden with a tremendous weight of 28 lbs 2 oz 8 drams. Chester won the team event that day with an impressive 661 points.
It has to be said that Ray has mixed reservations regarding the restoration of the Rochdale Canal that his club had a role in. For complex historic reasons ownership of the Rochdale remained with the Rochdale Canal Company. Restoration was led by the Waterways Trust which eventually merged with the Canal & River Trust in 2012. In the era which preceded some of the statutory nature conservation designations, the club were extremely active doing their own fish rescues and undertaking regular stocking programmes. SSSI and SAC considerations around the rare floating water-plantain, Luronium natans, are something of a frustration for Ray, which I can appreciate. Ray is a massive advocate of the importance of offside vegetation management. Sometimes in life delivery is the art of the possible and as a Trust we have to balance all sorts of competing interests. With Ray at the helm there is little possibility of the voice of the angling club customer being forgotten.
Having soon recognised the sharpness of Ray’s mind, it came as little surprise that Ray’s day job had involved engineering; he was indeed a railway signal engineer. In later years Ray became a recruiting officer for the white collar trade union, the Transport Salaried Staffs Association.
Ray played an important role in working with the Trust in developing the Manchester & Pennines Fisheries & Angling Action Plan document. Ray will be working alongside new fisheries and angling team member, Paul Breslin, the local Waterway team and other national teams to bring actions to fruition over the next few years.
Todmorden has successfully bid to run a heat of Canal Pairs Championships with top matchman, Frank Szakaley, as the local organiser.
If immortality genes exist, Ray might well have some copies in his DNA. Some genetic fingerprinting to confirm the matter might not go amiss. He still fishes regularly but has cut down competing in matches, now only fishing committee matches and the annual Christmas Fur & Feather. He remains an active angling journalist, writing a weekly angling column for various local newspapers. He’s an avid supporter of Burnley Football Club and I wonder if he is pondering a 5000-1 bet on his team to win the premiership title in 2017. I feel sure that when Todmorden Angling Society hold their centenary celebrations in 2035, Ray will be there to oversee it all. I hope to be there too, but that will only happen if Ray feels I am worthy of an invite. I will have just to wait a while to find out whether the invitation drops through the letter box or not.
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.See more blogs from this author