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In the final instalment of the angling heroes series, John Ellis puts the case for Ivan Marks.

Ivan Marks, angling Ivan Marks, angling
"Ivan always claimed just to be an ordinary bloke who could fish a bit. The angling world knows he was far, far more than that." John Ellis

I have worked in the fisheries world for over 30 years and estimate that I have met or spoken to more than 1,000 different angling club officers during that period.

It’s a reasonable statement to make that the majority of club committees are, to this day, made up of people who are or were at one time active on the match fishing scene, usually at club or sometimes at open match level. Few, if any of them, would not know the name of  Ivan Marks.

I believe that Ivan’s unique influence on a whole generation of anglers has played a very significant role in keeping the angling club scene alive in the UK to this day.

Ivan the angler

Ivan is a serious contender for the Britain’s greatest ever coarse angler; few if any observers from any branch of the sport would fail to have him in their half dozen of all time. Ivan fished for England 11 times and would have been close to doubling this number of caps had teams been hand-picked by the manager back  in the 1960’s.

He was runner up in the 1976 world championship. Ivan won the Great Ouse championships three times in four years (what were the statistical odds of that happening?) with literally hundreds of wins on venues like the Welland, Witham, Nene, Cam, the Fenland drains, Severn, Trent and Warwickshire Avon to name but a few. No angler in history has a better claim to have won more 500 peg matches than Ivan Marks.

Ivan Marks on bank taking a break from anglingIvan the celebrity

Like no other angler before or since, people were genuinely in awe of the great Leicester man. Just how many anglers wanted to speak to Ivan but were just so afraid that they could not bring themselves to approach him, tens of thousands I would say. Some literally froze in his presence.

When Ivan was fishing matches, crowds of many hundreds would inevitably gather behind him. Rarely did Ivan complain, although he knew that it cost him many match wins over the years. Ivan understood the bigger picture. He realised that promoting the sport was even more important than his own personal success. And if the truth be known, Ivan thrived on the banter and camaraderie of the crowd.

If, like my brother and I, you had the privilege of watching Ivan perform in a national championships it was an experience that remains vividly in the mind. For Ivan was the greatest entertainer the angling world has ever known. He was a regular on TV including appearances on ITV’s 'World of Sport'. He did a six week stint on the ITV children’s programme 'Magpie' and he doubled his money on Hughie Green's quiz of that name.

Team manager & captain

Ivan mentored a group of anglers who were christened by Angling Times as the Likely Lads. They were Howard Humphreys, Brian Envis, Dave Downes, Dave Rossi, Roy Marlow, Robin Grouse, John Essex and Phil Coles. They are now immortalised in Mark Wintle’s excellent book, 'Ivan Marks and the Likely Lads'. Ivan captained Leicester Angling Society from 1962 through to 1980. 

It was the Likely Lads that formed the backbone of the team during that period. Under Ivan’s captaincy, Leicester famously won the last of the weight nationals in 1971 on the Severn with over 124 lbs of fish pushing great rivals Birmingham Anglers Association into second spot that day. Leicester AS won again in 1974 on the Welland and were runners up in 1973 (Witham) and third, again on the Welland, in 1977.

Developing young anglers

As well as developing anglers already in the team, Ivan was always on the lookout for new talent. More often than not he would visit his local Grand Union Canal looking out for promising up and coming angling talent. For Ivan understood that if young anglers learnt their trade on the canal network, they could adapt to any venue and consequently catch fish anywhere.

Working alongside Roy Jefferies, Trev Tomlin and John Essex, Ivan played a significant role in the success of Leicester Juniors in the 1970’s and early 1980’s. The team won the NFA junior national six times during that period.

Sharing his secrets

Ivan wrote a weekly column in the Angling Times which ran from 1972 to 1980. In these articles, some of which have been republished in a book called 'Ivan Marks, the People's Champion', he taught us about the use of small hooks, fine line and above all balanced tackle. Working alongside John Goodwin, Ivan co-wrote two excellent books, 'Ivan Marks on Match Fishing' and 'Ivan Marks on Float Fishing'. My mates and I all caught more fish as a result of following Ivan’s words of wisdom.

Ivan on the importance of canals and canal fishing

I got to know Ivan quite well in my early years working at British Waterways. Ivan helped out more than once on our stand at shows. He was a supporter of what the British Waterways fisheries team were trying to achieve, which was unusual for top anglers in that era.

He confessed to me that he had mixed feelings about the development of commercial fisheries such as Drayton. He believed first and foremost that young anglers should serve a proper angling apprenticeship on their local canal or river, and that commercials may end up doing more harm than good to the sport if they took away youngsters from natural venues. History may yet judge him to be right about that.

Goodbye, People’s Champion

When Ivan passed away in 2004, around 1,000 people turned up at Leicester Cathedral to celebrate his remarkable life. Not since the passing away of Billy Lane in 1980 has such a gathering of anglers been witnessed. Tommy Pickering and David Hall read eulogies. Ivan always claimed just to be an ordinary bloke who could fish a bit. The angling world knows he was far, far more than that.

Last date edited: 29 April 2016