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Friday, November 06, 2009

Time waits for no man

All too soon I find myself writing again on the passing of a well known pike angler. Barrie Rickards, who died yesterday, was of an earlier generation than James Holgate, but that makes it no easier to come to terms with. I didn't know Barrie all that well, but like James he put work my way when times were hard, asking me to do the diagrams for John Sidley's River Piking book. I also fished in his company a couple of times and he photographed my first zander (a double), the picture subsequently appearing on the cover of a zander book he wrote with Neville Fickling.

Of course I knew of Barrie long before I met him. I'd read many of his articles in Angling magazine and, like so many pikers fishing in the late 'seventies Fishing for Big Pike was my handbook. It is worth noting that this book was written in collaboration with Ray Webb, to whom Barrie always due credit and reminded people that it was Ray's name that took precedence (on the spine and inside if not on the cover). Yet everyone refers to it as being by Rickards and Webb, when the reverse is true.

The Word

The influence of that book on modern pike fishing is immense. It was first published in 1970, a year before Buller's monumental Pike. Yet today when we compare the tackle and tactics recommended in both books Buller's appear archaic, those of Webb and Rickards do not. In fact the rigs they described (maybe with minor tweaks) are still used pretty much universally. With Fishing for Big Pike Barrie Rickards became seen as the father of modern pike fishing. There is much to be said for that, but you can read Barrie's take, written in 1997, on how modern piking evolved in this article.

It is interesting to note that Webb and Rickards came to prominence without catching numbers of thirty pound pike. Of course it could be argued that there were fewer thirty pound pike around when they were fishing, and that is undoubtedly true, but the point is they wrote about their fishing and the photos they took of pike served to illustrate that what they were saying had merit. Their reputations were built on that basis. Today's piking heroes (for want of a better phrase) are building their reputations on the numbers of big pike they have caught rather than the knowledge they have passed on.

Webb and Rickards made a point of stating what they had caught as evidence that their methods worked. Fishing for Big Pike set out to bust a few myths and propose new theories (feeding spells, hotspots and the effects of barometric pressure for example) - so evidence was required. Writers who followed perhaps took this to extremes. Neville Fickling's first (and subsequent) books contained a detailed list of every pike of more than twenty pounds that he had caught at the time of publication. I'm not laying the blame entirely at Neville's feet, but while a list of big pike lends weight to an argument it does not guarantee that the argument is correct. Neville could simply have spent a lot of time fishing poorly on very good waters! Experience isn't necessarily measured in pounds and ounces.

What the writings of Barrie Rickards, Martin Gay, Jim Gibbinson and others following in the footsteps of Dick Walker all shared was an analytical approach to fishing. They looked at what was going on and rather than dream up fanciful explanations they applied logic. That all three of those mentioned were academics as well as anglers no doubt played it's part. I think that is the most important lesson I have learned from their writings - not to accept received wisdom and to think for myself. Will we see their like again?

Tributes: FishingMagic; Pike and Predators

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