Oh dear! Another good man gone, and not a better one anywhere in angling. In all my years of angling and all the time I knew Eric, I cannot remember meeting a more helpful and friendly man. Being with him at meetings, which was often, and fishing with him was a real pleasure, always. On one of my first angling trips with Eric I was complaining about the lack of decent rod rests for specimen fishing; a few weeks later I received a superb set from him that were made form tank aerials, which I still use to this day.
Eric was never, I think, renowned as a big fish man himself, though he did well enough at times as I shall tell you. However, he was quickly involved in the burgeoning specimen hunting movements of the late 1950’s and was a member of the Northern Specimen Group based in Sheffield. Along with Ray Webb, Ron Clay, Don Savage, Dick Clegg (later of match-fishing fame!) and others. Eric saw the potential of combining all the specimen groups under one banner to get the big fish movements exchanging information, but also, to increase their political clout too. So the National Association of Specimen Groups
(NASG) was formed and for years was very successful. Dick Walker has often been attributed in the media with the founding of the movement, but this is quite wrong. Dick inspired the concept of specimen hunting, but it was Eric who was responsible for the conception and setting up of the NASG. In his later years Eric resented this put- down and the media were loathed to correct the error. The answer by the NASG and it’s successors was to honour Eric properly which pleased him greatly.
Again, Eric was instrumental in the founding of the Pike Society of which Fred Buller was the first President, and me, the second. The paperwork was done by Eric. This leads me naturally to the only downside to Eric; he was not an efficient man at times! I discussed this with him often, and there were very good reasons why handling the considerable correspondence for the Society (and for NASG) was difficult for him. For a start he was fully employed as an engineer, with his own company at times. All his angling work was not only in his ‘spare’ time, but at his own expense entirely. I never knew him to claim a single penny in expenses for angling and he must have spent thousands of pounds on behalf of angling. The problem was that in those days, before email, letters from officials tended to be typed, so they piled up, and potential members were lost. In consequence, the Pike Society, rarely with much more than 100 members faded away.
Then Eric, recognising all this, asked Hugh Reynolds and I to take over, which we did, fully realising what we’d be letting ourselves in for! We changed it to PAC of course, and by sheer hard work all went well. Eric was ecstatic at the result; it was what he wanted. He had the grasp of what was needed, the dream, the idea, and then he needed workhorses to move it on a bit. It was the same when he was running NASG; in the end it became a little too much for him and younger people took over. I didn’t think he was pleased to step aside at the time, but he was later pleased to see how his ‘baby’ had grown, and I do remember his last visit to the Specialist Anglers’ Alliance meeting where he seemed staggered at the achievements.
Eric had an amazing recall of specimen hunting activities from the earliest days and talked often of writing up all this in a book with anecdotes. Martin Gay and I tried hard to encourage him, even providing him with a chapter plan at one stage, but eventually it became clear that it would never happen. A great loss I think. I have a huge pack of correspondence from him, all beautifully written, (and he said he couldn’t write!) and had he written a book in the style of the letters it would have been a lovely read. However, of course, all this passing of information was done verbally because he was always excellent at communicating with anglers, and with helping them too.
One of my most cherished times with Eric was tench fishing some lakes up near Selby. He kindly got me a permit to fish a water producing plenty of 5lb-plus fish, quite something then. Eric had it down to a fine art, crouched behind a low green mesh screen he caught big tench right under his rod tip. Terry Coulson used to come up from the smoke too, so we had a good time and good fish. Certainly the tench catches he made were as good as anyone was getting anywhere, even in Ireland. I forget the biggest, but it was over 7 pounds.
He was a pioneer in other areas too. I recall he was one of the first Brit’s to go barbel fishing in S. Europe, for example, and in general had his eye open for new and unlikely venues. All his ‘political’ work for angling sometimes prevented him doing what he really liked best of all, namely sitting at the water fishing, having a good yarn with a fellow angler. I think that is how I shall remember him best of all; a good friend, excellent company and a man of some vision in many matters to do with angling.
Barrie Rickards, July 2008.