Caught by the River

Caught by the Reaper – Professor Richard Barrie Rickards

17th November 2009

Barrie Rickards, 1938 – 2009


by John Andrews:
Reel in your rods and break down your landing net. Stand quietly by the gravel pit side when you next go fishing and pause for a moment, for Barrie Rickards is dead. He died on the 5th November this year of cancer. To anglers of the Winfield generation he was a man of stature, a latter day fen tiger who strode across the East Anglian waterland in a pair of waders, an overlapping Barbour and a converted GPO Morris Minor van full with dustbins of livebait and bags of frozen herring and mackerel. The first fish he ever caught was a 3oz perch and one of the last was a Nile perch nearly 500 times as big. His academic brilliance and sharp mind took him from the streets of Leeds and Goole to the rarified surroundings of Emmanuel College in Cambridge where he was a senior lecturer, Emeritus Professor of Palaeontology and Fellow. He was also the former curator of the Sedgwick Museum and a recipient of the Geological Society’s Lyell Medal, but to anyone who ever unfolded a green nylon deckchair on the muddy banks of 1970’s Britain he was a tutor far beyond his academic world. He wrote prodigiously on fishing publishing over 700 articles and 30 books. Although he loved tench above all other species his most instructive works were ‘Fishing for Big Pike’ which he wrote in conjunction with Ray Webb in 1971 and ‘Pike Fishing Step by Step’ which appeared in 1976 as part of the Cassell Photobook series. These were works that told you everything you needed to know about pike fishing from making wire traces (always to be kept in dried milk tins) to installing a freezer in a suburban garage specifically for storing deadbaits and building a traditional ‘Norfolk’ livebait box in a garden pond. He fished with Olivers of Knebworth stepped up glass carp rods and Mitchell 300’s. He kept his thermometer in a spectacles case and used it more times when he went fishing than most people cast out. He knew that temperature changes, light fluctuations and wind direction all affected the times when pike fed. He once watched a pike lie next to his bait in the bright sunlight of a winter fen afternoon for a full three hours. Neither he nor the pike moved a muscle nor a fin. A snow shower passed overhead and at its height the pike took. Such information Rickards shared with his readership and his passion for knowledge and its correct dissemination led to him becoming president of the Pike Anglers Club of Great Britain. After his passing the web forums were full of stories of Rickards driving hundreds of miles on dark nights to give talks to regional PAC groups in pub function rooms and village halls. He would stay for an hour or two afterwards and always turn down the offer of hospitality and take to the road to return to his own home. You get the feeling that if only one angler were left and needed to be intstructed on how to present a bait or tie a knot Rickards would have been the man to call. The issues of Pikelines – the PAC newsletter which he once edited are now collectors items, angling fanzines which command high prices.

Barrie Rickards was a teacher, a man who gave his mind to others. In his later years and after retirement, with the help of Medlar Press he published ‘Fishers on the Green Roads’, which Keith Elliott described as ‘The story of a boy, set in leafy postwar Yorkshire, a story of a more innocent time’, and was singled out to write the biography of Richard Walker which he did with aplomb. The last manuscript Rickards submitted was ‘Zander – How to Catch Them’ which Medlar will bring out posthumously. He is survived by his family, his many friends and by a vast legion of pike anglers.

John Andrews – From the banks of Badshot Lea