Fishing Lines: Critics may carp but Walker's genius is a matter of record

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The Independent Online

Getting a book signed by the author can bump up its value substantially. That's why I was amused when I was accosted at a tackle fair and asked to sign my classic 'Catch More Shark'. That would have increased its value to maybe 5.

Sadly, none of my six fishing books is worth much, signed or not, though the much-awaited 'Sex and the Single Skate', if I ever finish it, may change all that. It's coming, it's coming...

On the other hand, the moniker of angling's famous names, especially those now fishing the ponds of heaven (or maybe the Styx) can double a book's worth. I was recently offered 200 for 'Still Water Angling', just because my copy bears Dick Walker's signature. What a shame I never hung on to my Walker letters. They're fetching up to 300.

On the other hand, I have every reason to dislike Walker. Years ago, I sent an idea to a big publisher. It was provisionally entitled 'The Record Breakers', and the concept was to interview the catchers of all the British record fish, who would tell all about that momentous day.

The publishers sent it to an expert to evaluate. That guru, Dick Walker, said it was a dumb idea. He was probably right. (Walker wasn't wrong about very much). After all, he held four of those records.

But the man who is probably the most important figure in angling history was a lot more than the bloke in a trilby who caught a 44lb carp, an 18lb 4oz rainbow trout, a 1lb 5oz dace and a 4lb 13oz perch. He was fishing's greatest inventor.

He created rods, weights,flies and techniques still in use today. He revolutionised carp angling (until Walker, big carp were thought to be near-uncatchable) and stillwater fly-fishing. He wrote books and articles that changed the face of freshwater angling.

The words "fishing" and "genius" generally mix as wellas "shoe" and "badger". But as Professor Barrie Rickards saysin his just-released biography*: "It is possible that there will never again be an angler ofsuch stature."

Walker, who died in 1985, wasn't just an exceptional fisher-man. He wrote profusely and extremely well, and for 30 years many bought 'Angling Times' just for his articles. And yet, some speak ill of the dead. There are claims that Walker was arrogant, selfish, humourless, and even that he exaggerated not just the weight of his record carp, a fish that swam in London Zoo for more than 20 years, but other things too.

Rickards, emeritus professor of palaeontology and biostrat-igraphy at Emmanuel College, Cambridge, trounces most of these rumours. That carp could have weighed even more, it turns out. Walker, generous to a fault, donated his time, talent and even his tackle freely, and rarely claimed the credit.

Lacking humour? The accusers can't have read his stuff. Even at the end, when he heard that he had cancer, he retorted, "I'll beat this thing ifit kills me".

Arrogant? Well, maybe a bit. But supremely confident would be a better description. And I never really wanted to write 'The Record Breakers' anyway.

* 'Richard Walker: Biography of an Angling Legend', by Barrie Rickards (Medlar Press, 35)