Fishing Lines: Farewell to Fred, a genial giant who was first among equals

Keith Elliott
Sunday 11 May 2008 00:00 BST

Everyone seems to have a Fred J Taylor story. My favourite one concerning the great man happened on a cold, wet winter's day, the sort of day when sensible fishers sit in front of a fire and think: "Glad I didn't go out today!"

Fred, however, had been fishing since dawn. He had hoped the driving rain and biting wind would ease. No such luck. It just got colder and rained harder. Fred had forgotten his umbrella, so he sat it out in weather that seemed to have travelled all the way from Siberia just to make his life unpleasant. And he wasn't catching anything.

His companion, the redoubtable Richard Walker, seemed impervious to the cold. Not Fred, despite the extra layers of flesh that nature had generously equipped him with. As the raindrops turned to sleet, Fred turned to Walker and said: "I'll be glad when I've had enough of this!"

Tells you a lot about the bloody-mindedness of fishermen in general and the humour of Fred in particular. His Friar Tuck looks, smiling face and ability not to take the world too seriously made him a favoured companion of the best anglers in the land. Walker, Peter Stone, Fred Buller, Bernard Venables, Hugh Falkus: Fred J fished with them all as an equal. Not one (even the crotchety ones) had a bad word to say about Fred.

Note the past tense. He died this week, aged 89. Not toppling off his box on the river bank, as he would have preferred, but in a hospital bed. I visited him not two days before his demise. A columnist for my magazine 'Classic Angling', he was debating what to cover in the next issue.

But Fred always was a prolific writer, a great story-teller. He had 23 books published, from fishing stories and country matters to poetry and ferreting. He wrote columns for 'Shooting Times', 'Saga' magazine and 'The Daily Telegraph'. He starred in the first television series of 'Hearts of the Country'. Not bad for a kid who bunked off for most of his schooldays and went fishing or trapping rabbits.

Thousands of British anglers travel to Canada for its exceptional fishing. That's down to Fred, who pioneered and championed its angling potential at a time when we thought it was all trees and lumberjacks.

He won lots of awards. This year, he picked up an MBE for services to fishing. Typically, he chose not to go to Buckingham Palace, opting for a smaller ceremony with the Lord Lieutenant of Bedfordshire. Nearer his Leighton Buzzard home, you see. He was born there and never really moved away, apart from a short, unsuccessful emigration to Australia (he missed England too much) and enforced spells away during the war. "I came in as a private, got promoted to corporal and came out a private," he said.

A founder member of the Carp Catchers' Club, he fished the legendary Redmire Pool, home of record carp, in its heyday. He played a key role in inventing one of fly-fishing's most important flies, the Dog Nobbler. He popularised using dead fish rather than live ones for pike bait, thereby saving the lives of millions of tiddlers.

For those who took up fishing in the 1950s and '60s, Fred J was one of the gods. He may even have been the best of the lot.

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