Steve Pope Barbel Fishing

Catch more barbel!

Fred and Me



To put this story into its proper context we have to go back almost thirty years to October 1985. The riots at Broadwater Farm, just behind the house where I grew up as a youngster, had just taken place and I was saddened to watch the events unfold on the ground where I had enjoyed much of my childhood.

It was also the month my father died; he was just fifty nine years old.

For the fifteen or so years leading up to that fateful moment I had seen him almost every day of my life, we were close as we were in business together sharing many good times and some bad times as well.



Work, with my dad




For most of that period fishing had well and truly taken a back seat, family and making money were the main priorities for me and I doubt if my father and I had spent more than three days fishing together in all that time. We often spoke about it during moments of reflection and questioned if success really was having money and nice ‘things’, which at times we most certainly did, but in the process we had created a monster. Or, was real achievement having the time to do what you wanted, whenever you wanted?

I found that answer much later on in my life.

In the twenty four months leading up to the day he died my dad had found time to enjoy life outside of work by discovering his other passion, sailing. Still a connection with the water that must have been borne from his navy days but alas this pursuit did not involve a fishing rod and it didn’t include me because I had a very young family and a big house which both took up all my spare time.

I remember the day well, how could I possibly forget it?

It was the worst of my life.

At the hospital, the doctor, in a very matter of fact manner, informed me that my dad was going to die, not in a few years’ time but in a couple of months. My world came crashing down at that precise moment and I went away and cried.



My Dad




And he was right; it really was just a few weeks, barely time to say a proper goodbye. I remember thinking how cruel life could suddenly be, one minute it’s all about the good times with not a care in the world and then, in the blink of an eye, it’s all over. Life really does hang by the most slender of threads.

My all-consuming interest in the construction business pretty much ceased, times had become tough and for me they were about to get a darned sight tougher.

I drifted into that no man’s land where drive, ambition and self-fulfillment simply fade away. I was always someone who was capable of making things happen but not completely on my own, I needed a partner, a right hand man, it had always been that way and now I was well and truly alone.

The doctor once again didn’t mix his words, ‘I can prescribe you pills, I can fix up an appointment with the shrink or you can go away and smell the flowers.’ I chose the latter without realising at the time I was going to substitute fish for my recuperative rather than something more botanical.

My brother in law provided the solution and I will be eternally grateful to him because I don’t think I would have found it myself. My salvation came through rediscovering fishing and to be totally accurate, barbel fishing.

Roger was a member of the Waverley fishing club, a group that back in the early sixties controlled a stretch of the River Lea that we used to call The Waverley, it is where we first caught barbel. An incredible co-incidence, because although Roger and myself got on very well, and whilst I knew he enjoyed a bit of fishing, I don’t ever remember us talking about the club.



Diary 1965




And that is how I found myself, twenty years on, back on the river catching barbel and rediscovering a passion that unbeknown to me at that time would take me on a journey that would bring me into contact with a man who was to become a major influence in my life.



Down at Fisher's Green



I immersed myself into the fishing, every available moment back on the Lea at Fishers Green, enjoying trips down to the Royalty where I had not been for over fifteen years and I was once again catching barbel for fun using my old Rapidex centrepin, which was my barbel fishing reel of choice since first using it in 1970. This superb reel I attached to a new carbon rod – I still had my Peter Stone split cane Legerstrike from the sixties but I was no cane addict, much preferring the new, to me, modern materials.

This reawakened passion and determination to want more and to progress soon led me towards the Association of Barbel Enthusiasts (A.B.E.) where I found myself part of a group who were as mad as I was.

And of course the man at the helm of this merry band of brothers, well it was the man himself, Fred Crouch.

By pure chance and good timing Fred’s book, Understanding Barbel, had just been published and I had bought my copy and immediately realised that here was a man who had similar ideals to me, someone I could connect with. Someone who used a centrepin reel like me, someone who had fished the same places, someone from my neck of the woods, someone I felt I was always destined to meet.



The best barbel book and the man who wrote it.




I had heard of Fred because while I was at college, a couple of my pals there were interested in barbel fishing and Fred was making a name for himself back in those days. But that’s as far as it went, until I joined the A.B.E. we had never met although it is more than likely we would have been fishing at the same venues, at the same time for the same species back in the mid-sixties, as I say fate was playing its own game for sure.



Fred was making a name for himself




If my memory serves me well I first met Fred in Romford, he was carrying out some building work and I was with Pete Henwood, Pete wanted to speak to Fred about A.B.E. business and I went along for the ride.

I remember exchanging pleasantries and mentioning to Fred how I had fallen out of love with the building game, I’m sure he must have cracked a joke.

As my barbel fishing started to become more and more full on and I realised I was on a mission,  wanting more, after reading about The Barbel Catcher’s Club in the Angler’s Mail I decided I had to become a member of this group as well. I wrote a letter to the secretary and he put me in touch with Chris Holley who informed me that he was in the process of establishing a new London Region and was on the lookout for super keen barbel anglers. I’m your man, or words to that effect sprang forth from my mouth when we spoke on the phone!

We eventually met in a pub on the other side of the Dartford Tunnel, Ray Walton came along as well and the pair of them gave me the real third degree but at the end of it I was in.

Months went by, I had met with the other guys who made up the London Region and was looking forward to spreading my wings, meeting the right people and catching more and bigger fish.

Not long after came another fateful meeting.

Chris put it to the region that he would like Fred Crouch to become part of our team; we were all excited about the prospect of someone like Fred joining our very small band of men. Chris made it clear that because of some issues relating to a stretch on the Hampshire Avon his arrival in the club would cause a few ripples among the elders, we all agreed no matter we want Fred in the London region.

And so Fred duly joined us and that was how I was able to strike up a great friendship.

We hit it off immediately, the connection was there at every level, and for both our sins we even supported Spurs and would spend ages putting the world to rights on that score.

It was on our first trip to the River Teme, on a Barbel Catches Club (B.C.C.) fish–in, that’s when it became obvious that we would be spending plenty of time fishing together. I drove around to Fred’s, he lived about twenty five minutes from my house, and we set off for what would be the first of many journeys together to the glorious Teme Valley.

We spent a day on a stretch at Eardiston where none of us were actually sure if we were poaching or not! We had tickets but the boundaries were not clearly defined and so Fred decided to tuck himself away and find a swim far away from anyone else just in case.

Hard to believe I know but Fred was not the only wind up merchant in our group back then, Chris King and Mark Freeman were highly experienced in this field, these were guys not averse to wearing werewolf masks in the middle of the night to waken their mates who may have nodded off when supposed to be fishing – hard-core you might say!

So when they suggested to me that it would be a right laugh to find Fred and pretend to be a bailiff while putting on their best Brummie accents I had to agree. So we set off to find him.

Can’t recall if it was Chris or Mark who actually spoke the words but it was an authentic accent for sure, ‘Can I see your ticket mate?’

For a split second Fred was mortified because he couldn’t see us from his fishing position low down at the water’s edge and I’m sure he mumbled some sort of mitigation before the penny dropped and he realised he had been had!

That may well have been the first and only time I ever saw Fred caught out, over the coming years he got his own back time and time again and it was always great fun!

We had some fabulous days and nights on the beautiful River Teme, this was a river that suited Fred to a tee and no matter what venue we chose, he always proceeded to empty the place.

My Friday routine would be to set off after lunch and drive to Fred’s, have a cup of tea – preferably without the condensed milk that Fred was rather fond of –  and then we’d hit the road for a two and a half hour journey to arrive at Broadwas, our usual venue. We fished all through the night, packed up at first light to be back home in time for breakfast. We were quite mad but the fishing was exceptionally good and Fred always caught more than me!

We once found ourselves on a stretch near Martley and spent an hour or so walking the entire length before Fred decided on a spot that had the features which seemed to constitute his favourite swim, cover – afforded by an overhanging bush, and serious depth close in. By the time we packed up Fred had extracted around fifteen from the resident barbel population, all in the space of a couple of late afternoon hours when the constant trickle of feed from his own dropper could be resisted no more. He always made it look so easy and for Fred it certainly was.

The account of our memorable encounter with an astonished matchman on the banks of the Teme at Knightwick, which was an event in itself, can be found in its own article in the pages of Barbel Fisher 37, and it is also here on the website.

Often we would be joined by other friends who wanted to share the delights the Teme in those days had on offer, one man in particular proved to be very important, his name was Mike Ball and he was instrumental in the formation of the Barbel Society and I will go into this as this story unfolds.

The stretch at Bransford also became a favourite and there was one session I really do remember well because once again, and as if I really needed reminding, Fred proved to me the importance of choosing the right swim and then feeding it properly and then reaping the rewards. What made this day somewhat different is that Fred had acquired some imitation casters. This is way before they were readily available in the shops; Fred while in mad professor mode had made these things and was going to show me how well they were going to work!

You can probably guess the outcome; Fred had soon found his signature swim just upstream of the railway bridge, and he happily spent the day pulling out one barbel after another.

Our friendship was obviously made of stern stuff because I was getting royally stuffed each time we fished the Teme but then, as often happened during our epic journey, fate stepped in once more.

Fred had mentioned to Vic Beyer, one of his many friends from yesteryear, where we were fishing and Vic suggested that we ought to have a look at a stretch on the lower Severn that he had heard was producing some big fish, indeed he had caught some good fish there himself. Time wise we are now just into the nineties and back then double figure barbel were still pretty thin on the ground and the record was still 14lb 6oz.

On a cold winter’s morning I set off with Fred to have a look at the place which we now know as Pixham. When we arrived the wind was blowing a right old hoolie and we struggled to stay upright as we made our way along the top of the flood bank, the stretch looked nothing like what we expected and even Fred thought Vic must have given us the wrong location. But, much to our surprise we found we were not alone when out of the blue appeared what we thought was an apparition – I’ve made that up because one of Fred’s pet subjects was ghosts and his total disbelief in anything that could be considered paranormal!

In actual fact this ‘ghost’ was most certainly human, it was an angler who introduced himself as Tony Storey, he was very evasive and we could tell that he was very suspicious of us with our cockney accents – we were visitor’s, not locals, and that to him could only mean trouble! That was enough for Fred and me to have a rethink as this added credence to Vic’s heads up. The decision was made on the spot, next season we would be spending less time on the Teme and more at this inhospitable place to see if we could catch something special.

This I was to find out would be my turn to shine.

The summer of ’92, Olympics taking place over in Spain and me with that Richard Marx song Hazard reverberating around and around inside my head, must have been the river references, and after three hard overnighters at Pixham not a great return to show for a big effort.

We had formed a firm friendship with Mike Ball and he was now part of this triumvirate attempting to unlock the as yet unreachable treasure that lay beneath in the depths of the Severn.

The fourth trip came round soon enough and all was about to change.

In true Delboy style Fred had somehow acquired a set of walkie talkies and he took great delight as we drove up the M40 showing me how they were going to be just brilliant on the bank. The trouble though was trying to tune in to the correct frequency, if indeed that was at all possible, because he was continually finding himself in conversation with random truckers, breaker one nine you might recall!

I suddenly had this nightmare vision of a truckin’ convoy following us right down the narrow lane to the Pixham car park!

We eventually arrived, fortunately sans lorries and pitched up close to the overhead cables, about fifty yards apart, and then sat back to see what this night had in store. The level had come up and we were certainly feeling quite confident. The sound of silence was only broken by Fred trying to make contact via the dodgy walkie talkies!

But then, as dusk became night, my reel sprang into life and I found myself attached to the biggest barbel I had ever encountered. I somehow got through to Fred; it was more likely to have been my piercing yell of ‘Fred, I’m in!’ rather than the new toy that did the trick!



The Biggest Barbel Fred ever saw




After an incredible tussle I guided the fish over the net and Fred duly landed this barbel, a barbel that would turn out to be the largest he would ever see, and in our excitement we thought the record was broken because the scales read over fourteen and a half – we had forgotten to zero the sling would you believe!

No matter it was a huge fish at the time, one that won me the A.B.E. Trophy – I was immensely proud, I also took it the following year and almost made it a hat trick but was pipped at the post as the Ouse started to produce the monsters.



Fred presenting me with the A.B.E. Trophy



Fred giving me the Trophy




That trophy is now in my proud possession, Fred having given it to me not so very long ago.

We enjoyed many more eventful trips to the lower Severn, for some reason I always seemed to get the best results which filled me with much needed confidence after the continual Teme drubbing’s, and Fred was really pleased for me only ever offering more encouragement. He was just happy to see the fish being caught. That was always the way with Fred and why he was the best fishing pal you could possibly wish for.

Apart from Mike other friends joined us on these overnight jaunts, one of which was Willy, an old acquaintance of Fred’s who came up once but after coming close to blowing up Fred’s company van was seen no more!

Apart from the fun and games there was a serious side and It was becoming clear to the three of us that barbel fishing was going to ‘take off’ and the A.B.E. was not equipped to handle a huge influx of new numbers and the B.C.C. was not set up to take on a large membership and so the Barbel Society was born.

Fred knew this would signal the end of the A.B.E. but realised that something new with a proper structure was needed to cater for the vast numbers we thought would be interested in joining a new barbel organisation.

The next couple of years found us working flat out to get the Barbel Society firmly established, we had a fantastic team around us, all good friends and all totally committed to the cause.

Fred and I decided we had to get out on the road and visit all the regions and that’s how and why I stated out on the talk and slide show circuit.

I knew I would be ok because Fred was a brilliant speaker and I would learn from him, I can recall with complete admiration the first time I witnessed Fred giving a presentation.

It was around 1990, we had driven to Loughborough for the annual National Association of Specialist Anglers (N.A.S.A.) Conference, and Fred was due to speak in the huge university auditorium. I remember saying to him as we sat high up looking down on the vast stage something along the lines of I don’t know how you can do this, I couldn’t, you are either fearless or daft!

And we all know Fred was not daft.

He did it, commanded the stage even without the assistance of slides and even with the knowledge that some in the audience had an axe to grind, I was more than impressed.

Back in his seat Fred said something to me that I’ve never forgotten, ‘Steve, there may be a hundred people out there listening to you, ten of them may well think you are talking rubbish but the other ninety are on side. If those numbers are ever reversed you get out of there pretty damn quick!’

Over the following fifteen years we gave talks all over the country and had some wonderful times and we never had to make a quick escape!

I always knew my place, Fred was the main man, and I was his support. As long as he was fit and strong enough I just stood back and let him get on with it, when he needed a breather I stepped in, it worked a treat.

But there was one night, in Wales, which will live with me forever.

We had agreed to give a talk for a good friend Kev Huish at his local club. It was a fair old drive from Enfield to the valleys and so we were kindly put up by Kev and treated to his wife’s pea and ham soup which to this day is the best I’ve ever tasted and I know Fred agreed.

Anyway there were posters up on the walls lining the streets heralding our appearance as we approached the working men’s club where we were due to appear, it was almost surreal.

Inside the club was packed and I mean solid.

We set up the screen, I organised the slides and projector and we made ready to start.

Now there were men, women and children in this room, the seats were all taken, people were standing and they were all, well the adults anyway, rather merry!

I was just a little apprehensive and so too was Fred.

I started off as usual and after about ten minutes it became very clear that this was not going to be one of our usual fishing talk and slide show nights, the audience wanted a lot more than that.

So, between the pair of us we quickly, seamlessly, moved into another phase altogether and Fred took centre stage producing one of the finest stand-up routines I’ve ever seen!

I did my bit which in truth consisted of feeding Fred with the subjects for him to get more and more laughs!

It was an eventful night, we barely got through a third of our normal presentation and when the guvnor called time those wonderful Welsh people, in unison, said we must return to finish the show. Unfortunately we never did, I really wish we had, but the experience must have had a really deep effect on me because I now live in the land of their fathers!

We spent countless hours together at fishing shows, and one in particular sticks in my mind. It was at the Wembley Conference centre and it was primarily a carp show. Fred was in mischievous mood.

Once again our standard talk repertoire went out the window as Fred decided he would wind up almost everyone in the audience as he extolled the virtues of fishing with one rod – this in a room where anglers thought three was the norm!

It was bedlam, and bearing in mind what I have previously written about the audience ratio we only just made it back on to the North Circular by the skin of our teeth!

Then there was the time we were nearly thrown out of the NEC because our makeshift barbel pool decided to spring a leak!

Fred had carefully constructed this balsa wood barbel so that people could guess its weight, unfortunately he forgot to take into consideration the fact that it would float, so we quickly purchased some lead to weigh it down puncturing the paddling pool in the process and causing the Birmingham Health and Safety officials to have a fit!

Time spent with Fred was always an adventure in itself; you just had to expect the unexpected!

Back on the actual fishing front we enjoyed trips to the Yorkshire rivers, indeed on the Swale we witnessed large barbel taking corn off the top of submerged rocks just under our rod tops, that observation led to Fred catching his biggest ever barbel at King’s Weir by dropping a piece of meat on the rock practically next to the bank instead of out under the weir cill where he usually presented the bait. Fred was superb at noting things for another day.

In fact he was brilliant at it.

We must have spent well over a thousand hours in the car together and add that to the time spent in hotel rooms – where Fred would revert to schoolboy pranks like hiding my pillows, drinking all the tea, hiding my shoes and anything else he could think of, friends’ houses – where Fred would always be on his very best behaviour – and out on the river, we are talking very many hours.

We would always be discussing something and in the early days it struck me that what we, and perhaps I should say I, talked about one week, comes the following week and Fred is repeating what I had said and fused it into his own theories!

I always took it as a compliment that he had taken something I might have suggested on board, I would rib him and we would laugh, Fred was Fred and he was the man and who was I to disagree!

We bought a caravan, that’s Fred, Mike Ball and myself; we paid £200 for it, so you can guess what it was like!

It wouldn’t have looked out of place by the roadside with Fred inside selling bacon sandwiches! Whenever the slide depicting the caravan came up at a show we were always guaranteed a laugh, mind you it was better than kipping in the car.

We caught some big barbel from the site where it was located, that was until the residents there decided that the tone was being lowered just a little too much and our caravan had to go where caravans like ours had to go – to the dump!

I mentioned the amount of time we spent travelling together, over the years that time was littered with breakdowns and we weren’t fussy where we conked out!

On the M40 in Fred’s car that at the time had a faulty petrol gauge but I had an assurance from Fred that the tank was full – he somehow forgot that Pat had been using the car all week!

On a busy roundabout over the M4 where Fred’s truck after chugging along the road for the previous ten minutes or so finally gave up the ghost in the middle of the evening rush hour, and there was Fred with no mobile phone, no AA membership, it was fortunate that I was around – we certainly needed each other!

There were other episodes that I dare not mention here, suffice to say being in a car or truck with Fred it was guaranteed that there was never a dull moment especially when he was in joke telling mode and I had to stop the car at regular intervals because the tears of laughter were affecting my driving!

We did revisit the Teme on a number of occasions, it was such a wonderful place and held many happy memories for us. When the Barbel Society took on the Bransford stretch that we still control today, we invited the Angling Times to come along to produce a feature for us. The result being that Steve Partner, the A.T. reporter, caught his first barbel and wrote a great piece titled ‘Barbel Fishing – The Call of the Wild.’

It’s in a frame hanging on my wall and as I write this it seems as though it was only yesterday when we were there, Fred back then was as old as I am now – where does the time go?

While I carried on fishing the Severn Fred had decided to offer tuition days at King’s Weir and also on the lovely stretch of the Kennet he fished. Our time together on the bank became less frequent although we still kept regular contact by phone and I would always call in to see him whenever I was in the Enfield area.

I had some good days on the Severn, mainly around the area where I had eventually purchased a proper caravan and whenever I caught Fred was the first to know and always his response was the same –  many congratulations, well done, get back out there and catch some more!

Around this time my middle daughter tied the knot and Fred and Pat came along to the wedding and they turned the clock back dancing away to the rock and roll music. There was also a surprise anniversary party for the pair of them that kept the music playing and all of us kept on dancing, good times indeed.

My daughters loved Fred; don’t think they had ever met anyone quite like him!

Whenever we spoke on the phone from home Fred would always end the conversation in the same way, ‘Give my love to Angie and the girls.’ Thoughtful always.

Fred was beginning to hit health problems and after a particular heavy duty wakeup call from his doctor he gave up smoking, which was quite something because all his fishing pals will know how much he enjoyed his roll ups.

He also started to change his eating habits and would delight in telling me how he had ‘ditched’ the fish and chips for proper meat and vegetables. It also meant he would relentlessly have a pop at me for putting on the extra pounds!

We were still prepared to give slide shows and even set off on the long haul up to God’s own county where we faced a packed hall, it went well though as did a trip to the Staffordshire area where we ended up in what we always called the Bates Motel!



At the Yorkshire meeting



At the Staff's meeting




My eldest daughter has given a very brief account of that hilarious occasion elsewhere in the pages of this edition of Barbel Fisher.

I started to join up with Fred on the river more regularly and once again fishing became that much more fun. Catching fish alone, even big ones was just not the same, fishing with Fred made the whole thing right, there was a point to it, and Fred just had this special gift that made every minute on the river well, special.



Tea time with Fred




It was while we were fishing the Kennet around this time when Fred experienced another serious health warning.

I was sitting there waiting for the reel to spin, Fred was alongside and then he went off for a pee, a few minutes later he’s back in my swim telling me that he had a problem. Now when Fred said something like that you sit up and take notice because Fred was as tough as old boots. I remember saying get yourself down to the doctors tomorrow, no messing about.

He did, and looking back that was the beginning of what really was far too much misfortune for anyone to have to endure, but Fred dealt with it all as he always did, with a steely determination to see it through.

These scares prompted Fred to get on with finishing his autobiography. How he did it all so quickly I really don’t know, he was definitely on a mission to get it finished – just in case as he would say to me.

I’ll never forget calling in to see him when the book text was almost complete. He sat down in the kitchen where his word processor was on the table and proceeded to proudly show me how much he had written, thousands and thousands of words. Then our conversation started;

‘Have you saved all this hard work Fred?’

‘What do you mean?’

‘Is it saved anywhere, on a disc perhaps, just in case something goes wrong or you press the wrong button?’

‘I don’t know how to do that.’

I can remember that moment as if it was yesterday and Fred’s face had the same expression as the one when we played that trick on him back on the Teme at Eardiston!

I’m no computer whizz at all, but I felt compelled to do something to help my pal back up this huge volume of work, just in case.

We located a disc and very carefully went through the back up procedure, fortunately it worked and all was well. I still have the transcript to Fred’s book on my hard drive.

Fred had given me the great honour of writing the Foreword for him and for me that was the pinnacle but I was soon to see that with Fred even that highpoint could be surpassed.

I spent hours proof reading for him, making subtle alterations to make the text flow in the same way that Fred told his stories, when I saw the finished copy I was taken aback.

Fred had dedicated the book to me, I couldn’t believe it. To say I felt honoured, humbled, privileged would only begin to convey the emotions I felt.

One of the key moments in my entire life without a doubt, and certainly the best moment of my fishing life.

‘Finally to the person that not only features in the story but who has shared much of the journey with me. Thank you is not enough to express my appreciation of his friendship to me as an individual and for his incalculable contribution to our sport. That is why I dedicate this book to my great pal Steve Pope.’ – Fred Crouch

Fred’s book, Skies of Fire – Rivers of Gold has sold out and rightly so, it chronicles the life and times of someone quite unique.





Fred was coming up to his 70th birthday and we had a surprise in store for him. His family organised the surprise party and I was asked to invite some of his many friends from the barbel world. We had a great night, Fred was overjoyed when he walked through the door and saw how many were there to wish him many happy returns. I won’t mention Alice, well there I have, a sight to behold and Fred as you would expect took it all in his stride!







After that scare with the word processor there was only one present we could get for Fred so all the fishing friends clubbed together and we presented Fred with a laptop. No matter how hard I tried he wouldn’t go online and somehow I think he was very wise!

Fred was handling his health scare and was winning the battle although his breathing problems were making things difficult on the fishing front; nevertheless we were still managing days out to the Kennet and catching a few fish. We even headed back down to the Royalty for a day in the Compound with Mel and his lad, an annual excursion for Fred that he thoroughly enjoyed.

Nothing would keep Fred away from the annual Barbel Society conference, he took his role as President extremely seriously and he just loved meeting and greeting his legion of friends, it just took it out of him and my role was beginning to change as I consciously made a point of ‘looking after’ him at these events.



Fred enjoyed being President of the Barbel Society




In 2009 I had the great honour of presenting to Fred, on behalf of the Society, a unique trophy to express our gratitude and thanks for everything he had done, it was a special moment.



Presenting Fred with his Lifetime Award




Later that year we gave our last talk together, close to Fred’s home in Enfield at the Toby Carvery would you believe! Fred was on scintillating form that night, must have been the fully loaded plate of beef, turkey, carrots, peas, roast spuds and much more – I did say he had discovered healthy eating!

Since then I’ve been back out on the road but it’s not the same, I’m happy to give talks because it means I can speak about Fred but I really do miss him standing there next to me.

The start of the 2010 season coincided with my sixtieth birthday and my daughters had laid on a garden party for me at my home on the Welsh border, I was hoping Fred would be able to make it. It’s not far short of two hundred miles from Enfield to my cottage and appreciating that Fred was no longer in the best of health I wasn’t sure he would be able to make that sort of journey.

Shame on me, Fred arrived, as he told me he always would.

We sat in the garden, Fred once more the focal point as my daughters along with my neighbours were entranced with his stories and jokes that were suitable for the occasion!



In my garden




He stayed a couple of hours and then made the long journey back home, a friend indeed.

Fred was one of that rare breed, someone who would never ever let you down.

Fishing for Fred had all but ceased at this time, he would say that the barbel have just become too big for his old rod and line and the battles were over, though he did still manage the odd visit to his spiritual home, the River Lea, where he had some great fun catching the smaller barbel that are so prolific on the upper reaches.

I have already mentioned how Fred would always offer encouragement, was always positive and that gave anyone who knew him confidence in themselves. I had never intended to start guiding, I was not entirely sure I would enjoy watching others catch and indeed I wasn’t convinced I could actually do it. It was Fred who told me I must, said I would be very good and the people would come, without that encouragement and backing I doubt I would have got going.

I’m pleased I did because it allowed Fred to come down to the river and carry on doing what he really enjoyed, sitting on the bank and sharing his time and vast experience with those who were beginning their own barbel fishing journey.






Fred would bring his seat, his bag with a flask and a bar of chocolate, and he would be more than happy to direct operations while telling us which bird was singing, where to bait up, why the geese were flying backwards……

I would wind him up by talking about the reality TV shows and how his reel was always the wrong way round and the jokes would flow. The guys who were out with me lapped it up.

I had been spending more time out in Australia and found myself in hospital after collapsing in the centre of Sydney with what I thought was something really serious. Fred had found the hospital telephone number from my daughter and called me every day while I was in there, and this was at a time when Fred was poorly himself and had more than enough on his mind. I can’t find the words to express how that felt when the phone rang as I lay on the hospital bed in Sydney and I heard Fred’s voice , if it hasn’t been made clear by now Fred was much more than just a friend.

I suppose I should not have been surprised, I remembered how Fred had kept contact all those years ago with Gerry Garofolo after his terrible car accident, how he had kept in contact with Sue Stone after Peter had died – Fred was a special man, friendship to him was a serious business.

We had reached a point where it was clear that Fred would no longer be able to attend the Barbel Society Show and I know how sad that made him feel. He gave me his written words to read out to open the Show and it was very difficult for me because I knew Fred wouldn’t be attending again and up to that point he had been with me at every single show.

Back out in Australia I was concerned to hear how bad things had become and Fred was in and out of hospital after picking up yet another infection, I was relieved when he was back indoors and we could chat on the phone.

During the past season I spoke with Fred many times, no matter where I was on the river I would give him a call and start a running commentary – he loved it.

It was most infuriating because he would offer instruction after I had explained a situation and almost without fail that advice would lead to a bite; he used to love it if we were speaking and the reel started to spin!

I did call in to see him and I knew that time was running out, we still had our cups of tea, he was still relaying his concerns on all manner of barbel related matters but he was talking about a future he knew would not be his.

As I drove away from his cottage I knew in my heart of hearts that I would never see him again.

Weeks later I also knew that after his last spell in hospital that Fred would not be returning home and I decided I would write him a letter. On the Sunday morning I gave Pat a call to find out the address where Fred would be, Pat told me that Fred had just passed away.

Perhaps the words I’ve written here would have made up that letter.

It’s often said that the true measure of a man is the amount of happy memories he leaves behind, that being so then Fred was a veritable giant as I have enough fond recollections to last the rest of my lifetime, I feel privileged to be able to see that little bit further having stood on his shoulders.

Fred understood that happiness only comes when you share, when you give of yourself, Fred was able to do that once you became his friend. It’s not something you experience often and indeed may only happen to any of us once in our lifetime, all of us are better people for knowing Fred.

Your best friend puts a smile on your face even when they are not with you, even when they are gone, I have been incredibly fortunate to have been able to call Fred my best pal.

So there you have it, that’s how it was for me, I could write so much more, it’s not easy condensing half a life time into a few thousand words.

What of the future?

Things won’t be the same that’s for sure, I’m out there on my own once more but Fred will always be next to me when I’m down by the river and I’m well aware that I’ve been been luckier than most.

Fred for me was much more than a loyal friend, a fishing companion, a superb mentor, a loyal colleague, a trusted confidant, he was a man who came into my life at exactly the right moment – at a time when I was in an empty space, and then he enriched it.

He relit the spark that was certainly extinguished – I can never repay that debt.


Now out here on this road
Out on this road tonight
I close my eyes and feel so many friends around me
In the early evening light
And the miles we have come
And the battles won and lost
Are just so many roads travelled
So many rivers crossed
And I ask God for the strength
And faith in one another
‘Cause it’s a good night for a ride
Cross this river to the other side
My blood brother

(Words by Bruce Springsteen)



Fred and Me


Steve Pope







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