On the 13th of September 1952 my father Dick Walker, caught a fish, and it changed the life of our family.
The fish in question was a common carp and it weighed exactly 44 pounds. It was a world record. At the time everyone knew that carp didn’t get that big – but nobody told my father. It was about 5am when he got the bite, and dark. The fish took a lot of landing but when he and his friend Pete Thomas saw the fish they realised that it wasn’t possible to weigh it with the spring balances they had, but they knew it was over 40 pounds. Dick (we kids always called him by his given name) phoned London Zoo a while later and asked them if they wanted a 40 pound carp for their aquarium. “No,” they said, “we’ve already got a 14 pound carp.” Dick said, “No, a 40 pound carp.”
A van was hastily despatched from London with a large tank of water and the fish was transferred. Now, my father was a little eccentric and when he was asked what name he wanted to give it he replied, “Ravioli!”
Stunned silence. “You can’t name it after a pasta!” And so Ravioli became Clarissa and she lived in London Zoo for many years.
When I was about 10 I went on a school trip to the zoo, but when I pointed to the fish and proudly told my friends my father had caught it – they didn’t believe me. I was crushed!
My dad had already written quite a lot about fishing, but after “that fish” he became rather well known. His final book tally is difficult to quantify, but certainly 19, some translated into German, Dutch and Spanish. As a contributor, over 20 more. He wrote for the national press, for angling publications and magazines several times a week. He appeared on TV and at shows all over the country.
So how did it affect the family? Well, for a start our house became a meeting place for anglers from all over Britain. It seemed perfectly normal for 8 or 10 virtual strangers to occupy our sitting room as they talked into the night, discussing fishing tactics and tackle. As time went on the fishing became more and more of his daily work load and we saw little of him. We would be off to school before he got up (he was technical director of our family engineering firm) and he wouldn’t return until we’d gone to bed. Weekends were spent fishing, of course.
Over the years, he developed new techniques and equipment which is taken for granted today. He was educated at Cambridge University and used his mathematical knowledge to calculate the tapers of rods and so on. He held the joint patent for carbon fibre fishing rods, for instance.
In 1985 he died of cancer at the age of 67. I remember seeing a large headline in the Angling Times the next day in large, bold type, “DICK WALKER IS DEAD.”
It seems that you can’t keep a good man down, however. Since his death an industry has grown up and a number of collections of his articles have been published as books. A series of recollections have been issued, plus “The Stone-Walker Letters” – a collection of letters Dick sent to his friend Pete Stone over many years.
If you look on ebay.co.uk under Richard Walker you’ll find quite a lot of items for sale – books, rods, tackle and memorabilia. I know one typewritten letter from him, signed, was sold for £200. During the 1950s he made about 12 fishing rods from split cane. If you can find one – and there is one missing – it will be worth between £3,000 and £4000. I know the owner of the rod used to catch the record carp and when I asked him how much he would sell it for he told me, “Not less than £20,000.” I gave that one a miss………….
To this day I get letters and phone calls from people who remember his contributions to the sport. In 2007 a biography, “Richard Walker – An Angling Legend” was published. It sold out. Two years ago a National Heritage plaque was put on the wall of the house where he was born. Here’s a link to the Wickipedia page – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Richard_Walker_(angler)
And it all started with a fish called Ravioli.
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I can’t be the only one thinking, “Caught a carp fish with his rod / And called it ‘Ravioli’!” (to the tune of “Yankee Doodle”)… This is a wonderful article, heart-warming without being maudlin.
I’m of the opinion that the name “Pasta” would have perhaps passed the critical eyes at the aquarium…
But I’m an optimist.
A charming story, well told, and rather touching. Thank you.
James Randi — curmudgeon.
Why, thank you James! We’ve met a number of times at TAM and I hold your judgement in high esteem! My father taught me to write clearly and design my stuff so it’s easy to read………
Brings back such memories, my granddad used to tell me the story all the time as he was fishing that lake the day Dick caught that astronomical fish.
I’m sure Dick never dreamed that he would spawn such a movement, carp fishing has gone from strength to strength over the last few decades and keeps many of us in a job.
For that alone, we owe him so much.
Great article, as always.
I don’t know if you’ll read this as it’s an old posting. I’m intrigued to know why you reviewed what, living as you appear to in the US, would have been a pretty obscure book. I never knew Dick Walker, although I had certainly heard of him as I was an avid angler in my teens. I knew his son, Tim, back in 1967 as we worked for the same company – my first job after leaving school. I have wondered from time to time what became of him.
Tim passed away from cancer two years ago. He is missed. We keep in touch with his wife.
Thank you so much for taking the trouble to respond although the news wasn’t what I was expecting to hear – very sad. I totally lost touch with Tim by 1971 when our paths diverged and I went on to other things. I hope you might relay to his wife that an old friend thought of Tim.