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Bucks (North) Specimen Hunters Group

This group was set up by Charles Kirkham in 1965 after advertising for members in the local press.  He was fortunate enough to have Dick Walker and Fred J Taylor living locally.

The group went on to become one of the founding members of the NASG in 1965

Charles has written a potted history of the group for this website below                                   


                Bucks Specimen Group

A brief history of the development and evolution of the group

The Bucks Specimen Group was formed in the middle 1960’s inspired by the general growth in the Specimen Hunting movement and the desire to improve on the size of the fish we caught by sharing ideas and experiences.  Following on from the successes of the Carp Catchers Club principally, many of us were convinced that the way forward to achieving our main aim of catching specimen fish was in the collective assimilation of ideas and the development of and consequent sharing of problem solving tackle & techniques.

This was an exciting period when Dick Walker, Fred J Taylor and Peter Stone, to name a few, were in their heyday and regularly publishing inspiring articles describing their exploits which were devoured by us, their “disciples”!   Group members had a wide interest in all species in both Still Waters and Rivers, even including those which were then sought by relatively few anglers, such as Catfish.  We fitted the generally held description of Specimen Hunters at the time, being young and enthusiastic and were fully signed up members of the “Trilby Hat, Mk IV and “Heron” brigade” who worshipped at the shrine surmounted by Dick Walker, Fred J Taylor, Peter Stone et al.  


When first formed we were a small local group of anglers who were focussed on the area around North Bucks but as our group activities expanded so did our coverage.   Membership was initially gained only by invitation but gradually expanded as other anglers heard about our activities. The group thus evolved and it soon became obvious that our title of the “North Bucks Specimen Group” should be changed o the more appropriate  “Bucks Specimen Group” which in due course became one of the original founding affiliated groups in the then nascent N A S G leading to us networking with many other big fish specialists.

Over time our catches improved and our group catch book records our largest fish as being Chub to 61/2 lbs; Barbel  12 lbs; Catfish 24lbs; Carp 23lbs; Bream 10lbs 4ozs ; Dace 1lbs 1oz; Pike 24lbs and Roach 2lbs 5ozs.


We were very fortunate in that our “catchment” area included a number of well publicised, established big fish waters which contained specimen fish of most species including the esoteric Catfish.  

We agreed early on that there would be no secrets amongst us and that we would publish a regular newsletter to pool ideas and share successes and failures as well as providing a forum for the exchange of opinions on more controversial subjects which later included such matters as our views as to the identity of the infamous “Ouse Monsters”!   This was a “hot” topic at the time and subject to much comment in the angling press.   In addition several of us also started writing for the angling press which in turn provided a forum to publicise our Group activities to the wider community. 

 Apart from myself the original Group members were: Ken Thorpe; John Webster; Michael Brassett; Brian Leonard and Keith Murday.  All of us were keen specimen hunters who fished together anyway (usually as a  maximum of three at a time) in both still waters and rivers, jointly developing problem solving solutions for specific problem swims and fish.  We were also very fortunate in that  both Dick Walker and Fred J Taylor agreed to become members very early on, Dick as Patron and Fred as President..  It has to be noted that the quality of our newsletter improved markedly after they joined us (Dick very kindly also offered to duplicate copies of the newsletter when necessary), as did the opportunities to fish some very well known waters!  

The formation of our group also facilitated the opportunities for larger and wider scale experimenting with new ideas such as that involving “Secchi’s disk” testing which was used to determine the impact of light on fish activity both above and below the waters’ surface.

As well as having a newsletter, which provided the ideal forum for setting out ideas and exchanging opinions, we also ensured that regular contact with each other was  maintained by arranging informal meetings together with more scheduled and formal “get togethers” at least once a month.  All group members were expected to provide a contribution to each monthly newsletter, something which Dick Walker was especially well placed to lead on!  It has to be said that Dick never missed a deadline for submission of his contributions!

As time passed and our activities became better known, other anglers from outside our small original group expressed interest and thus became members, mainly through recommendation, with the result that we eventually had a peak membership of around 15 which was in line with the maximum membership we had agreed at inception of the Group in order to keep the structure manageable. 

Given our obviously limited experience in running a specimen group we were extremely grateful for the help and advice proffered by other, more established groups, as well as that provided by Fred J and Dick who were also very kind in providing introductions to other anglers generally.. 

In particular I recall Peter Butler of the London Group contacting me in just that vein and noting as encouragement his opinion that our group would be filling an obvious geographical gap in coverage in a well known area for big fish!

Ken Thorpe was from Kent and thus initially was unable to choose between membership of our group or that of the Kent Specimen Group.

Ken was an excellent angler with wide experience whom I had first met on Dick Walker’s stretch of the Upper Ouse in 1964 when Ken was on his honeymoon with wife Kath, based in Dick’s fishing hut.  I subsequently spent some time with Ken on the Upper Ouse but especially including one enjoyable Christmas with him and his wife at their home which included my first ever sea fishing trip on the Thames Estuary.

Keith Murday was very focussed on still water species particularly Catfish, at the time.  His enthusiasm resulted from our living in an area close by a number of now well known waters such as Woburn, Rackley Hills and Claydon Lakes as well as some lesser known ones such as Hyde Lane Pits and by the prospect of catching something “out of the ordinary”.  I was therefore particularly pleased, during one of our group expeditions to Claydon, to net a 24lb Catfish for him. 

Keith and I were also fishing together at Rackley Hills when we both caught our first double figure Carp.  Mine at 12lbs and that of Keith weighing 10lbs.

One of our early experiments proposed and adopted by Michael Brassett in particular (Michael being one of our more adventurous members) and following a suggestion by Peter Butler amongst others, involved several targeted attempts over one season, aimed at attempting to catch Chub using deadbaits.  The baits chosen being usually Minnows; Gudgeon or Sprat strips and the fishing trips arranged  both at night and different times during the day.  In practice Michael caught rather a lot of Eels that season but unfortunately very few Chub!   The rest of us carried on using slugs which were very effective!

It was however interesting to note that Michael’s success with Perch when using deadbaits was significant in that the average size of the fish he caught was noticeably higher than before using more conventional methods although the overall number caught was less.  The largest Perch he caught one night whilst deadbaiting for Chub on the Ouse being 3lbs 7ozs with a number of other fish exceeding 3lbs.

There was then much speculation, as I mentioned earlier, in the angling press regarding the possible identity of the so-called “Ouse Monsters”.  Several anglers had reported bites from mysterious fish which had broken their tackle in dramatic fashion despite some using unusually strong tackle such as stepped-up Carp rods and 15lb breaking strain lines. 

Dick contributed an article on this topic for insertion in our first newsletter which proved somewhat controversial.  After debate the majority view reached the conclusion that Barbel were the most likely culprits being closest to the experiences described by other anglers in “Angling Times” and the nature of the runs, damage to tackle and general manner in which bites had been registered.  Some of our members reported lost fish in similar circumstances to those described by other anglers at the time, the majority of their reports seemed to particularly focus on a local weirpool and adjacent stretch of river on the Upper Ouse. 

We thus decided that we needed to attempt to prove the validity of our conclusion!

Although the existence of Ouse Barbel and especially record breaking fish has now been well established particularly in the Middle Ouse around Newport Pagnell, at that time it was however still a subject of some contention with very few anglers thinking that this could be true especially in the Middle and Upper Ouse.  Early pioneers of the period such as Ian Howcroft and Chuck Nunn had written about and photographed fish in the middle Ouse but as far as I recall no one else had done so.   The prospect therefore of catching an Upper Ouse Barbel thereby proving their existence,  was thus viewed with some enthusiasm by our group. 

We spent some considerable time in researching both the weirpool concerned and adjacent stretches of river, both up and downstream.  Whilst there had been some reports from local anglers of several large lost fish over the previous seasons which could have been Barbel (although not all of these had been close to the weirpool concerned) and of a number of sightings there were in only two actual claimed captures of  Barbel of which only one was supported by a photograph.  In addition local club records were also checked for any reported catches by members over the previous years.  Much time was spent searching for clues as to the location of potential Barbel swims and any signs of the existence of fish in them.  Group members, did on several occasions, spot fish which they were certain were Barbel but it was difficult to be absolutely sure due to the fact that the river in and below the weirpool, was both deep and very often slightly coloured. 

When I spoke with Ian Howcroft on the subject he told me that his experiences initially were much the same in that he was relying on anecdotal reports and very few sightings to pinpoint likely spots for the fish in the Middle Ouse.  Time and effort were the only way to be sure.

Soon after my contact with Ian I wrote an article regarding our thoughts and conclusions leading me to speculate on  the likelihood of Barbel being in the Upper Ouse, with the objective of getting our ideas to a wider audience who then might respond, I hoped, with their own experiences.  Roy Eaton of  the “Angling Times” had read my article and he subsequently contacted me asking if we could a visit to the weirpool, with a objective of producing a picture feature on the subject.

The search for Upper Ouse Barbel involved all of our members and we agreed a detailed plan before we fished that stretch and one or two other potential swims extensively for two seasons using a wide range of techniques, tackle and baits alas without success as far as the Barbel were concerned but rather more successfully in catching Perch, Pike, Bream and Chub.  Once or twice a group member would connect with “something different” which may have been a Barbel we were never sure and after two unsuccessful seasons involving many hours fishing, we reluctantly decided that a move to “pastures new” which promised greater potential for success.

Looking back at the lack of success that we had at the time it is obvious that if any Barbel were present they would have been few and far between anyway  and thus very hard to pinpoint  likely swims and this alone made our task much more difficult in the time we spent   It is interesting therefore to record that several Barbel have since been caught from the weirpool many years later, the largest over 12lbs, so perhaps we were closer to an answer than we thought!  As for the Ouse Monsters generally – they seemed to all but disappear from the angling press, although some very large Carp have been caught in the last twenty years or so from elsewhere along the river so one never knows!

Dick Walker had very kindly extended an open-ended invitation to fish his stretch of the Upper Ouse to me whenever it was available and use his famous hut as and when I wished at the same time.    On one such visit I went with Michael Brassett who was keen to see the water and hopefully catch a Chub or two.  Michael also planned to try deadbaiting for Chub at the same time as using conventional baits.   As it turned out DW and Fred J also later that day and I was able to introduce Michael to them.  It was obvious that both Dick and Fred were keen to meet and get to know fellow members of the Group!  Unfortunately Michael drew a blank again with his deadbaits!

Given the proximity of  “Walker’s Water” to us, fishing trips to the Ouse were common and as a result I came to know the identity, history and location of almost every swim.  For me “Chub Chasing” was the most exciting and productive Chub tactic especially in Summer and although Dick often identified Crayfish as one of the best baits, I found that Black Slugs could not be beaten.  Usually the tackle of choice was a Chapman 550 rod and Intrepid Elite reel loaded with 9lb b/s line, since the weedbeds were very dense and the larger fish needed to be “bullied” away from them in very short order. The force with which some of the Chub took the bait being simply astonishing even on one occasion, I noted in my diary, resulting in the fish taking the bait with such impetus that it appeared to leap across a rushbed and ended up briefly in the shallow water and soft mud at the side of the river!

The Chub in the Upper Ouse have been the subject of many articles especially by Dick and Fred., resulting in speculation as to the size of the largest fish.  One day Dick excitedly called across the river to me suggesting that I move rather rapidly if I wanted to see the fish he had in the swim he was then fishing.  The swim, known as the “Two Willows” had only three or four fish in it with the smallest weighing 5 1/2 pounds (Dick caught that one later!).  The others were however mind blowing.  Dick had claimed that he estimated that he had seem, alive or dead, double figure fish in the river  The largest fish that day was definitely in that category!  Sadly the largest fish drifted quietly out of sight only a few minutes after I first saw them despite our care in remaining still and well concealed.

Any visitor to Dick’s hut usually made it an early priority to take a look at the imaginatively entitled  “Catch book”, a rather impressive large brown heavy leather bound log book which recorded all significant catches made on the stretch.  A flick through the pages of this log was an absolute revelation and it was astounding; the fish, of all species, which had been caught there.  Although if my memory is correct, the largest Chub was shown as weighing only 6 ¾ pounds or so.

Somewhat less well reported however was the shoal of big Bream that resided in the swim known as the “Large Cabbage Patch”.  It was a challenge given to all visitors to catch at least one of these fish which were estimated to weigh up to 7-8 pounds and which fought as hard as many Chub.  The shoal was small, perhaps 10 fish in all and was located in a deep swim (by Upper Ouse standards) which was crystal clear and rather quickly flowing, usually only one or two fish being present at any one time.  Angling textbooks tend to recommend fishing for Bream in a static manner implying the somewhat sedentary nature of the fish, not these!  The recommended technique on the Upper Ouse was more akin to Chub Chasing and included using slugs as bait!   I well remember Ken Thorpe hooking one of the larger fish using a borrowed Glass Fibre Carp rod and slug as bait but even with such strong tackle the fish eventually broke the line and escaped after reaching a rather dense “cabbage patch”!  The fish were generally extremely difficult to catch and only one or two were banked each season (it has to be pointed out however that most anglers fishing the stretch  probably chose fishing for the Chub in preference to the Bream!) with the biggest caught as far as I am aware being 7+ pounds.

Having been advised by Dick (he was subsequently appointed President) of its forthcoming existence, we applied in 1965 for membership of the newly formed National Association of Specimen Groups.  Dick’s tip-off was followed up soon after by my receiving a letter from Peter Butler of the London Group asking for confirmation of our interest in joining, shortly followed later still by a formal invitation from Eric Hodson.

Our application was duly accepted and the Bucks Group became one of the inaugural members of the NASG which at that stage consisted of: the Barbel Catchers Club together with the Birmingham. Cheshire. London. Hendon. Kent. North Leics. St Helens; Wiltshire and Northern Specimen Groups,. 

We were duly invited by Eric to attend the first conference to be held in Birmingham that April with the principal objective being the formal creation of the National Association. 

I recall that we were required to pay a subscription of £2.5.0 shillings (based on 9 members) thereby entitling us to receive the first Quarterly Bulletin informing us of, amongst other pertinent matters that the NASG now had new members in the form of groups from Northampton; the Crookes Group from Sheffield,; Oxford;

Wolverhampton; Cambridge; Nottingham; Manchester; Bristol; Surrey and Chilterns together with  the Bream Catchers and National Anguilla Clubs who were affiliated.  It was noted with some sadness in one bulletin, that Mike Harris of the Wiltshire group had “not been contactable  for some time and it was therefore presumed that he had been lost in the Bristol Avon”! 

By the time of the second conference concern was already being expressed regarding the desirability of a cap on the size of the NASG which originally was intended to have a maximum of twenty five members, a target which was being reached within a month or two of its creation.

The opportunity for idea sharing and socialising provided by this new umbrella association was considered invaluable by us.


Around May 1966, Peter Rayment, as Fisheries Officer, advised members that the NASG was proposing to acquire its own waters together with a list of the criteria to be used in the selection process.   The NASG seemed to be rather innovative in a number of ways, not just related to angling, since in the 1st quarterly bulletin it is recorded that Bob Rolph (of the Kent Group) had volunteered (rather foolishly?)  to arrange for “the data to be passed through a computer”  which the author of the bulletin felt “might be taking things to far?”!

Based on the criteria provided we felt that one of our local waters in particular; the Claydon Brook, which we had found to contain a variety of big fish, would probably be well worth consideration and put the idea forward.  I was subsequently contacted by Peter who had reached the same conclusion about the waters’ potential based on our description of the water. 

Whilst the Claydon Brook has since been well publicised especially by Tony Miles and by being identified as the home of large Perch, it was then virtually unknown generally although it had already produced 6lb Chub, 2lb Roach, 20lb+ Pike and of course a number of very big Perch. We seemed to be amongst the very few who even knew of its existence let alone its fishing potential. 

I personally leased a stretch of the Brook at the time (vested interest in recommending it to the NASG?) and well knew the possibilities so I was confident that the Brook might make an ideal candidate for the NASG project sadly though no further action was taken.  

I was fortunate in winning a big fish competition organised by “Angling” magazine with  the prize of a day’s fishing with Fred J on the Kennet at Theale with the objective of my catching my first Barbel.  Following this visit to Theale several of my fellow group members expressed interest in catching Barbel themselves.  Whilst we believed that the Upper Ouse weirpool  I described previously, contained Barbel we were not then certain and in any event there would not be a large number present.  As a result we decided that it would be sensible to arrange a visit to another location with more prospects and which might be easier to fish.  The Thames was therefore an obvious choice for geographical reasons with the Oxford area being nearest to us. 

Our first thought was to try Potts Stream which had been described by Fred J in “Favourite Swims” but when I asked Fred for advice in succeeding with our quest he made clear his view that “Potts” was not a good choice for an inexperienced Barbel angler nor for catching a first Barbel.  As a result he asked Peter Stone to contact me with suggestions.  Peter wrote a very helpful letter including a description of a likely suitable swim not far from Oxford railway station which he though might be better suited to our needs.  Despite several attempts only Michael managed to catch a 6lb fish and Keith one of 5lbs from the swim but at least they were ecstatic with their first Barbel!  It was to be some time before I managed a fish from the Thames however, although I never did succeed on Potts Stream!

Our exploits at Oxford were subsequently reported in one of our newsletters and  I was contacted by Dick shortly after publication, who suggested that we couldn’t claim to be Barbel anglers until we had fished the Hampshire Avon.  Dick went on to say that he just happened to have a fishery in mind which he and Fred leased at Avon Tyrell.  In addition accommodation was also available in the form of a very secondhand caravan that they had positioned close to the river for this very purpose.  I thought that the Upper Ouse fishing hut could be viewed as being luxurious when compared with that caravan!

I have unfortunately lost contact with many of the Group over the years, given the amount of time which has elapsed since, this would be perhaps inevitable. 

Sadly as our Group matured it also started to decline with several members not only giving up specimen hunting but also fishing generally, such that by the mid 70.’s the Bucks Specimen Group ceased to exist.  Several members chose to fish alone and to focus their activities on a single species, it is not difficult to guess which species that might have been! 

Personally I look back on those happy days with some fondness.


Charles Kirkham

Revised 25 June 2020