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A Tribute to Pat Russell - 15/04/21


My father, Pat Russell, was born Douglas Arthur Russell, to a family of tanyard owners in Hitchin, Hertfordshire in 1924. “Pat” was the nickname given to him by his Irish nanny and by which he was known throughout his life. During the Second World War, Pat served in the RAF on Lancaster bombers, and after the War he worked for a few years in the family firm. His main interest during that period was the sport of hockey, which he pursued with his best friend since early school days - Peter Thomas. In 1950, Peter introduced Pat to a fishing friend - Dick Walker - who also came from Hitchin. Thus, began my father’s passion for angling, which he carried through to his final days. Pat always said that he only went out to work in order to earn enough money to go fishing. And with friends and mentors like Peter and Dick, no wonder.

I was born in 1951 and so some of my earliest memories are of a muddy, fishy-smelling father returning from night-long angling sessions on nearby streams, local pools and gravel pits. My mother and father’s first house at Walsworth near Hitchin, backed onto the River Purwell; so Pat netted-off a section of the river at the bottom of the garden, in which to keep some of his live catches. Pat’s fishing in the early 1950s involved serious specimen hunting, with members of the Carp Catchers Club including Dick Walker, Peter Thomas and Fred J Taylor. Pat’s visits to Redmire Pool became an almost annual pilgrimage over a period of about 13 years. By the late 1950s as families grew, wives and children began to be included on some of the fishing expeditions as well. I can remember clearly as a seven year-old, the excitement of being woken from our tent at dawn on a misty morning somewhere in middle England, and being led through dewy reed-beds to the lake side, where we would look on in awe as our Dads pulled keep-nets and canvas sacks from the water, to reveal the giant, glistening bronze fish that they had caught during the night.

Ironically, it was clean water regulations designed to protect rivers and streams that sealed the fate of polluting tanneries across Britain, including the Russell’s business. Probably the biggest wrench of Pat’s life was being forced to move away from friends, wider family and fishing in Hitchin, in order to find work elsewhere. But we found some consolation in Devon, where Pat explored a new part of the country for its angling pleasures, including as a member of the Devon Carp Catchers Club. Game fishing for trout and grayling also came more into the picture now, with me taking up fishing myself by this stage. Pat not only taught me to fly-fish, but also how to “tickle” wild brownies onto the banks of Dartmoor leats. Another move, to Hampshire during the 1960s, threatened to stymie Pat’s angling ambitions once again, as we lived next to the River Test with its outlandish rod fees. However, Pat discovered a tiny public stretch on the river and he co-founded Romsey Fly-fishers as a result. Over the ensuing years Pat fished throughout Britain and wrote regularly for Angling Times and Trout & Salmon magazine. He also assisted with scientific fishery studies and contributed to the work of Angling charities.

Sadly, debilitating bouts of depression began to afflict Pat in later life. In those days of the stiff upper lip, depression was barely acknowledged and symptoms were often hidden from friends and work colleagues. It was therefore a surprise for Pat to be visited in hospital by several friends, including Dick Walker, who admitted to suffering from the same malaise. Dick had worked at Farnborough during the War and Pat was in the Air Force, and so they both used the slang term “nadgers” to refer to their affliction (“an evil influence that affects systems and equipment”).

Tragically, it was one of these bouts of the nadgers that led my father to end his own life in 1991. His condition had convinced him, quite wrongly as it turned out, that he had not provided adequately, financially for his family’s retirement, and that he could no longer afford to support his favourite and life-affirming fishing pastime.

A couple of years ago, now nearing the same age as my father when he died, and half a century since I was last there as a child, I made a pilgrimage to Redmire Pool through the kind offices of Les Bamford. I spent several hours there in reverie, drinking in the aura of that magical place and communing with the ghosts of the great fishermen who had stalked the denizens of those mythic waters over the preceding 60 years. They were my fathers' happiest days.  

'Shaun Russell's dedication to his father first appeared on 'Redmire' by Tony Meers (Harper Fine Angling Books 2019)'


'Shaun Russell's dedication to his father first appeared in 'Redmire' by Tony Meers (Harper Fine Angling Books 2019)'
'Shaun Russell's dedication to his father first appeared in 'Redmire' by Tony Meers (Harper Fine Angling Books 2019)'