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Guest article from Ron Clay…Early Days of the Sheffield Specimen Hunters part II

Early Days of the Sheffield Specimen Hunters  part II


By Ron Clay


As mentioned in the first part of this series I was summarily thrown out of the Northern Specimen Group on what I feel in hindsight were trumped up charges. A special general meeting was called to which I was not invited; it did seem that being able to defend myself was not on the agenda; although at a later stage I was coerced into signing a joint statement regarding my expulsion.

It did appear that I was invited back under duress, but this was not for me.

A part of a letter sent by the current group secretary to none other than John Piper, who at the time was a leading journalist working for Angler’s Mail , read:


“Due to Mr. Clay being a group member, much of what he has written has been construed by the angling public and the public at large for that matter, as the aims and policies of the Northern Group, and this certainly was not the case”


In no time I was joined by several of my friends in this group who resigned and together we formed other groups based on much smaller membership, one of them being “The Ridings Specimen Group” which consisted of myself, Tag Barnes, Charles Derrick, Derek Gibson, Roy Shaw, Eric Allen, Ted Hinchliffe, Albert Ibbotson, Tom Montgomery, Reg Brotherton, Alan Higginbotton and John Weston.

But these were the negative aspects of the Northern Specimen Hunters Group, and perhaps we should not dwell on them too much. There were of course a number of very welcome aspects which looking back has changed English angling in a most positive manner. Probably the most important was the formation of the National Association of Specimen Groups. How this came to be is as follows:

It would have been about January 1965 when during a monthly meeting of the Northern Specimen Hunters Group, Eric Hodson, our secretary, stood up and told us that due to the increase in correspondence we were getting from several other groups, it might be an idea if we formed a national association of big fish anglers. The first reaction from the floor was Dick Clegg’s who thought it was a “bloody good idea”. Then someone asked who was going to do all the work, knowing the size of the NSHGs workload. Eric Hodson said: “leave the work to me”.

To cut a long story short, by April of that year an inaugural meeting of the National Association of Specimen Groups had taken place. The first group members were:

The Northern Specimen Hunters Group

The Barbel Catchers Club

The Birmingham Specimen Hunters Group

The North Leicester Specimen Hunters Group

The North Staffs Group (The Cheshire Naturalists)

The London Specimen Hunters Club

The East Midlands Specimen Hunters Group.


The first executive committee of the NASG was


Richard Walker, President – Barbel Catcher’s Club

Peter Butler, Chairman – London Specimen Hunters Club

Eric Hodson, Secretary – Northern Specimen Hunters Club

Don Stockton, Treasurer – Birmingham Specimen Hunters Club

Peter Mead, Press Office – Barbel Catchers Club

Peter Rayment                     – Birmingham Specimen Hunters Group

Roy Ecob – Water Committee – N. Leicester SHG

Tony Goldstraw, Data Correlation – Cheshire Naturalists

Eric J. Taylor – Northern Specimen Hunters Group


By the end of 1965, the NASG had swelled to close on 70 groups?


It has often been thought that it was Richard Walker who was responsible for the formation of the NASG. This is quite untrue. It was certainly Walker who through his captures and books, provided inspiration for anglers to target specimen fish. It was however Eric Hodson, and Eric Hodson alone who’s original idea of a national association of big fish anglers eventually became the National Association of Specimen Groups. This in turn led to The National Association of Specialist Anglers, the Specialist Anglers Alliance.


And finally to The Angling Trust which consists at the time of writing of an amalgamation of the following bodies:


The Specialist Anglers Alliance

The Anglers Conservation Association

The National Federation of Anglers

The National Federation of Sea Anglers

The National Fishing and Angling Consultative

The Angling Development Board

The England Youth Fly Fishing Association

The Angling Development Board

The Fly Fishing and Angling Conservation Trust


I know it appears to be very evangelistic of me to say this, but the Angling Trust needs your support and membership. Join them today!


Eric Hodson, as the secretary of the NSHG was responsible for a number of excellent ideas, one of the best being the organisation of an angler’s forum. Virtually all we spoke to was enthusiastic towards this idea, except Dick Walker who wrote in answer to our invitation to be a member of the panel:

 Dear Eric,


I am going to be very frank and say that I must ask to be excused from attending the Angler’s Forum. Sheffield is a very long way off, and it is quite impossible for me to travel there and back in a day, so that I cannot attend on a Saturday evening. This means that coming to Sheffield will deprive me of a weekend’s fishing; and I am already committed to the loss of several of these for business purposes entirely un-connected with my writing.


My regard for you people up in Sheffield is extremely high, and I hope that in turn you will be sympathetic towards the way I am placed, and excuse me from coming. I really feel I can be of more assistance in other ways, not being very competent at sitting on a platform and talking.


Yours sincerely



(Richard Walker)”


The forum was indeed very successful, taking place at the Intake Sports and Social Club on 17th March 1965.


The panel members were:


Eric J. Taylor – Chairman

Bill Bartles – well known Sheffield match angler

Ray Webb – successful local specimen hunter and member of the NSHG

Ken Sutton – Angling Times founder and director of the ACA

Billy Lane * – World Champion Match Angler


  • At this time Billy Lane was without doubt England’s most famous angler, having recently won the World Title.


The success of this forum led to the decision that we put on a second, this time with the possibility of television coverage. Eric Hodson tried his best to achieve this; however any form of negotiation with the “luvvies” at the BBC was always going to be fraught with difficulty.


Dick Walker wrote:


“I do not wish to cast a wet blanket on your very worthy efforts to obtain TV coverage for your angling forum. However I have appeared on two broadcasts of forums in the past and after the second, I swore I would never do it again.


By the time a producer has done his wicked worst with a forum, what little interest it may hold has usually been completely destroyed and angling made to look just about as stupid as possible by the clottish questions that the producer dreams up for members of the audience to ask.”


We were perhaps fortunate that our second forum did not have TV coverage as it was also a great success, and took place at the same venue on 18th May 1966


Panel Members were:


Billy Lane

Peter Tombleson

Tag Barnes

Charles Derrick


Chairman again was Eric J. Taylor and Guest Speaker was Joe Taylor of the Sheffield & District AA.


1965 and 1966 were indeed the halcyon days of The Northern Specimen Group. It did seem for a while that we could do no wrong. However things started to go wrong, most of which were a result of jealousy among group members. As previously explained this resulted in my expulsion, along with the resignation of several other leading members of the group.


But we formed other groups and the National Association held most of these groups together. But even in the NASG, not everything in the garden was rosy.


But I guess this is life, and when I look back I see positive developments, like the many National Angling Conferences that took place; like the rapid development of better tackle for all kinds of angling and the formation of the many specialist single species associations which came under the umbrella of the National Anglers Council.


Today and as previously mentioned, we have the Angling Trust.

4 Responses to “Guest article from Ron Clay…Early Days of the Sheffield Specimen Hunters part II”

  1. Interesting stuff Ron, thanks for the background detail, much appreciated

  2. Hi Ron, Iwas a member of the Hallamshire Group & we had a photo album of fish going back to the early days of the group. It was kept in a wooden box & eventually was passed on to Eric Hodson.On his death I & Kevin Clifford have tried to trace the album as it has great historical value to the specimen world. Do you have any knowledge of it or know anyone who Ican contact.
    Regards Mick Rigney

  3. Hi Mick,

    If that album still exists, it is with Irene, Eric’s wife who has changed addresses 3 times since leaving Longcroft Road.

    I do no know where she is now. Sorry I cannot be of more help.

    One thing I can tell you is that the album contains a lot of my old photos

    Ron Clay

  4. Hi Rob, I’m Erics granddaughter, if I can help locate anything let me know what your after and I’ll see if my mum still has any of it.

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