John Goddard Dies

I was greatly saddened by the death of my dear friend, Joh Goddard, on December 26th. Rather than spin a series of fishing tales, i’ve reprinted his life story as described by his close colleague and great friend, Brian Clarke. You will be sorely missed, John.


The above photo is the frontpiece from John’s book, Trout Flies of Britain and Europe.

From Brian Clarke

It is probably true to say that, more than any other British writer in the 20th century, John Goddard persuaded anglers at large that a knowledge of entomology could be a huge advantage when trying to catch trout on artificial flies. He not only designed a veritable hatch of imitative patterns based on his own observations, but adapted the dressings of others and wrote extensively on methods for fishing them. He delivered the complete fly-to-landing-net package.

Others had trodden the entomological path before him. Frederic Halford and George Selwyn Marryat had studied the flylife of the southern chalk streams in the 1880s and 1890s and, thanks to Halford’s writings, had effectively systematised dry fly fishing as a sport by the turn of that century. G.E.M. Skues later did much the same for those who had fished the chalk streams with sunken flies, by showing how aquatic nymphs could be imitated and fished. In being able to stand on their shoulders – and to a significant extent also on those of J.R. Harris, who published An Angler’s Entomology in 1952 – Goddard was able to take anglers further, both technically and geographically.

Goddard was also one of the most complete all-rounders who ever lived. He exhibited an enthusiasm and breadth of interest that not only embraced coarse and game fishing, but conventional sea angling, fly-fishing in the sea and competitive, international big-game fishing. In the latter specialisation, he captained his country’s team several times.

John Goddard was born in Vauxhall, London, on August 27, 1923 and brought up in Carshalton, Surrey. He was educated in local schools, caught his first fish from the River Wandle at the age of five and served with the East Surrey Regiment during the war. On demobilisation in 1947 he joined F. G. Goddard, the family’s garden furniture business, at that time run by his father.

Garden furniture was not top of many shopping lists in the years following the war and, with the business struggling, the younger Goddard, by now a keen and expert coarse fisherman, persuaded his father to launch into fishing tackle manufacture. Efgeeco, the resulting tackle business, thrived. Goddard went on to become long-time vice-chairman of the Tackle Trades Association and the first chairman of the Angling Foundation. In 1984 he was able to sell the business to fish, travel and write – as well as play golf and bridge, his other long-term interests.

In the mid-1950s, Goddard’s fishing career took the first of many turns. Weir Wood reservoir, in West Sussex, opened its doors as a trout fishery – and Goddard took up flyfishing on lakes. Before long he met Cliff Henry, already a skilled stillwater fly fisherman and the pair became friends. In due course they switched their attention to rivers and in particular to the water at Abbotts Barton, on the Itchen, the beat made famous by Skues.

Both men became fascinated with the difficulty of this gin-clear, slowly-paced water. It gave the fish plenty of time to scrutinise the artificial flies  they were offered and to find these patterns wanting. Together, Goddard and Henry decided they needed to know more about the natural creatures they were trying to imitate – and to create better representations of them. They began to collect specimens of both the winged and nymphal stages of the flies they found at Abbotts Barton, which Goddard photographed; then they moved further afield eventually, between 1961 and 1965, travelling to rivers all over Britain to collect, describe, photograph and imitate every significant fly the angler was likely to encounter on them. It was an immense undertaking.

With the encouragement of Henry, Goddard published Trout Fly Recognition in 1966. This minutely-detailed work found a ready market. It helped fly fishermen not only in the cocooned world of the chalk streams addressed by Halford and Skues, but on rivers everywhere, to identify the flies they saw on the water and to choose and tie better representations. Trout Fly Recognition included descriptions of the males and females of different species, even going into detail on the colour of eyes and the shapes of wings; on body shapes and  segmentations; on legs and tails. Many naturals were shown in colour using photographic techniques that Goddard himself developed. Goddard was elected a Fellow of the Royal Entomological Society as a result of it all.

Trout Flies of Stillwater, published three years later, performed a more comprehensive service still for lake fishermen. These two books were the first of a dozen that Goddard was to write, most of them with a flyfishing theme. The culmination of his entomological work, Trout Flies of Britain and Europe, appeared in 1991.  An autobiography, The Passionate Angler, appeared in 2008.

In tandem with his work on Trout Fly Recognition and Trout Flies of Stillwater, Goddard had been pursuing interests first in sea fishing and then in big-game fishing, the latter stimulated by outings with Bernard Venables, a co-founder of Angling Times and author of  the extraordinary Mr Crabtree Goes Fishing, a work that sold over two million copies.

Goddard began writing about both branches of the sport and before long  the Portuguese government asked him to survey the big-game fishing off Portugal’s coast, as a potential tourist attraction. Goddard undertook the work with Leslie Moncrieff, a noted sea angler and photographer. The publicity surrounding the two men’s captures of  shark, marlin and tuna effectively kick-started the angling tourism which Madeira and the Azores have enjoyed ever since. Goddard was invited to fish for England in international big-game fishing championships and subsequently he captained England’s A team for several years. Big Fish from Salt Water appeared in 1977.

Around that time an invitation from the Bahamas Tourist Board saw Goddard take up yet another, rarified kind of angling – fly-fishing in the sea for exotic species like bonefish, sailfish, permit, snook, trevally and tarpon. He travelled extensively in pursuit of such fish, making numerous trips to the Seychelles, the Bahamas, Cuba, the Cayman Islands, Mexico and Belize. His love of trout fishing, which never flagged, took him many times to the United States and over a dozen times to New Zealand, often leading fishing parties for specialist travel agencies.

By the time Goddard had launched into flyfishing in the sea, he had formed what was to become a lifelong friendship with Brian Clarke and the second major collaborative partnership of his life began. In 1976, over a dinner party at Clarke’s home, the two decided to write a book that concentrated as much on the fish in the water as on the angler on the bank. They sank cameras into the river bed, constructed large tanks in which they conducted experiments in the reflection and refraction of light – and documented the way light influenced the trout’s view of the angler, his flies and his tactics.

The Trout and the Fly, replete with underwater photographs and illuminating text, attracted huge publicity when it came out in 1980.  In the week of publication The Sunday Times colour magazine ran seven pages on the book. A 50-minute BBC film on the research the two had carried out, was screened two days later. The New York Times listed the work as one of its books of the year. A handwritten note of appreciation arrived from President Carter on White House notepaper. Another note came from Lord Home, the former Prime Minister.

Goddard and Clarke were collaborating on a commissioned book about their lives – a kind of joint angling autobiography – at the time of Goddard’s death.

If John Goddard’s friends had to pick out a quality above all others to characterise him it would not be his fishing skills, remarkable though they were: it would be his undiminishing enthusiasm for fishing, sustained by his energy. None of them would be able to name an angler more single-minded and determined. In his prime, Goddard would be first on the water and last off. He would lay siege to individual, difficult trout for hours on end, often enough returning triumphant in the dusk. There were not many of his friends who, at one time or another on the bank, had not been left exhausted in his wake.

John Goddard was not a naturally outgoing man. From outward appearances, to those who did not know him, he could appear reserved and even taciturn. Relaxed among his friends, however, another side showed. He had an impish sense of humour and could be a creasing teller of stories, often against himself. In full flow, he could come close to holding court. His contribution to 20th-century angling, in its scope and its specialist depths, was unique.

He is survived by Eileen, his wife of 62 years and by a daughter, Susan.

John Goddard, angler, author and entomologist, was born on August 27, 1923. He died on December 26, 2012, aged 89.



  1. keithscott says:

    Hey Gary thanks for the great stories about john. Glad to read about his l life