From tickling trout to a date at the palace … MBE for club veteran with a passion for angling and conservation

“Growing up as a northern country boy, I’d never have dreamed that one day I’d be invited to Buckingham Palace,” says Fred Higham, who at 84 has been an angler, nature lover and conservationist for most of his life. “Or it might be Windsor Castle,” he adds, “we’ll just have to wait and see.”

Fred’s eagerly awaited invitation will see him honoured with the Member of the Order of the British Empire (MBE) he received in the King’s Birthday Honours list for his work promoting angling and conservation in the River Ribble catchment area.

It is a commitment he has made for the past 50 years.

“The river and the valley have given me countless hours of pleasure,” says Fred. “I wanted to give something back. I wanted to make sure they would continue to give pleasure for years to come.”

That pleasure began for Fred at the tender age of seven when his grandad first took him to tickle trout at a nearby brook. A few years later, Fred had his first fishing rod.

“It was after the war,” recalls Fred. “Dad bought a tank aerial from the Army Stores and the local tackle shop made it up into a spinning rod. When I was 14, I had my first split cane fly rod and I’ve loved fly-fishing ever since.”

Born and bred in Clitheroe, Fred still lives in the market town and remains involved in protecting the Ribble. He has been chair of the Ribblesdale Anglers for the past 32 years, pollution officer at the Ribble Fisheries Consultative Association for more than 35 years, a member of the Ribble Rivers Trust for 25 years, and a Director of Clitheroe Anglers.

For decades, Fred has raised awareness of declining water quality in rivers and his club was one of the first in the country to get involved in water testing. He has written a monthly river report for Trout & Salmon magazine for over 20 years and continues to educate people on river health.

“Conservation is a big concern to me,” says Fred. “Rivers are not as clean as they used to be, but then again everything in nature is in decline. The birds, the insects … we used to drive our cars and have to scrape the insects off the windscreen. It was a sign there was an abundance of insect life but it doesn’t happen now.

“The Ribble Valley is over-populated and they’re building hundreds of homes in the green belt. If people appreciate the countryside and care for the environment, it would be better for everyone.”

Despite his age, Fred still manages to fish for his favourite quarry – Atlantic salmon – and had four trips last year.

“When I was a lad, I used to fish for the odd chub, but really I have only ever fished for salmon, sea trout, rainbows and brown trout,” says Fred. “I sometimes feel a bit sad that I missed out on coarse fishing, but I used to love night fishing for sea trout, there’s something special and exciting about fishing in the dark.”

And his best catch?

“Salmon,” says Fred without hesitation. “A 1982 spring fish from the Ribble in a pool called The Scar. It ‘banged’ my Samson scales at 25lb, so I know it was over that weight. It still remains a record for my club, Ribblesdale Angling Association.”

Have a great day at the Palace, Fred. You are one northern country boy who deserves it!

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