There are people in this wonderful world of fishing who we might not know personally but whose exploits, comments and interviews leave us with the overwhelming impression of not just an angler with exceptional ability but of a really lovely, warm person who is liked and admired for all the right reasons. I only met Keith Speer a handful of times but for me he typified all these characteristics, and many more besides.
Sadly Keith passed away, all too soon at the age of 60, beside the banks of his beloved Upper River Lea in Hertfordshire, the scene of some of his phenomenal catches of specimen roach, chub and barbel .
Keith’s float caught specimen list will probably never be bettered and includes barbel to 17lb 15oz, chub to 7lb 3oz and a three pound river roach. He was also a keen predator angler with many big pike, perch and zander to his name.
Keith was active in support of angling and fisheries serving as Vice Chairman of his local Verulam Angling Club and as a recent member of the British Record Fish Committee where he worked alongside former Angling Trust chairman Mike Heylin. He also attended and spoke at many angling shows and specimen group and fishing club meetings and it was at one such Association of Barbel Enthusiasts gathering a few years ago that I first shared a platform with Keith.
There is no doubt that angling has lost a great advocate, a fine ambassador and a superb fisherman. Here are a few words of tribute from people who knew him well.
Mike Heylin OBE – Angling Trust
I can’t speak highly enough of Keith. He was not only a great angler who would share any knowledge with those who wanted it but also a fantastic guy to work with, I brought him onto the BRFC because of the high respect I had for him as someone with no edge and no ego to get in the way of the important work done by BRFC, sadly not always the case in the past. He proved himself in no time as an incredibly useful member of the team, was knowledgeable about fish and able to make great assessments. I knew him through Verulam Angling Club and the local consultative before asking him to join BRFC, an invitation he accepted immediately and fulfilled with great aplomb. He considered it a great honour to serve angling in such a way but I always felt we were honoured by his presence. I was honoured to know him, enjoy his company and we had a fishing trip, our first, planned for today. Instead I am sitting here typing a eulogy for him rather than laughing about the fish we would have caught. I will miss him dearly, angling will miss someone who was very special and the local and national angling community is poorer for his passing. We were very lucky to have had him with us and to show us so many ways of taking specimen fish.
This was a man who only at Christmas 2013 discovered, by accident, that his mother had worked at Bletchley Park during the war. He was so proud to have a family member so closely involved but astounded that in all the years since, she had never mentioned it at all, even her husband had no idea of her service. Keith was a proud Englishman and immediately went to Bletchley to discover the shed she worked in and to find that people there still remembered her and her work. None of them were surprised that she had never mentioned it, she had, after all, signed the Official Secrets Act. Keith had the same integrity and I am deeply saddened that he is leaving us all too soon.”
Ian Crook – Chairman Twyford and District Fishing Club
I first came across Keith on “Barbel Fishing World” forum, he was called “Zanderman”, his posts were always informative and there was always a little wit thrown in. We exchanged private messages on many occasions, realising we both had a similar sense of humour, mostly taking the Micky out of others and their views!!
We actually met for the first time when he gave a brilliant talk and slide presentation on vertical jigging for Zander using a method he had been taught in Holland by Marcel Asbroek, we had such a laugh that night, he agreed to take me out on Rutland water to give it a try……….. That was the start of a good few years of friendship.
We fished together many, many times, for barbel, grayling and zander, every time laughing from start to finish. During the last few years we got into the habit of talking frequently on the phone, Keith calling me normally when driving and probably bored!! He would always make a point of sharing everything which had upset him since we spoke last………….
Having heard great things about his stick float clinics, I asked if he would do one for Twyford and District Fishing Club, which he did for the past three years, and very popular they were too. All on the T&DFC committee were so impressed with Keith, we asked him to become a club Ambassador, which he took on with his usual enthusiasm, he will be very hard to replace. Keith became a regular on our Big One stand as well, in between chatting up Andy Ford of Sky TV & Keith Arthur as well as popping off constantly to buy more Dave Harrell stick floats.
Sky TVs TightLines loved having Keith on the show and he thoroughly enjoyed taking part. He called me every time he was on his way to yet another filming, casually dropping the fact into conversation………. We all gave him stick about his new found stardom, and Sky TV baseball cap!
The next big event was Lucy’s wedding, I had an almost daily commentary in the build-up, including the shoes which hurt his feet, followed by a massive, massive out pouring of pride. That pride was nothing next to the news he was going to be a granddad, then a double granddad when it was discovered Lucy was expecting twins……..
Words to describe one of the best people I have ever met: Funny, Confident, Helpful, Sharing, Selfless, Supportive, Humorous, Hairy, I miss him already…
Dave Harrell – Angling Times columnist
I got to know Keith a few years ago after we met at the Big One Show and I always looked forward to contact with him as we shared the same enthusiasm for float fishing. It was a real shock to learn that he’d suddenly died after a fishing trip and I can only hope that he’d had a good day on the river beforehand. He will be missed by many.
Andrew Nellist – British Record Fish Committee
I knew Keith for more than 30 years having grown up in Park Street where he lived in the same road as our mutual friend Neil Watson. Way back then Keith was already an extremely good float angler and was as ever very funny with a great sense of comic timing.
Recently Neil and I introduced Keith to the delights of bread fishing with light gear on the upper Thames for Roach. Keith got well and truly hooked and was back most weekends including just two days before we lost him.
Keith had not been on the BRFC for long but he was a real asset to the committee with his “lets make it happen” attitude and his infectious sense of humour. The last meeting of the BRFC in December was the best I’d ever been to and the reason for that was the humour and warmth Keith brought to the meeting.
Angling has lost a really big character and someone who would otherwise have continued to make a huge contribution to our sport.
Keith Arthur – Sky TV presenter
When I received a message that Keith Speer had passed away it took a long time to sink in. Keith was certainly a character that couldn’t be ignored, a larger-than-life bear of a man with a seemingly fixed smile on his face and a ready laugh.
I met Keith, as with so many great anglers, through Tight Lines, the Sky Sports’ angling programme I have had the honour of presenting for nearly 20 years and we hit it off immediately because we both love stick-float fishing.
Keith was a superb match angler who went on to develop his match-honed stick-float style to target big fish and boy was he successful at it. His record with barbel, chub, roach and dace – the classic quarry for river anglers – was simply amazing. He seemed to be able to sort out big fish and present his bait to them in such a way as to make it irresistible. Although he fished for carp in stillwaters he had no thoughts of taking the more sedentary style, sitting behind alarms with baits in the water for many hours, to seek out barbel and chub. He simply trotted for them.
We fished a few times on his spiritual home: the tiny Upper Lea in Hertfordshire, on stretches of river that he and his Verulam club were responsible for their magnificence. Some days it was impossible to get through the barbel to catch the roach…on the stick of course. On my first visit and after Lord-knows how many barbel, many of them on hemp fished off bottom, I had three fish come into the margins of my peg after packing up to scavenge on the bait I’d dropped. One was a barbel, maybe pushing ten pounds. Another was a chub that would have been described as huge 25 years ago, probably a mid-5lber. The other was a decent bream…but then I looked again and saw it was a roach. Yes, a roach as big as a decent bream. Quite possibly it was the 3lber that later the following winter Keith slipped his landing net under. On the stick float of course
He explained to me how his father drummed the ’12 pieces of hemp’ rule into him so as to not overfeed and bring roach too high in the water, giving them just enough grub to keep them competing. It was always a joy to sit and listen to stories from Keith and I was privileged to fish with him a few times and also to host him twice in the Tight Lines bothy. Believe me when I tell you that an hour simply wasn’t enough and we continued to talk rivers and stick floats as the cameras moved out and the lights dimmed.
Now the lights have dimmed for Keith.
Verulam AC are producing a tribute book for Keith and their website will be updated after his funeral on March 12th
Keith J. Speer R.I.P. (November 1955 to February 2015)