Malcolm Greenhalgh - Obituary

Malcolm Game fair 2009 mono small

Malcom Greenhalgh - 1946-2019



Rose and I were greatly saddened to hear of the recent passing of Malcolm Greenhalgh. Malcolm has been a friend and a source of inspiration for us since the early days of Medlar and Waterlog. We will miss him.

The following was written by another friend of his, and Medlar author, Keith Harwood.


Dr Malcom Greenhalgh by Keith Harwood


The last time I saw Malcolm was at the British Fly Fair International at Stafford earlier this year. He was on great form and asked me if I knew whether grayling were indigenous to the river Irwell since the EA had recently stocked the river with ladies of the stream, believing them to be native to the river. Unfortunately, I did not know the answer and he asked me to look up a reference for him in Anglers’ Evenings, First Series, a collection of papers written by members of the Manchester Anglers’ Association, published in 1880. In a chapter on fishing the Irwell, written by Edward Corbett, I discovered that he had fished for graining in that river, not grayling. The graining was a local name for dace and during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries it was believed to be a separate species of fish. Several days later, and much to his delight, I was able to inform Malcolm that grayling were not indigenous to that river system and that someone had misread graining for grayling and the EA had mistakenly stocked the river with grayling. Malcolm was not slow to act on this information and quickly penned an article informing the powers that be of their mistake.

It is difficult to know how to define Malcolm since he was a man of many talents: biologist, ecologist, fly-fisherman, fly dresser, angling guide, author, public speaker, gardener, ornithologist, historian, gourmand and wine connoisseur. He was all of these and more.

He was born in 1946 into a working-class family but, at the age of eleven, he passed the 11+ examination and gained a place at the prestigious Kirkham Grammar School. From there he progressed to Lancaster University where he read for a degree in Biological Sciences, followed by a PhD, for which he studied the bird life of the Ribble estuary. He lectured for sixteen years before becoming disillusioned both by the amount of paperwork and the indolence of some of his students. In 1986, shortly before his fortieth birthday, he handed in his notice and devoted himself full-time to writing, public speaking, fly-dressing demonstrations, making videos and appearing at game fairs and other countryside events. It was at this point in his life that he was befriended by Hugh Falkus who advised him that he would be very happy in his new role but he would never be very wealthy. Like Falkus, Malcolm was a larger than life character but, unlike Falkus, he was much more even-tempered and did not quarrel with his friends. Indeed, he collaborated with Falkus in the writing of
The Salmon & Sea Trout Fisher’s Handbook, which was eventually published in 1997, a year after Falkus’ death.

As a writer Malcolm penned over twenty books and hundreds of articles, most of them related to fishing although he did write books on other subjects including birdwatching,
The Birdwatcher’s Year (1993), food and cookery, The Flavours of Lancashire (2007), gardening, Grow Your Own in Lancashire and history, It Happened in Lancashire (2012).

When I first took up fly-fishing on my local rivers, the Ribble and Hodder, I found his
Trout Fishing in Rivers (1987) extremely useful since Malcolm fished the same rivers as I did and was a member of the same angling club – Bowland Game Fishing Association, and it was on a recommendation in his book that I purchased a Sharpe’s 88 cane fly rod. I caught a great many trout on that rod before I eventually traded it in for a rod made of carbon fibre – something I have regretted ever since! However, my favourite book of Malcolm’s is undoubtedly his autobiographical Casting a Line (Medlar Press 2014). In it he tells of his fishing adventures both at home and abroad, enlivened by his frequent anecdotes. As I read the book, it is almost as if I can hear Malcolm actually speaking, and it is written in such an easy-going style that I am instantly transported to the places he fished, be they my local rivers or the rivers and lakes of Scandinavia.

Malcolm was a great raconteur and I vividly recall an angling club dinner many years ago when my wife and I were on the same table as Malcolm and his wife, Yvonne. He kept us fully entertained with his amusing tales of his exploits and the evening seemed to pass by in an instant. One of my favourite anecdotes of Malcolm concerns a fishing holiday with Oliver Edwards on the river Dee in Scotland. The beat on which they were fishing was overrun with rabbits and, since Malcolm was fond of rabbit pie, he managed to persuade the gillie to bag a few bunnies in exchange for some of his salmon flies. The gillie duly obliged and, after skinning them, Malcolm formed them into the shape of a salmon, placed them in a black plastic bag, labelled ‘SALMON 20 ½lb. River Dee. Malcolm Greenhalgh.’ As he walked through the hotel bar clasping his precious bundle the other guests were in awe and bombarded him with questions as to the whereabouts of his capture and on what fly. After spinning them a suitable yarn he deposited his ‘catch’ in the hotel freezer.

As an angling writer myself I was given much encouragement and advice by Malcolm. On one occasion, while researching material for my book
Fish and Fishers of the Lake District (Medlar Press 2014), Malcolm insisted that we should go up to Penrith to meet Terry Cousins, an expert on Lake District fishing. Malcolm accompanied me on the journey and I spent a wonderful afternoon listening to Terry and Malcolm recounting their fishing exploits on Lakeland waters.

Malcolm loved angling fairs and shows where he frequently gave talks and demonstrations to an appreciative audience. However, in recent years he was saddened by the demise of the Chatsworth Angling Fair and the gradual decline of the Fisherman’s Row at the annual CLA Game Fair. He was a tireless supporter of the Wild Trout Trust and a great conservationist who was deeply concerned at the decline in numbers of salmon and sea trout entering our rivers. Sadly, in recent years, due to the onset of arthritis, he did not fish for salmon and sea trout as often as he would have liked. He passed away at the age of seventy-three on the 25
th of October, 2019 after a short illness. He will be greatly missed not only by his family but by the angling community at large.