Peter Lapsley: obituary

It is with great sadness that we report the death of Peter Lapsley, journalist, author and fisherman. Peter was a tremendous supporter of the WTT, and will be very much missed. 

Neil Patterson, his good friend, fellow fisherman and writer, has kindly written this obituary: 

Head out of Watford and turn left to Cassiobury Park. Walk to the bridge over the Grand Union Canal and follow the footpath until you get to a lock. Cross over and plonk yourself on a concrete shelf and place your maggot just where a stream hits the canal.

This is where Peter caught his first roach, aged six. Six years’ later he was to catch his first trout on a fly, on the River Chess.

Peter was born in 1943, in Gravesend. Not a name he’d have given a place to begin his life. You got to start somewhere” he’d say.

He went to Sandhurst where he captained the rifle shooting team. But when I lent him my airgun to shoot a big fat pigeon that was swaggering around his bird table, it was still there the next week. 

Peter served 10 years in the King’s Own Royal Border Regiment, working in British Guyana, Aden and the Emirates and later, Northern Ireland.

As a military man, to me he was James Bond. Furiously handsome, well-spoken and immaculately groomed. But you can tell the character of a man by the flies he ties. Each material was systematically and carefully selected. Each turn of silk cautiously calculated. Watching him tie a fly was like watching a nervous man eat a kipper.

Peter never traded in the unnecessary. To drive him crazy, you just had to tell him A Daddy-long-legs pattern has to have six legs.”

Trout can’t count,” Richard Walker had once told him.

He developed his relaxed fishing style when he ran a trout fishery; Rockbourne in Wiltshire. This cured me of any wish to catch and kill fish’. But it allowed him to study trout in their environment and he became much more interested in imparting his knowledge to others. 

Perhaps more than any other British writer in recent times, Peter will be best remembered for helping beginners and seasoned fanatics understand their sport better. As a fly-fishing database’, his ability to simplify and cut away mystique – without letting his ego or self-interest get in the way – is a rare quality amongst sports writers.

There was, however, a time when I thought he was going stark-raving bonkers. Once he proudly turned up to lunch in a pair of spanking new, sand-coloured Clark’s desert boots. And he adored the cruise control on his Lexus. He wanted to put a sticker in the back window saying I love Cruise Control’, where others might put I love New York’. Which is where drivers behind him wanted Peter to be. 

But the coincidence of an assortment of medical conditions – osteoporosis, osteoarthritis, systemic lupus — combined to make Peter largely house-bound. Then they discovered he had leukaemia.

As his good health slipped quietly and painfully away, he wasn’t a man in retreat. Or a man who displayed the tiniest iota of anger about the blow life had dealt him.

This is because Peter was a man fulfilled:

He was a literary giant, the first person Richard Walker asked to take over his column in leading fishing magazines of the day. Dermot Wilson said of him: Peter has two great gifts which I envy: he never wastes a word and every word is a mot juste”. 

He has written, co-written or edited ten angling books, including the bestseller, Fly Fishing by J R Hartley. His latest, A Pocket Guide to Matching the Hatch, he wrote with Cyril Bennett MBE is a complete guide, the size of a fly-box.

His monthly column in FlyFishing & FlyTying – which he contributed to since it was first published – was essential reading. No other fly-fishing writer interviewed so many of the leading fly-fishing luminaries and commented so effectively on issues of the day.

He was a life-time member of a club he’d dedicated so much of his time to, The Flyfisher’s Club. As editor of the Flyfishers Journal he upped’ the standard until his death. His fly-tying classes were oversubscribed.

Once a member of the Abbots Barton water on the Itchen — and later after wild trout on the pretty little’ Meon as a member of the Portsmouth Services Fly Fishing Association — Peter finally found the river that was to fulfil his dreams. The Cresswell & Litton water on the Derbyshire Wye.

Peter never put himself first. When the late John Goddard was unable to drive, Peter drove from his home in Ealing to Surrey to Hampshire and back again almost every week for the last five years of John’s life making sure his friend fished until he could fish no more.

Peter would tell you he was a fulfilled man. He had everything. But his health.

He died on Saturday 3rd August aged 70. He leaves Liza, his wife, children Clare and Douglas and five grandchildren.