Steve Parton: The Stillwater Revolution part 2: The Reservoirs

The first reservoir stocked and flyfished for trout was Thrybergh near Doncaster - and it still is over 100 years later. These days you can even float tube it and it is well worth a trip. A boat fishery it never really was. Little tactically came from there except the interesting use of a completely bare size 14 bronzed hook somewhere on a three fly leader. If you like, the first use of the minimally dressed buzzer.

Ravensthorpe in 1895 and Blagdon in 1904 followed on the turn of the century (interestingly Barrow No 1 was constructed in 1840 but not stocked for many years and when it was fishing was restricted to the Directors of Bristol Waterworks!). Blagdon and its devotees effectively carried the stillwater banner in the UK up until the end of the Second World War. Most of the early fly developments away from Scots traditional flies and towards representations of natural insects stemmed from Bladgon fishermen.

Although little was formally written about the lake there is vast and interesting correspondence in the fabulous Fishing Gazette - spanning pre First and Inter War years covering most aspects of the very traditional boat fishery it became. With booking of boats and ghillies necessary and considerable numbers of bank fishermen who were also spinning minnows in season right up into the 1930's! Night fishing with huge dry sedges developed there. The seminal work of Dr Mottram who by 1915 had developed and published the first buzzer and sedge pupal dressings - some of which floated immediately under the surface - was Blagdon driven. Mottram was at least 50 years ahead of his time as an imitative flydresser, by the way - nobody ever got further in front of any aspect of flyfishing! He was using marabou in minnow imitations in 1913!

Between the wars numbers of imitative fishermen increased but the only one seriously regarded as influential was Dr Bell who developed assorted pupal imitations. Bell, once described to me as 'a miserable old curmudgeon ' by Dick Walker, was a secretive and unpleasant solitary. Influential nonetheless!

Not a great deal happened in Wales with the exception of drift traditional fishing at Lake Vrnwy which provided happy holidays for numbers of the well to do out of the Hotel from around 1890 onwards. The Hotel and Lake are still fishing!

And there were other developments mainly in Ireland with Hanna and Henderson working on mayflies and duck flies. The Mayfly season in Ireland is at times as good as it ever was and hopefully will long continue. There was even an odd dry-fly-only book written by a lone obsessive attempting to persuade folks to Halfordise things. Which never came to fruition. Again like the Scots the Irish took a very considerable interest in the seatrout in the 30's especially on waters such as the Delphi system.

One series of technical developments in boatfishing were sadly ended with the early death from TB of the fabulous Hamish Stuart in 1915. An obsessional seatrout specialist Stuart, who fished singly from a boat with a ghillie - massively developed subtle manipulations of the fly as a part of his range of techniques. Effectively he was the first to hit on what later became Northampton Style. Most of his fishing was done on the swing with the boat being very slowly rowed upwind - he was the first to use lines deliberately allowed to sink and then swung at depth - at no great depth admittedly but the principals of technique were there.

I have no doubt but that Stuart and the generations he influenced would have advanced the techniques of boatfishing radically in the 30's except Stuart died early and most of his devotees perished somewhere in France in the 14 -18 War. I once caught a larger seatrout on the classic wet flies than Stuart ever did in his long career at 14lb 10oz. Fortunately I caught it on his classic Red Stuart - I still feel a fraud, compared to what he achieved.

Most stillwater development between the Wars in Scotland had to do with seatrouting. Particularly in the Uists at Lochboisdale and on one or two other classic seatrout waters such as Lochs Hope, Naver, and Lomond. Little found its way South.

Between the wars what effectively triggered the development and then explosion in stillwater flyfishing in England had not yet arrived – the waters. Without the waters there is no fishing. The late 30's were a critical time because around then reservoir building got into full swing in the English Midlands. Eyebrook (1939) and Ladybower (1940) were mainly built for Wartime Industry and then you had Hollowell immediately postwar near Northampton. And in the Charnwood area Blackbrook, Thornton and Cropston all part of a piped supply chain supplying Leicester and its surrounding area.

Surface reservoir building continued apace and was critical to what happened next and probably with no great accuracy in dates the following reservoirs were built in the next few decades - and then stocked with trout and operated as Trout Fisheries on the side. That happened due to assorted legislation that effectively forced Water Companies to open those waters to some form of public access. Prior to the legislation you had to have a Freedom From Infection Certificate from your Doctor to access several smaller waters in the South West - a system in force into the 60's at such waters as Siblyback, Liskeard, and Tottiford I am unreliably informed!

1930's   Barrow 3, Eyebrook
1940's   Ladybower
1950's Queen Mother near Windsor, Chew Magna, Blithfield, Weir Wood
1960's Grafham, Pitsford, Draycote Water, The Farmoors,  Foremark, Tittesworth, Hanningfield, Ardleigh, Ardingley, Clyweddog
1970's Rutland, Derwent, Bewl Bridge
1980's Keilder, Roadford,
1990's Carsington

Next week: The small waters.

 
Steve Parton needs no introduction to the UK readers. Midlands reservoir angler, obsessional float tuber, author and "in the trade", Steve owns Sparton Fishing Tackle (drop by for a visit!) and is well known in the UK for his in-depth flyfishing knowledge.


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