Fly reels have been a little disappointing over the last 35 years. Some of the classics are no longer available due to Western Manufacturers having gone belly up in the face of Far Eastern cheap labour competition. There have certainly been massive developments in the USA in the matter of saltwater reels but few of these developments have much relevance to stillwater fly fishing for trout.
There were a number of weight reductions made with the introduction of plastic/graphite composite reels. Some excellent product was developed especially in conjunction with cassette systems of spool and particularly with the LC Series from British Fly Reel Developments Ltd - a Company put together by the superbly talented Barrie Welham from elements of the old KP Morritt company.
But superior product, especially geared retrieve flyreels has gone off the market - Arthur Cove and I wouldn't use anything else for bankfishing – but maybe we are both dinosaurs these days!
And worse, in a desperate attempt to sell something de nouveau, the last 5 years has seen the introduction of 'wide arbor' reels, in profusion, into the stillwater market. These items, made in the wrong fashion, have effectively added several unnecessary ounces of weight to tackle systems generally.
Thirty years ago we were using better wide arbored reels – particularly in conjunction with shooting heads, which need monofilament shooting line kept on as wide an arbour as possible. The right type of reel was the old 4" Diameter Speedia, 4" Allcock's Aerial or the classic 1498 Pflueger 4" Flyreel or one of its Japanese copies. These reels basically were 4" diameter and 1"wide. If the reel wasn't arboured all you did was fill the spool up with cork or cheap backing - big deal!
Interestingly I think that virtually all significant tackle development was done by around 1975 and that nothing much other than slight weight reductions, cosmeticisation and manufacturing price reductions has happened since.
It is a fact that I can cast not one iota further with the latest most expensive equipment available than I can with tackle from the early 70's!
The only radically different way of catching stillwater trout in the UK in the last 30 years came about largely because I went float tubing in the USA for a day in 1985.
On my return I decided that it offered something interesting and different and that I would see if it were possible to get it introduced onto UK waters. It then took 3 years for us to interest any water in allowing the technique - I will not bore you with the details of frustration and the vast numbers of refused requests.
Eventually money talked and we were let on initially at Thornton through the good offices of Ivor Jones the operator. Shortly afterwards Toft Newton and Weir Wood in England and North Third in Scotland joined in.
We then formed the British Float Tube Association, devised a Code of Safe Operations and I personally put the fix in on a Pro basis with both the ASGFM and the Salmon and Trout Association. Oddly since we in BFTA enforced the wearing of CO2 lifejackets as mandatory, most reservoirs have made the same practise mandatory for all boat users - and maybe we saved a few lives because of it!
Since 1994 more waters have opened up to the technique frankly than there have been fishermen to support the openings. It took us 10 years to get a day at Rutland which pleasantly surprised us because we thought it might take 20. Depressingly we have seen an opening at Barrow 3 that closed because too few folks were taking the opportunity up.
Sadly there are probably less than 500 active float tubers in the entire UK and Eire. Surprising to me personally because it is fun and most interesting to have to modify what were essentially Stuart Seatrout and Northampton Style Boat tactics to the far slower speeds involved in paddling a float tube. I estimate that the separate tactics took us about 10 years to get a serious grip of and that kept those of us involved happy for that time.
Quite what the future of this technique is I have no serious idea. I suspect that with the departure of significant sums of money from the equation that fuelled the increase of interest in team competition flyfishing in the 80's and 90's there may just be an increase in interest from individuals who have pursued that particular sideline for too long. One never knows.