The High Water mark probably passed sometime in the mid 80's. Not an awful lot of significant developments either in tactics or tackle have happened since. Apart from minority float tubing. Quite why I don't really know. Something happened around then, I suspect too many people saw a expanding future when in actual fact it was contracting. John Wilshaw is of the view that the trigger event was when Brian Ledbetter (twice World Champion) packed in and went playing golf!
It would be around that time that competitive flyfishing rather came to the fore in terms of coverage in periodicals - maybe to keep them on selling with something new. Cove, Shrive, Walker and I never had one iota of interest in competing against other fly fishermen. All we were doing was trying to figure out new and different ways of catching trout in significant numbers. Developing the tactics widely so that you could catch fish on most days of the season.
If you take boat fishing as an example there are six different ways that you can use a boat for fly fishing from - anchoring, side drifting, stern quarter drogue drifting, Northampton style rudder fishing, leeboarding and trolling. And there are secondary variations within those styles.
In competitions there is but side drifting - with or without a drogue.
I suspect that the super obsessed 20, 30, and 40 year olds who always have done most new development in flyfishing have been sidetracked into fishing competitively for the last two decades. Certainly I have been out with fishermen who were once at the forefront of technical development but who 20 years later were using laughably inept gear that they would never have considered previously - because they were 'practising for the World Championships!' I also recall that during the 1986 World Event someone had to buy Chis Ogborne a sinking line because he hadn't got one! Tactical diversity stultified by the artificial demands of International Rules with a vengeance.
Interestingly, having been heavily involved in the introduction of float tubing into the UK and with all the subsequent tactical and tackle developments that followed, I have been surprised at the relatively slow rate of uptake by younger fishermen. And not just because of the initial problems we had with opening waters up to the technique.
I have to conclude that the simple business of catching trout, having pure fun and enjoying it is not what the modern results-and-temporary-fame obsessed breed of younger fishermen requires from the sport.
Most of the grand sweep of techniques, tackle and tactics has been sorted out and I suppose what we are left with currently is the development of minor tactics such as fishing buzzer imitations beneath floats (or indicators as they call them!) Plus the latest current cant crop of stunt flies required for short term success in matches - Hoppers, Semi Dries, Blobs, variations of Diawl Bachs, and no doubt one new fly style every two years. Currently there appears to be a drive towards producing continuous flylines castable a few yards further than normal ones - I assume to marginally increase the water coverage (and work rate) of competition types. Which to an old hand looks like the reinvention of the Shooting Head in an alternate form.
Because most of it has already been done - if you took Trout Fisherman magazine for a couple of years you would fairly accurately be able to predict the how-to-catch-them articles likely to appear month by month for the next few years.
The point about stillwater flyfishing is that after you have been at it for 25 years you have probably learnt all you need to know and have caught all the fish you will ever need to catch. The critical 25 years probably started around 1965 and finished in 1990 because by that time everybody involved had done all the physical learning, understood seasonality and likely imitative requirements and the tactical essentials were all in place.
Since then it has been rather like a fallow period. But stillwater fly fishing has had fallow periods before - between the Wars for instance when not a lot happened for 20 odd years and then new waters opened up and society changed irrevocably after the conflict and things were very different as the swords got beaten into ploughshares once more.
Bank fishing on the major stillwaters appears to be most in decline in relative terms. It may be a feature of maturing reservoirs that the deep inshore littoral required to bring trout inshore or the cycling explosions of differing food forms attached with new waters both steadily decline as the years pass and the waters infill with drifting mud. Or maybe they don't stock the numbers of smaller more active trout these days!
Bank fishermen in any quantity on any summer evening at Rutland or Grafham, Draycote or Pitsford, Chew or Bladgon have become a rarity. And yet when those waters were young those were the best times and places to fish. I personally spent three evenings a week on the Rutland Bank in summer for the first seven seasons - and it did definitely go steadily off - or maybe I did!
Given that the stillwater trout explosion has effectively run out of steam and is currently becalmed, the immediate future days are likely to see fly fishing developments that relate to other stillwater species such as pike, carp, perch and zander.
Pike fishing with flies is the current hot ticket and it is interesting to note that the state of pike fly fishing development is pretty much at the state of trout lure fishing development in the late 60's. In other words the development fishermen just haven't yet had the sheer weight of experiences necessary to refine either techniques or fly design. I have recently read some of the most fancifully ludicrous drivel I have ever encountered in current writings on pike on the fly in assorted periodicals.
Accordingly I confidently predict that sooner or later the current crop of “pike specialists” will discover Northampton Styles, Shooting Heads, echo sounders and lures with inbuilt movement and shortly after that they may start catching the numbers of pike we caught entirely by accident 25 years ago! And in another 10 years stillwater piking on the fly will be played out too.
Zander is amusing in that Grafham is full of the things and yet the techniques of hyper accurate hyper deep Northampton style needed to catch them consistently are presently banned. Things may change - they often do; it is a very excellent fish to catch and maybe even better to eat!
As a fairly catholic flyfisherman I regard saltwater flyfishing as nothing more than a larger version of stillwater trouting. And the interesting extensions of flyfishing techniques and tackle into seashore flyfishing for bass, cod, pollack, coalfish, garfish and mackerel round the British coast are to me nothing more than a sensible and interesting series of related developments. Certainly the magazines are beginning to commission writing on all these species. More and more stillwater fishermen will be going saltwatering in the years to come and you never know but some of their future developments may leak backwards into stillwater trouting.
I know significant numbers of very expert British fly fishermen who have basically given up on British stillwater flyfishing in exchange for a couple of supercharged weeks fishing for bones, redfish, snook, permit and tarpon. Tom Saville, John Goddard and Barrie Pond to name but three. And all have been very successful in a very different fly fishing environment requiring considerable differences in approaches to these species - most of which require stalking from a boat with a guide pushing from the stern.
One aspect of saltwatering that is almost identical to modern styles of boatfishing with lures is US coastal striped bass fishing in all its many variations with but the exception of insect imitation.
And given the fantastic sport that impounded stripers bring in californian reservoirs the time may well be overdue for an experimental stocking of this amazing fish into a British stillwater especially one crammed with coarse fish and I can think of no better water to try that out than Rutland! I understand there are a few of these interesting fish in the warm outflow at Sellafield!