Steve Parton: The Stillwater Revolution part 4: The Pioneers

Most of the main players who really powered the stillwater flyfishing explosion were fishing by the end of the Second World War: Dick Walker, Dick Shrive, Arthur Cove, Cyril Inwood, and Tom Ivens. Never forget however that there were and are numbers of seriously influential fishermen who never actually do get any kind of recognition at all because they do not seek it - my generation also respects great fish takers like Tommy Graham, Frank Cutler, Dick Spring and Roy Shuter - and the odd great organiser like Norman Spier responsible for the excellent Blithfield Syndicate! There are so very many unsung heroes!

All these fishermen are associated with waters in and around Northampton. They were a product of the flyfishing opportunities that those waters generated. Had the main sweep of reservoir building been elsewhere in the UK probably other names would have been as prominent. But this group may have been significant in any event because of their bizarre talents.

I have to group Inwood, Cove and Shrive together. Not because they were specifically the popularisers of the sport but because they between them did much if not most of the essential technical and tactical development work that taught the rest of us how to catch stillwater trout in anything other than a random manner.

Inwood and Cove were responsible for radically developing Bank and quite a lot of Over the Front Boat Techniques. Inwood was as good a traditional boat fisherman as there has ever been and taught an entire International generation how to catch fish with the floating line. He also fished very extensively from the Bank and did a huge amount of development work with imitative and nymph fishing.

Cove did more for deep nymph and imitative fly fishing than anyone is ever likely to achieve in any lifetime. Shrive, ever the most cunning and technically innovative fly fisherman there has ever been was single handedly responsible for Northampton Style Boat Fishing - he also pioneered the use of shooting heads and systematised approaches to bank fishing with the lure.

Tom Ivens and Dick Walker were, if you like, the popularisers. The fishermen who alerted the rest of the fishing population to the joys of stillwater fly fishing. The initial mover was Tom Ivens, a schoolteacher and journalist who got obsessed with the sport in the years immediately following WW2. Something of an outsider to the Northampton coterie of specialists leading development in the late 40's he rather upstaged them by writing his classic 'Stillwater Fly Fishing' - sadly it subsequently became rather obvious that he had been very heavily influenced in fly design by his somewhat underhanded acquisition of Cyril Inwood's flies - Peter Tombleson the great journalist and background politician of stillwater fly fishing never spoke of him to me without adding a curse in his later years – feeling that the theft had radically undervalued Inwood's actual impact on the development of modern stillwater flydressing and techniques . Iven's was a nice enough bloke by the way and I liked him a great deal - and flyfishing has always had types who were better at writing up other fishermen's work maybe than they were as innovative fishermen themselves - and you only have to look at me and Bob Church to figure that one out for yourself!

Iven's was the initial impact post war that everybody else built on as waters opened and more and more fishermen took to stillwaters with the fly. But Iven's did not do the real opening of the sport up to the common man, as it were. No, Dick Walker did that all by himself!

Walker came to prominence in the early 50's as the captor of the then Carp record. He then reinforced his position as the fisherman of his day by writing excellent books and keeping on innovating with rods, reels, rigs, fantastic captures of specimen fish of a considerable number of species - he really was a fabulously talented fisherman and writer.

Walker and his close friends Fred J.Taylor, Maurice Inman and Pete Thomas effectively started Serious Specimen Hunting and Species Concentration in an organised and deliberate manner. A brain that got a Double First in Engineering from Cambridge coupled with an insatiable desire to fish and write most excellently about it, and the means to do it and that was the basis of Dick Walker.  He and his friends were a powerhouse all of their own and their copyists in terms of methodology and approach have massively influenced Coarse fishing in the UK for the last 6 decades and will likely do for all time.

By the early 60's Walker (and his weekly column in Angling Times, the most influential there has ever been in any British fishing publication) was looking away from Coarse Fishing and beginning to take a keener interest in fly fishing. The opening of Grafham and the fantastic sport it produced for maybe 3 seasons gave Walker the opportunity to write extensively about stillwater fly fishing and to thoroughly demystify it for ordinary fishermen . There is no doubt that before Dick Walker got going most fishermen regarded fly fishing as an exclusively Upper Class pursuit and five years later they didn't. Large numbers of them stopped coarse fishing and went fly fishing as a direct result  - most converted during the then Close Seasons which effectively stopped all Coarse Fishing between March 16 and June 15, and had since the Mundella Acts of 1915! Recruitment into fly fishing has been seriously affected by the effective end of a Close Season on stillwater coarse fisheries since the mid 90's.

And Walker didn't just write the one column, he was an inveterate correspondent to a number of influential magazines and never stopped writing for a single day I think. And no one ever sent him a letter without receiving a personally written reply almost by return post. He was certainly very patient with young idiots' questions as I can personally verify, and he was a kind and considerate man in all respects bar his language which, even in the presence of ladies, was foul beyond belief for a clever and civilised human being! I never understood why. Frankly it was Dick that got me started writing - he told me I was a prat for doing it for free for the Flydressers Guild Newsletter and that I was better at it than him (which was not true)! We all owe Dick Walker a major debt of gratitude and I hope we shall meet up again in the hereafter. He was the funniest of men and what a talker, I'd give a lot to sit in a bar and just listen to him again!

Some mention of Geoff Bucknall has to be made because he wrote constantly through the 60's as did Bob Church. Every book and article fuelled the fire of the Stillwater explosion. Even as erudite a tome as Brian Clarke's had major impacts in increasing interest.

And the impact of the massive fly related work of John Goddard in the 60's and 70's should never ever be underestimated. Effectively Goddard started the ' scientification' of the imitative stillwater fly by his detailed photographic studies and subsequent imitations of the natural - like most fly originators his work has almost been superceeded and forgotten in his own lifetime but it was of critical significance - he defined the principles of what has happened after.

The last great populariser is a little known but massively influential journalist, John Wilshaw, who as a younger party worked a great deal with Walker, Cove and Shrive. Frankly he ghost wrote significant numbers of brilliant articles for some of them - which wasn't that difficult for him because to do this thing you have to be rather better at flyfishing than folks would give you credit for. And he was and still is.

Wilshaw's time came with the opening of Rutland Water and his being given the job of starting the first specialist magazine devoted to stillwater flyfishing called Trout Fisherman and still published over 25 years later. Within a couple of years he took the circulation well over 50,000 per issue . Since his departure to pastures new the sport has undoubtedly been in slow decline - especially in regard to larger stillwaters. As has the overall circulation of all periodicals connected with stillwater fly fishing.

Yes, Wilshaw was very critical to the Golden Days of the late 70's and early 80's. You have to remember that the other major Editors of Trout and Salmon had been around in the 50's and 60's when the powerhouse was stoking up and it has to be said that Jack Thorndike and Roy Eaton both missed the real significance of what was happening but they were both more interested in Salmon fishing and the Salmon fishing was never better than in the 50's and 60's so maybe who could blame them!

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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