Hilton William “Bill” Fullerton

1926 – 1998


  Hilton William “Bill” Fullerton was born on January 12, 1926 , in Zionville , New Brunswick . He was the oldest of three children of Elizabeth Blanch Nicholls and Hilton Allan Leavitt Fullerton. He learned the ways of the forests and streams at a very young age from his grandfather and uncles. Bill said that learning about the outdoor was more out of necessity then want at first.  The sport came later.  

Bill Fullerton Home made Canoe

In the summer of 1985, after unsuccessfully trying to purchase a canoe made by well-known local canoe builder and fisherman “Ralph Mullin”, who’s canoes were sought after by many and were usually spoken for well before they were made, Bill decided to make his own canoe. 

In the fall of '85 through serendipity circumstance Bill met Morrill Sisk at Frankie Bowes' camp up the Mullin Stream road.  Perfect strangers, who, over a drink of scotch, found a serious common interest in hunting and fishing, which they shared until Bill passed on.  Bill was recovering from heart surgery but it was hard to tie him down; he had found a place up on the Clearwater that had a lot of deer sign and he wanted to know if Morrill would go with him for the afternoon hunt?  Morrill was ready to go before Bill finished asking and by night fall they had killed the first of many they would share in the time Morrill knew him.

After the hunting season was over, Bill asked Morrill to give him a hand to check things out at the Valentine camp.  He showed Morrill around and among the several canoes that were there he pointed out an Ogilvie poling canoe which Morrill sensed Bill was fond of.  He pointed out that the bow of the Ogilvie was wider then the stern.  The reason for that, he said, was to give more displacement to the "fat arse passenger".

            As it turned out, the province at that time was promoting the conversion to fiberglass in the fishing industry.  Morrill had several years experience building 65' wooden fishing boats and landed a job as technical adviser with RPC.  RPC had just gotten a large mainframe computer complete with elaborate 3D graphics software and the technicians needed some experience and since shipbuilding is a world of complex curves, Morrill was asked to guide them in developing lines for ships/boats.  The Ogilvie came to mind immediately, and very soon Bill and Morrill were taking measurements off the Ogilvie. Back at RPC they loaded all the information into the computer and the technicians proceeded to draw the lines by hand  (today the software does all the work).

Finally, they had a shape in the computer that looked like "a " canoe but it needed work.  Bill and Morrill had several discussions on what to do next.  Morrill was always uncomfortable in most canoes because they seem tipsy, so he proposed a flat bottom with a 5" radius at the bilge to bring the sides up at right angles to the bottom.  Bill said he hated it when the keel caught on the rocks so they agreed to have no keel.  They both agreed to give a little more beam and free board than the Ogilvie, but it was decided to keep the wider bow and slim stern.  A popular material at the time was a glass plank called C-Flex.  It was design for "one of construction".  The planking went over wooden frames and was resined into place to form the hull.  MorrilI supplied Bill with full-scale lines for a 20' canoe and Bill didn't stop until he had 6 built.


“Bill” Fullerton at the vice (circa 1995)

Bill started tying flies in the mid 1940’s after he finished his service with the armed forces.

He told his son that he loved the rivers and loved to fish, but couldn’t afford to buy the good flies so decided to start tying his own.  Then just after his discharge from the army he got a job with the Department of Federal Fisheries and was assigned to enforcement on the Saint John River.  Bill and another fishery officer would start at the old Fredericton Bridge and travel 14 miles up the Saint John river to check for poachers and to seize illegal nets.  There were no boats with motors back then.  To travel up river you had to pole, or paddle, but with Bill’s love for the river and the fly tyers and anglers he met along the way helped to make the journey much easier.  Bill loved to stop and talk to the people he met at such places as Heart’s Pool, The Cookie and Burpee Bar.  It was from the fly the many fly tyers and anglers on the river that he got considerable knowledge with respect to many successful fly patterns.  It also gave Bill the opportunity to sell and promote his own flies and to make a few dollars on the side.

In the early 1950’s times were hard and the Fisheries job was only seasonal so Bill re-enlisted in the military in order to support his young family.  After a posting to Germany he returned to Fredericton in 1960.  Upon his return he began tying flies again. This time he became very serious about fly tying.  It didn’t take long for the word to get around that Bill was tying flies for sale and a short time later he began supplying quality flies to different sporting stores and other business in the province.  He tied flies for Neil’s Sports in Fredericton, Allen Brothers, Lange and Morris in Newcastle, Canadian Tire Store, George Routledge’s Fly Shop in Renous, and businesses in Quebec and Newfoundland.  It was during this times that Bill tied flies in earnest in order to meet with the demand. He prepared one order of a gross dozen (1,728) flies in assorted patterns.  At this time it seemed that Bill was tying flies day and night.

These were the days of small drab boxes that taxes had to be paid on before they could be brought home and unwrapped to reveal beautiful feathers of all shapes and colours.  Also small boxes of hooks that looked like one box would last a lifetime only to see them used up very quickly and replaced soon thereafter.  It would be like Christmas when the plain looking boxes arrived, with names on them like Hardy, Herters, Veniards, and Globe Import, imports from far away places like Great Britain or the West Coast.

In the early 80’s Bill gave a couple of quick fly tying lessons to a neophyte fly tyer Frankie Bowes from Newcastle, who in very short time was cranking out making well-tied handsome flies.   “He has good hands, his flies are beautiful, they….Yup”, said Bill.  “Frankie ties flies to catch fishermen, I tie flies to catch fish.”   Frankie Bowes himself is the first to agree with Bill’s statement. A lot of people did catch fish on the beautiful flies, but for some reason the beauties couldn’t match the success rate of Bill’s charmed flies.

In the early 1960’s he fished many times at the Hartland Pool situated several hundred yards above the covered bridge in Hartland just below the mouth of the Becaguimec Stream.  This was a pool where people lined up before daylight and fish until dark.  Sometimes there would be as many as three and four fishermen with fish on at the same time.  About this same time the Beechwood Dam and Silverwood Dam on the Saint John River were beginning to interfere with the angler’s fishing and this poor fishing was compounded by the coup de gras Mactaquac.  It was also about this time that Bill became a member of the Fredericton Chapter of the Fish and Game Club and he began giving fly tying courses at the Fredericton Exhibition Lounge.

He loved fishing brook trout with his grandfather, especially such brooks as MacKenzie Brook, Young’s Brook, McBain Brook to name a few in Northumberland County.  He would frequently reminisce about the old days when, as a little boy, his grandfather would piggyback him to the brooks to fish trout when he was tired, and the strings of trout they caught. 

Bill always had a story to tell.  He took great pride in telling the story about his grandfather, Alfred’s, canoe trip down the Cains River where he guided the first lady Sport to come to that river to fish.  Harry Allen was the outfitter, Dick Evans the cook, and Amos Gallagher was the second guide on the trip.  The year was 1917, and the lady Sport was Mrs. Dorothy Nayes Arms, wife of John Taylor Arms, a businessman from Boston who was being guided by grandfather Alfred Nicholls, or “Alf” as he was known.  It was pouring down rain and Mrs Arms was not eager to leave the tent.  The morning was slipping by and she was getting anxious to fish.  From her tent she called to grandfather in the cook tent. “Alf, is it ever going to clear?”  Being a man of few words he said, “It always has!” (Fishing Memories by Dorothy Nayes Arms, McMillan Company 1938)

In 1968 Bill moved to Newfoundland where he lived until 1971.  He often said that his move there provided him with his three greatest years for hunting, fishing and fly tying.  In Newfoundland he spent many days fishing rivers such as the Gander, Humber, Exploits, Harry’s, Conn River and many more.  It was also a time he started tying more of what anglers called the “hairwing conversions” of salmon flies.  The English patterns, although more spectacular in their beauty, were more meticulous to tie, but they did not produce any more fish than the hair wing flies.

One of Bill’s favourite flies in Newfoundland was called “Thunder and Lightning”.  It caught a lot of grilse at a time when grilse were most prominent since the inshore fishery then were taking  salmon in gill nets.  Also, while Bill was living in Newfoundland Bill headed up the Search and Rescue Team in Gander for two years, which gave him the opportunity to meet many people and to travel extensively to many parts of the island that were not heavily travelled.  Upon returning to New Brunswick in 1971 he settled in Douglastown, which he was very happy to call home.

In 1972 a Mr. Charles Valentine from Norton, Massachusetts bought a camp formerly known as the Seabury Stanton Camp at the mouth of the Sabbies River on the Cains.  That winter Bill was formerly asked to look after the camp for Mr. Valentine, a task that he enjoyed until ill health forced him to retire in 1997.

Bill had previously visited this camp when Mr. Stanton was the owner.  The caretaker at that time was a relative named Tom Craig.  When Bill took over the camp, his guides of the day were a very able lot and were men of this river.  There was Jim Vickers, his sons Irvine, Dale and Lester, Malcolm McCormack and later his sons Allen and Donnie, John Brophy, Rodney Colford and many more.  The cook was Malcolm McCormack’s wife, Dorothy, who was known far and wide for her wonderful cooking.

In 1985, after unsuccessfully trying to purchase a canoe made by well-known local canoe builder and fisherman “Ralph Mullin”, who’s canoes were sought after by many and were usually spoken for well before they were made, Bill decided to make his own canoe.  In fact he built six that summer.  The canoes ranged from 15 to 22 feet in length.  During that summer three of the canoes, the 16’8” and two 20 footers were christened on two trips from Half Moon to Boiestown. The canoe trips were successful and as anyone who has done this beautiful piece of water can testify, this stretch can be very trying at the best of times when canoeing through the stretches of Burnt Hill, Sisters, Company Line, and Push And Be Damned Rapids.  The canoes came through with flying colours.  “There’s one more test”, said Bill.  Loading up supplies, gear and canoe Bill drove to Newfoundland in late July where he ran the Gander River.  Bill was happy with his creations.  Nineteen years later a least two of the canoes are still being used on the Miramichi by a couple of Sisk brothers.


“Bill” Fullerton and Charles Valentine (April 1982) with 22 pound and 10 pound salmon caught ten minutes apart at the mouth of the Cains River

The twenty-two foot canoe was designed for use with an outboard motor.  It is still one of the very best handling freighter canoes on the river.  It will take a heavy load and remain so stable you can all but walk along the top of the gunwales.  On being asked of the nice shape of the stern on his canoes and how he designed it, he said, “I made it like a duck’s arse, that’s water tight ain’t it?”

Bill’s theory for angling was to stick to the popular pattern flies and don’t try to reinvent fishing through your own patterns.  “I tried that first”, said Bill. “I had boxes full of what I thought were killers, but I wasn’t catching any fish.  I’d put on a well known, proven reliable salmon fly, and BAM!”

In 1975 Bill originated and tied a hair wing salmon fly he named “Sundance”.  It is a pattern that came into its own and is deadly when fished on  #4, #6, or #8 hooks, depending on conditions.  At first Bill was quite secretive about the pattern, but those who were close to him seen its success and they also had great success fishing this fly.  Bill promoted his creation and devised a pretty creative sales pitch by stating,  If everyone had one, it would have to be outlawed.”

When bill was 70 years old he quit guiding and stopped tying flies.  At that time he passed on his entire fly tying gear and material to his son Tim, who 2004 carries on the tradition with his son Jon.

“Sundance” tied by Hilton William “Bill” Fullerton in 1979

Head:               Black
Tag:                  Fine gold tinsel
Tail:                  Red wool cut flat
Body:               Rear Half, burnt orange wool Front Half, black wool
Rib:                  Gold tinsel
Throat:             Grizzly hackle
Wing:               Bear hair
Head:               Black