Carmelle (LeBlanc) Bigaouette

1915 – 1985

 It is safe to say that any book written about the art of fly tying, or any fly tying artist, will include Carmelle Bigaouette.  She is by far the most noted female fly tier this province has ever known, and probably the most distinguished woman fly tier in Canada.

Carmelle Bigaouette was born on February 24, 1915 in Bonaventure, P.Q.  When she was 5 years old Carmelle’s parents moved to Bathurst, New Brunswick and in 1921 they moved again to Atholville, New Brunswick.  Her parents were the late Eugenie (nee LaPointe) and Joseph Edward LeBlanc

 

Carmelle Bigaouette tying in 1981

 Carmelle started tying flies in 1943.  Her uncle, David Arthur (D.A.) LaPointe, professional fly tier from Atholville showed her how.  Carmelle, along with her sister Robertine, and friends, Corrine (Legace) Gallant and Hélène (Jean) LeFebvre were a team of fly tiers who became employed by Mr. LaPointe, and Carmelle is one of “Five Lady Fly Tiers” who were taught the art of fly tying by D.A. LaPointe. 

Mr. LaPointe’s method for teaching the art of fly tying was designed in such a way that Carmelle had to graduate through a series of fly tying construction stages in order to earn the honour of constructing the complete salmon fly, of which some patterns are extremely difficult to duplicate.

Carmelle at Fly Tying Exhibit in Quebec 1981
 

Although her uncle, the late D.A. LaPointe taught Carmelle the basics of fly tying, it was her other uncle, Lawrence Alfred LaPointe that was responsible for teaching Carmelle how to perfect the art.  Carmelle helped her uncle tie thousands of salmon flies for hundreds of orders from the many clubs of that time.

Carmelle married Rene LeBlanc shortly after the Second World War broke out.  The war years were a very difficult time for her.  It was during this time that she lost her husband and in 1949 her uncle David Arthur Lapointe died suddenly. 

From 1948 to 1950, Carmelle tied flies exclusively for Fin, Fur and Feathers Limited in Montreal. It was during the 1950’s that Carmelle got to know most of the big names in the field of salmon fishing.  It was through the years of this grand period that she established her reputation. It was also during the 1950’s when Carmelle originated the famous fly called “Orange Blossom.”  She tied it as a big fly for the Sportsmen who came to fish the spring salmon when the water was high and dirty.  Although Carmelle never guided or fished herself, she was quick to learn from all the other outfitters and fishermen what ingredients were needed on a fly in order to catch fish. The “Orange Blossom” certainly fit the bill because, ever since the day of its origin over 50 years ago, the fly today continues to be one of choice by both the fish, and the fishermen.

 In 1955 Carmelle married Zphirin Bigaouette in Valle Dor, P.Q., and in 1968 Carmelle purchased Alfred Lapointe’s Fly Tying Shop in Matapedia, P.Q.  She turned Alfred’s Fly Tying Shop into a general store, and opened her own fly tying shop called, Carmelle Bigaouette’s Fly Shop.  It was right next to the Restigouche Hotel in Matapedia, P.Q.  From her fly tying shop she tied flies numbering in the hundreds of thousands for the Matapedia and Restigouche fishing clubs.

In 1973, when she retired, Carmelle and her husband went to live in Maria, P.Q. It was there that she suffered an accident where she fractured her right arm.  After that she stopped tying flies all together.  Then, in 1981, Carmelle Bigaouette went on an invitation of Atos for the Forum of Valcourt where she had a marvellous experience.  Besides meeting some very nice people, she was given a well-deserved tribute that touched her very deeply. Under the watchful eyes of many people at the Forum was the first and last time that Carmelle Bigaouette tied a fly in public.

 

Carmelle Bigaouette with her nephew Marc LeBlanc in 1981

 Marc LeBlanc, who Carmelle referred to as her “little cousin” from Maria, went to the Forum with Carmelle and her husband.  Carmelle had been teaching Marc the art of fly tying, just as she had learned it from her uncles. Marc Leblanc recalls how he first met Carmelle.

“I had just started tying flies, and was tying them for myself and a few friends.  Soon I was asked to tie flies for salmon fishing. Without directions and documentation I did my best to reproduce some old models left to me by my fellow salmon fishermen.  I had about a hundred flies tied when my father said I should show them to Carmelle Bigaouette.  One night after work I decided to go to the critic and meet this famous Madame Bigaouette.  As soon as I crossed the threshold, I felt as though I was at home, as I was welcomed by her characteristic smile and good humour.”

“I showed Carmelle my trout flies, which I thought were tied very well.  As soon as she saw them she said, “My God, but you are talented, that’s beautiful.”  Then she looked at my hands, and turning them different ways said, “That’s the way my uncle, Alfred judged his pupils at first glance.”  Then Carmelle laughed.

“I showed her what I thought were well-tied salmon flies, and she showed me all my errors.  She then told me to untie all my flies and to save the hooks.  All the work I had done was for nothing, but not all was in vain.  This is when she decided to take me on as her student in the art of fly tying.  During the following weeks, she spent all her time teaching me.  It was then and there that we became fast friends.  It was under her tutoring and good advise that I learned all she knew, all her secrets and personal little tricks.  It was during the many hours of instruction and the countless coffee breaks that I got to know a good part of the life of this fine lady.  During the time I was tying those works of art of hair and feathers, I sensed that she still wanted to tie flies, but she was unable to do so.  The enthusiasm she had in teaching me how to tie flies also showed me the love she had for the art, and the affection she had towards me and seeing what she had given up was reawakening the vice.”

“Carmelle told me that often, fishermen would come see her to repair damaged flies that were damaged by a salmon, or the inexperience of the fisherman, instead of changing his fly.  She attributed this to the solidity of her flies.  On top of the strength of her flies, she would often tell me, “You have to charm the fishermen before the fish.  Therefore, you have to make beautiful flies that are well proportioned, and not “overdressed”, like the Americans would say.”

Marc LeBlanc recalls many wonderful things about Carmelle Bigaouette, but most of all he remembers her as a lady who loved to laugh and who enjoyed making others laugh.  Carmelle was a soft and dignified lady who stayed that way until her final hour.  To many, she will always be a source of great inspiration.  Carmelle died on November 20, 1985 after a lengthy battle with cancer.

Of the countless salmon and trout fly patterns that exist, Carmelle Bigaouette’s favourite hair-wing patterns were the “Green Highlander”, “Black Dose”, and without doubt the “Orange Blossom.” Carmelle’s favourite fully dressed pattern is the “Lady Amherst.”

 

Orange Blossom

 

Head:               Black

Tag:                  Oval silver tinsel

Tip:                  Orange floss

Tail:                  Golden Pheasant crest, over which is Indian Crow

Butt:                 Black Ostrich herl

Body:               Embossed silver tinsel, palmered with a yellow hackle

Rib:                  Oval silver tinsel

Wing:               Mixed brown and white bucktail

Cheeks:            Jungle Cock (optional)

Collar:              Two bright orange hackles

 

"Orange Blosson" tied by Carmelle's "Little Cousin" Marc LeBlanc

  

 

“Silver Rat” tied by Carmelle LeBlanc-Bigaouette