Joseph Clovis Arseneault
1902 - 1980
Clovis Arseneault of Atholville, well-known New Brunswick fly tier, was born
in Black Cape, P.Q., on May 1, 1902. In 1929, he moved to Atholville, a small
village on the outskirts of Campbellton, New Brunswick.
tying flies for Clovis Arseneault was just a hobby. He started tying as a
professional in the 1930's. He had a hard time selling his feather flies,
mainly because some big companies in England and Canada gave him a lot of
trouble when he tried to get hooks, feathers, tinsels, etc. They'd been
selling flies in New Brunswick for years and were unwilling to welcome a
competitor in an area they'd come to regard as their private preserve. No
one wanted to help him except a handful of true sportsmen who were members of
the Restigouche Salmon Club. By 1935, through perseverance, he had
established a fly tying shop that developed into a full time business. His
private clientele and personal friends included many famous people.
He used dog
hair, deer hair, and moose hair; bear hair and even monkey hair to make his
flies. It made him wonder what a salmon saw in a hair or feather fly. His
difficulties in obtaining rare bits of hackle and wing material turned into
good fortune when his hair-winged flies such as the “Abbey”, “Orange Blossom”,
“Silver Betsey” and “Green Highlander” became increasingly popular with
members of the Restigouche Club. They soon were being copied widely
elsewhere. As a result, he busied himself developing new patterns, including
the legendary “Rusty Rat”, first tied for the late Joseph Pulitzer.
Magazine interviewed Clovis in 1942. In 1945, they published an article
heralding him as the best fly tier in New Brunswick. Fortune Magazine also
wrote an article about him. This was followed by Esquire Magazine's publisher,
Arnold Gingrich, writing a book titled “The Well Tempered Angler” in which
J.C. Arseneault is acknowledged as a pertinent fly tier of salmon flies,
particularly hair-wing. As interesting as many of the articles written about
Clovis Arsenault are, an article written by Sam Day in the Winter Issue of The
Atlantic Salmon Journal of 1945 draws the most attention. The article is
specifically about a particular series of hair-wing patterned flies named
Rats. One of the Rats in the series is called the “Rusty Rat.” It is a very
famous fly whose pattern has been claimed by a number of people. Roy Angus
Thompson, Dr. O. Summers, Col. Ambrose Monell and Dr. D. Clough are among
those credited with its origination. However, in the early 1950's, Sam H. Day
researched the fly's origin. He discovered that according to Dudley Mills,
“eastern coast salmon fisherman”, the man who first tied the Rats was J.C.
Arseneault, professional fly tier from Atholville, N.B., whose flies have been
taking salmon on the Restigouche and other New Brunswick and Quebec rivers.
Arseneault was a master in the art of fly tying. He tied thousands of salmon
flies with a unique and individual style that set him apart from other tiers.
He became a specialist in the production of the fully dressed and hair-wing
Atlantic salmon flies. At the time of his death, he was known internationally
for his skills; his salmon and trout flies being used on Canadian, American
and European waters. His favourite rivers were the Restigouche and
According to Clovis Arseneault the origin of the “Rusty Rat” salmon fly goes
like this. In 1949 Joseph Pulitzer was fishing with a large “Black Rat” he
got from Clovis. Clovis had used a rust coloured floss for the underbinding
of the fly. Pulitzer had already caught several fish on the fly and by this
time the salmon had chewed it up pretty good. The rusty threat had come out
through the body of the fly, but Pulitzer kept fishing with it and ended up
landing a forty-pound salmon on the chewed up Rat.
who was all excited, went to Clovis and told him of the success he had with
the fly and expressed the fish catching possibilities the fly might have.
Clovis made copies of the fly as it appeared in it’s chewed-up state. He had
to tie the fly several times before it appealed to Pulitzer. Once Pulitzer
was satisfied with the results he named it the Rusty Rat. Since that day the
pattern has never varied.
This is the
story of the Rusty Rat and the man who first tied it, but the reason for their
peculiar appeal to the salmon will have to wait until someone finds a way to
communicate with a fish.
interesting to note that Clovis Arseneault tied the rear half of the body with
two separated lengths of golden yellow floss, each trailing the other, and
extending as veils from the middle of the body through half the length of the
tail on top of the fly.
|| Oval gold tinsel
||Several Peacock sword fibers, tied short
|| Rear half: Bright rusty yellow floss. Front half:
Peacock herl. There are two lengths of rusty yellow floss that extend as a
veiling on the top of the fly. The first length extends from where the
rusty yellow floss meets the Peacock herl in the middle of the body. The
second length extends from a point about an eighth of an inch back from
the first length. This second length extends from the rear half of the
body and is trimmed nearly to the end of the body. The first length is
trimmed even with the end of the second length.
|| Oval gold tinsel
|| Black and white hair that has been evenly mixed
“Grey Ghost” tied by J.C. Arseneault
“Dusty Miller” tied by J.C. Arseneault
Tandem tied by Clovis Arseneault
The seven flies tied by J.C. Arseneault in this
presentation were tied in the Mid 1900’s
Mr. Vincent Swazey, from Tuckaway
Lodge in Boiestown, New Brunswick displays part of a collection of flies tied by
J. Clovis Arseneault, which were purchased for the visiting Sportsmen to the
Miramichi. (Photo taken May 2005