Joseph Clovis Arseneault

1902 - 1980

 Joseph 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.


In 1929 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.



Life 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.



Clovis 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 Upsalquitch.

            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.

Pulitzer, 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.

It is 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.



Rusty Rat

Head: Black
Tag:  Oval gold tinsel
Tail: Several Peacock sword fibers, tied short
Body  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.
Rib:  Oval gold tinsel
Wing:  Black and white hair that has been evenly mixed
Collar: Grizzly hackle


 “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