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When the first book on New Brunswick Fly Tyers was released in 1995, I knew there were other respectable tyers that should have been including in the book. In absence of the information about those tyers I decided to proceed with what I had and over the next few years, if I could get the information on the others, I would consider releasing a second book.  Never did I realize that it would take me six years to gather that information.
During the six years I had the pleasure of personally meeting a number of the tyers.  Sadly some of them are no longer with us.  During the many meetings I had with the fly tyers, their families and friends I will never forget their kindness and generosity. Our conversations regarding their fly tying friends, angling and the river never tired.  It is beyond my ability to put into words how they felt.  I hope what is written regarding each of them will help you understand why the Fly Tyers of New Brunswick mean so much to me. Even now, without intent, I know I have overlooked other deserving tyers.  For those tyers whom I have not mentioned I apologize dearly.  I hope that someday someone will grasp the same interest that I had in researching the Fly Tyers of New Brunswick and prepare a record of your fly tying genius.

It may come as a surprise to learn that angling with the artificial fly is not the comparatively modern sport it is claimed to be, but was popular centuries ago. “Homer,” who perhaps recorded the first accounts of fishing, relates that the anglers of Greece, as early as 1000 B.C., used “insidious food”

The Macedonians are credited with first having used artificial flies when, in the river Astraeus, located between Thessalonica and Boroea, they cast their feathered hooks intended to represent “Hipporous,” an insect similar to the bee or wasp. Claudius Aelian, famous historian of that day, wrote at great length about the Macedonians and their imitations of “Hipporous” around 200 AD. The imitation of this fly is then described.


Head:                Black

Body:                 Blood red

Wings:              A real shinny deep brown hackle from the wattles of a cock

 The late Charles DeFeo, famous artist and professional fly tyer, who I had the pleasure of meeting many times as a youth, believed that the salmon hair-wings have their roots in Newfoundland, and patterns dressed from reddish calf tail.  Herbert Howard, another well-known American fly tier and fisherman confirm his judgements.  Howard tells of a bible he examined on a backcountry Newfoundland farm that included the description of such Hereford hair-wing and its success in 1795.  The hair-wing is a North American departure of merit, having proved its worth, on the Atlantic and Pacific salmon, steelhead, and trout.  It’s here to stay.  

“Red Devon”

Wing:                  Several strands of hair from a red Devon Cow

 The “Red Devon” is one of the simplest patterns known. The butt ends of the wing material are left extended over the hook eye and are cut off flat.  This gives the fly a unique action in the water.

According to certain very obscure accounts on fly-fishing, the first streamer fly was produced by accident.  It seems that a fly dresser had made several hackle patterns of wet flies for one of his clients, a very adept fisherman, but had been a trifle careless with the details of finishing the head of one fly. The fisherman, upon arriving at the stream, happened to select the very fly having the imperfect head and commenced fishing, totally unaware, of course, that he was about to introduce a new kind of fly.  Repeated casts soon caused the hackle to unwind and trail behind the rest of the fly. Several large trout were taken on this “unwound fly” thus producing the streamer.  Whether this incident was really the founding of the streamer or not is highly debatable. Fly tiers since the days of Issak Walton have evidently not been content to leave established standard fly patterns unaltered and in their original forms.  If you want to start a heated argument, start talking about the origins of the “Coachman” family of flies that we have today.  The best we can tell from looking into the matter is that the “Coachman” came to us from England, as so many other patterns did, in the form of a wet fly.  Theodore Gordon took the pattern and started dressing it in the form of a dry fly. Later, John Haily, in his little shop on Henry Street in New York City, tied the “Coachman” with a red silk centre band to suit the whim of a customer.  Around 1878, he sent one to Charles F. Orvis in Manchester, Vermont, who liked it and named it the “Royal Coachman.”  From then on the variations that followed appear to be without end.  Possibly the word “Coachman” was a status symbol of some sort which signified acceptance by the fly fishers of yesterday. If you consider there are tabulated thirty-one dressings for the Coachman flies, you will appreciate the expression: It isn’t the pattern, but who made it. It is virtually impossible to concoct a pattern or devise a fly that has not been made at least once before.  Some of the latest developments, according to the real histories, are not new at all but are, in more than a few instances, merely new names applied to patterns as old as ninety-five years or more.

          Tying Atlantic salmon flies is perceived as being very difficult.  It is really an application of the same basic skills used to make trout flies.  Since you are tying more materials on the hook, you have to think about each step before you do it. Despite the assertions of many fly tiers and authors, the composition of the Atlantic salmon fly is not defined by absolutes.  There is no correct or incorrect method, no right or wrong material, for tying a fly.          Many thousands of variations and patterns of salmon flies have been tied and tried at one time or another.  Small differences, such as replacing half a dozen blue fibers with the same number in green, or changing the ribbing wire from silver to gold, are often held to make the difference between a salmon captured and a fishless day.  No human knows just how important these small variations actually are to the salmon, but it is certain they are thoroughly appreciated by most salmon anglers.

          It is pertinent to ask by what stretch of the imagination one can feel that a salmon, whose worldwide terrestrial experience is nonexistent, could possibly be expected to tell whether a bit of feather in a fly came from a rare bird in India and was natural, or was dyed and came originally from a chicken or a duck that was raised in New Brunswick.  If a salmon had any inkling the fly was made up of feathers at all he would most certainly spurn it.

The angler with a knowledge of aquatic insects and the important relationship they bear to the fish he wants to catch is better equipped with a single fly, than is the angler who knows nothing of such things though he sports a jacket full of boxes stuffed with crisp, unmouthed flies of every description. 

For an angler, there can be no better feeling than to dress a salmon fly, cast it into a river and witness an Atlantic salmon break the surface of the river, and strike that fly, for which it was intended.  What a thrill to experience that sudden surge of power, from the tip of the hook, as it sharply becomes lodged in the jaw of the fish.  There’s the vibration caused by the river current against your line, as it is drawn tight in the tug-of-war between you and the salmon.  You feel the weight of the fish through the rod tip, through the guides to the reel, and finally to the controller, your hand, which clutches tight around the corked handle.  For the experienced angler, this feeling, and excitement is never the same, even though we may have experienced it a hundred and one times.  Why is this? We take a little wool and feather and tying it in a particular manner upon a hook make an imitation of a fly, then we throw it across the river and let it sweep around the stream with a lively motion.  This we have an undoubted right to do, for the river belongs to us, or our friends, but mark what follows.  Up starts a monster salmon with murderous jaws. It makes a dash at the little fly and is hooked. Thus he is the aggressor, not us.   His intention is evidently to commit murder.  Thirty years ago he would be sentenced to the frying pan for his clearly formulated or planned intention.  Today, he is released ensuring his survival for present and future generations.  New Brunswick regulations permit fly angling only and the keeping of grilse, but stipulate the returning of all large salmon.  Hopefully, by using such regulations our beautiful rivers will be restored to their former glory.

Naturally no one human being can be an authority on flies. The fly then, is a device to conjure with.  The perfect fly is to an angler as his potions are to a Witch Doctor. The angler guards them jealously, handles them with care and reverence, and casts them out in the same mixture of faith and cunning as the heathen sorcerer uses to destroy an enemy or make it rain.

On January 24th, 1862, Richard Lewis Dashwood sailed from Cork, for North America, with six companies of his regiment. They formed part of the force sent from England at that time, in consequence of the seizure by an American man-of-war of Messrs. Mason and Slidell, while passengers on board that royal mail steamer Trent.

In 1872, Captain Richard Lewis Dashwood, 1837–1905, upon returning to England wrote a book called “CHIPLOQUORGAN”; or Life by the Camp Fire in Dominion of Canada and Newfoundland (Dublin: R.T. White, 1871). In his book he wrote about the many hunting and fishing adventures he had in the province of New Brunswick.  He also wrote about fly tying.

“It is an immense advantage in this country to be able to tie your own fly: good ones are hardly to be got, except a few imported from home. As a rule you pay enormously for a very inferior article, both as regards workmanship, material and pattern.  Most of the feathers are dyed, and the hooks weak and bad.”

“Fortunately for myself I mastered the art of fly tying years ago, and was therefore independent of the scamped rubbish sold by tackle makers, more especially those in Halifax. In Saint John, New Brunswick, there was a very respectable man of the name of Willis, a saw filer, who could put a decent fly together if he had the materials.”

It is a delight, and an educational experience to watch a young girl or boy sit behind a vice and attempt the basics of fly tying for the first time.  Each phase of the fly construction presents a major obstacle for the beginner.  Their hands and fingers resist all attempts to manipulate and attach the materials to the slender steel hook.  In many ways it reminds one of the first time they tried to ride a bicycle, or tie their sneaker laces. Each step of the operation takes considerable concentration, but once learned it is seldom, if never forgotten.  The real joy comes when you meet that person many years later and learn that they are still trying to perfect the techniques of fly tying, which they repeated thousands of times in the past. Many will admit that perfection is most difficult to achieve.

The work of many of New Brunswick’s fly-dressers is shown in this book.  It is evident that those who earn their living by guiding and tying flies must of necessity have first hand information as to why certain types, colours, and sizes of flies are useful.  From these most interesting collection of tiers dependable information, and history can be passed on.It is better to fish a fly that will catch a fish than to hunt a fish that will take a fly.

(Dewey Gillespie with gratitude to AJH)