1915 – 1969
Perth-Andover (Victoria), which
means “ash tree stream”, dates back to 1833. It stems from the parish name
Andover in Hampshire, England. Since 1966 the community has been part of
Perth-Andover. The twin communities are originally named for locations in the
United Kingdom – Perth for the Scottish city; Andover for a town in Hampshire,
England. The joint name was approved on July 6, 1970.
James Norton “Salmon Fly”
DeWitt was born on May 1, 1915, in Perth, New Brunswick. On September 3, 1942
he married Helen Castle “Nellie” McLeod who he met in Scotland while serving
with the Canadian Forestry Corps of the Canadian Armed Forces during the Second
World War. Helen and James moved back to Andover where they raised four
While overseas James and a
regiment of other New Brunswick men worked at setting up sawmills and cutting
lumber for the construction of bridges that were destroyed during the war. When
he returned to New Brunswick he did some freelance guiding, but also guided for
Arnold DeMerchant. He then went to work at Fred Tribe’s sawmill in Andover.
Shortly after that he got hired on with the Canadian Pacific Railway where he
worked as a Section Man in the Upper Kent area. A couple of years after he went
to work for the railway he had an on-the-job accident that caused severe injury
to his spine. James always believed that if a proper diagnosis of his injury
was made right after the accident it might have prevented a deterioration of the
condition, which eventually destroyed his health. The injury caused James
terrible pain but, being a fighter and tough as nails he tried never to let his
injury get the best of him.
He opened a cobbler shop in
Perth. This was adjacent to his home on Main Street in Andover. A short while
later he connected the cobbler shop to the house. It was in the same shop that
he later opened his fly tying business.
James was an artist. He was an
inventor, very articulate and creative. He was always experimenting with new
ideas. He was fascinated with life and what made things tick. An example of his
creativity was a folding buck saw that James and his friend Robert Wright from
the Tobique designed. The saw, which they named “Forest King Buck Saw”, was made
of aluminium. It was designed with a folding blade for easy dismantling; it
weighed half a pound and would fit into an 18-inch leather case that could be
carried around your waist. He formed the Forest King Manufacturing Company and
sold the saws to the Canadian Armed Forces. They never got to patent the saw
but years later a similar one appeared on the market. The saw that James and
Robert designed still exists today.
He also made and framed a large
copper salmon that was leaping out of the water. He was inspired to do this
after he seen a picture in a magazine of a salmon leaping from the Miramichi
River. James loved fishing. He loved the river, the people along the river,
fishermen, guides, and fly tiers.
It was about 1949 when James
started tying flies, but his uncle, Ansel DeWitt started around the same time
and together they figured out many of the secrets to tying. Ansel tied flies
primarily for his own use. If James got an order that was more than he could
handle then Ansel would help James tie the flies, but they had to be tied to
In the beginning fly tying for
James was a hobby and pastime. He loved to fish so he began tying flies for his
personal use. It didn’t take long for him to accumulate more flies than he could
fish with. It didn’t take him long either to discover that fishermen who
couldn’t tie flies were willing to pay for them. Word soon got around about his
fly tying, and so his business was born under the name of “Salmon Flies J.
DeWitt”. This sign paved the way for an unusual nickname for James DeWitt, the
fly tyer. When the sign for outside his shop was being made, whomever it was
that was making it was supposed to write, “Salmon Flies by J. DeWitt.” Instead
they left out “by” and so James inherited the name of “Salmon Fly DeWitt”.
By the mid 1950’s fly tying for James became more than just a hobby or pastime.
It became a business and source of income. He was now taking orders and tying
flies by the hundreds to keep up with the demand. He supplied flies to the
locals, outfitters, and the many visiting sportsmen to New Brunswick. He shipped
flies by the gross to Hardy Brothers in England. A lot of his flies were
shipped across the border into the State of Maine where they were resold in
businesses there. Some of his customers included Fred Tribe, sound producer Glen
Glen from Hollywood, California, Ted Williams, and Neil’s Sport Shop in
Fredericton and to many members of the Tobique Maliseet First Nations at Indian
Point, New Brunswick. The great fisherman and fly tyer Lee Wulff once visited at
the fly shop, and he later wrote about James’s fly tying in one of his books
that was published in the 1960’s.
Being on the river a lot and
fishing at the mouth of the Tobique River, Upsalquitch, and all along the upper
stretches of the Saint John River brought James into contact with any number of
fishermen. They were always looking for the secret weapon that could catch the
‘big one.” Being with those fishermen gave James the opportunity to share his
flies with the anglers. He also got to learn which patterns were the preferred
James tied a durable fly. His
tying wasn’t restricted to the usual hair wing patterns. He was an artist and
he tacked the fully dressed patterns with enthusiasm. He even made key chains,
earrings and other jewellery from his salmon flies. He was so talented, and his
love for the challenge is probably why he excelled at fly tying.
James’s long time friend and
fishing companion Fred Tribe, who is now in his 90’s, classed James’s flies as
beautiful, well tied, and they caught fish. Proof of this was in a photograph
that hung on the wall of his fly shop. It showed James with his favourite
fishing friend, Wesley Seymour from Andover, holding a 35-pound salmon that he
caught on the Saint John River in 1959. He caught that salmon on a Silver
There was another photo taken of
James and his brother Budd holding an even larger salmon. This salmon was taken
by angling. The salmon that was estimated at between 40 and 50 pounds was
caught by hand. Yes, that’s right. By some stroke of luck for them, bad luck
for the salmon, they came upon the huge Salar trapped in a shallow pond of water
adjacent to the river. James, who was tall and slender, and as quick as greased
lightning with his hands, commenced the attack. Budd followed with support.
The two of them wrestled that fish onto the shore and dispatched it in short
order. Very few people knew the story behind that photo, and for years folks
probably heralded the DeWitt boys as the catchers of the largest salmon in their
neck of the woods. The truth being known today about the wrestled salmon
shouldn’t make much difference. There is still the proof of James’s fishing
skill in the photo of the 35-pounder. Although James was in pain most of the
time it seldom deterred him from getting out there on the river, or from going
after the big one.
"A couple of fished and battered flies tied
by Jimmy Dewitt a long time ago."
Elwood Wright from Perth Andover, who was
the personal guide for U.S. industrialist and philanthropist John D.
Rockefeller, traveled to the United States with James DeWitt to compete in fly
casting contests. It is said that James and Wright would stand on the sidewalks
and cast flies into teacups just to demonstrate their accuracy with which they
could place a fly. Their success as anglers was often attributed to being able
to place the salmon fly in the exact location where they saw fish.
One summer in the late 50’s Fred
and James took the canoe and went down the Miramichi to fish for salmon. They
fished all day long and tented over night. By the end of the following day
James was in such pain that he had to lie on the flat of his back in the canoe
while Fred poled them back upstream. It was difficult for Fred to watch and at
times he wondered why the man would put himself through all that. Today he looks
back at what James did with admiration. Now he understands just how much it
meant for James to be out there. The hurt would have been greater for James had
he not been able to go. Fred is so pleased that he was able to help James live
some of the great times fishing for Atlantic salmon and trout in the rivers he
loved so well.
Lawrence Green, a Barber in
Andover at the time was also a fly tyer. People in Andover couldn’t figure out
whether Lawrence liked cutting hair, or tying flies more. Between haircuts
Lawrence would tie flies. Fred Tribe remembers Lawrence giving him a salmon fly
every time he cut his hair. This was a great deal for the customer, especially
if he was a fisherman. James and Lawrence traded many a fly, and shared their
techniques on how to tie them. Lawrence sold his own flies at the barbershop,
but he also sold some that James tied just to help his friend. It may have been
Lawrence Green who taught James DeWitt how to tie flies.
James had other talents, which
included fixing and making fishing rods, singing, playing the harmonica and
guitar. When James was just a young man he was part of a small musical band. One
day he met the famous singer Burl Ives who was doing a travelling road show
through the province. Jim loved to tell folks about the time that Burl Ives gave
him his first guitar lesson. They sang a couple of songs, strummed their guitars
and had a grand old time.
James tied flies with every
piece of material you could imagine. He even clipped hair of his old dog one
time to tie a fly. A lot of the local wild game and domestic animals provided
him with the fur, hair and feathers he needed, but for those really special
pattern flies he would order his materials through suppliers in the United
James’s favourite fly was the
Silver Doctor. He originated his own version of a fly he named the Orange
Blossom Special. It had a silver body, gray and black hair wing, and an orange
collar. He also originated a fly for Wesley Seymour, which he called the
“Seymour Special.” Wesley used it often and caught many fish on it.
James’s nephew, the late Henry
DeWitt, told of a fly that James originated. It was called “Hair of the Dog.” It
isn’t hard to figure out the story behind this fly.
Every person I spoke to
regarding James DeWitt classed him as a down to earth guy. He was kind,
thoughtful, and generous and he treated everyone with respect. They can’t
recall him every saying a bad word against anyone. James Norton “Salmon Fly”
DeWitt died suddenly on November 7, 1969.
Orange Blossom Special
Body: Silver tinsel
Wing: Gray and black hair
Collar: Orange hackle