J.C. (Jean-Claude) Comeau
1937 - 1997
His name is Jean-Claude Comeau, but to his friends he was better known as J.C. He was considered one of the most experimental and creative of the fly tiers of New Brunswick. He was always exploring, trying to find that combination that would unlock the secret for catching not only the salmon, but the fisherman as well. He mixed and matched materials with as much gentleness and attention as a witch doctor might mix a magic potion. He was an artist and gentleman filled with humour and generosity.
Jean Claude Comeau was born on July 13, 1937 in Tracadie, New Brunswick. He was the son of the late Marie (nee Robichaud) and George Comeau.
J. C. fished from the time he was ten, and was an avid fly fisherman by the age of fifteen. He spent a lot of his younger years with his brother Roland fishing the Big Tracadie River. They cast many a “Parmachene Belle” and “Tracadie Special” into the streams near their home, and they were unusually successful with their fly-fishing.
Jean-Claude Comeau graduated from the Rivier de Portage School, and around 1958, he went to Bathurst, where he attended the School of Nursing. He was one of the first men to train as a nurse in Bathurst. After he finished his training he worked in Bathurst for a while, and then moved to Campbellton. Dr. Nadeau, a specialist in optometry, hired him. Jean-Claude studied opotmology, and trained as an optician, and subsequently opened his own business, “Comeau Optical.” He operated the business until 1996.
In 1959, J. C. began tying flies. This all got started shortly after J.C. and his brothers bought some cheap salmon flies, and fishing equipment. He began experimenting a little with fly tying as a hobby, but then he began to search for someone who could give him good advice and coaching. He was fortunate enough to get in the “good graces” of Clovis Arseneau, a professional fly tier living in Atholville. He asked Mr. Arseneau for the advice, and eventually, under the watchful eye of Mr. Arseneau, J.C. was coached in the art of fly tying. Joseph Clovis Arseneau became Jean-Claude Comeau’s mentor.
As an exercise, ever so carefully, J.C. would take a fly apart to see how it was tied. He would then retie the fly in order to understand the technique better. Eventually he began to develop his own technique. As he continued experimenting, he developed speed, and by 1980 he began tying flies for his friend, Ralph Billingsley, who was tying commercially. J. C’s flies found their way to many of the camps along the Restigouche River, and in the many shops around Campbellton.
In the meantime, J.C. was developing an optical business, and once he had this well on the go, he slowly began to advertise his salmon flies for sale. He then sold his optical business and kept building his fly tying and fishing supply shop. It was called J.C. Comeau Fly Shop, situated at 4 Prince William Street, Campbellton, New Brunswick. By this time he was dealing directly with camps on the Restigouche River. Camp Harmony and Red Bank was among many he supplied. He also worked very closely with Pete Dube at the Hotel Matapedia. In the last eight years of J. C’s life, his flies reached all continents of the world because, as his fly tying became better known, he was getting orders from American fishermen who were fishing all over the world. In the fall of 1996, he was closing his fly shop, and “retiring” so he could tie and supply flies to his many customers.
J. C. was an innovator and magician of new patterns. He felt that the art of fly tying had become dormant, so he became committed, striving to promote and preserve it.
(“Restigouche” Originated by J.C. Comeau)
Silver Rat Rusty Rat
These flies were tied by J.C. Comeau in 1994
He was always in search of something different; readily accepted suggestions for new creations; he combined materials with skill, finesse, and imagination that allowed him to come up with patterns that enhanced success. Jean-Claude’s creations enticed many a salmon. He was never without a new idea. An example of this was when, in November 1993, he originated a salmon fly called, “The Restigouche.” After guiding on the Restigouche River, and fishing a lot of its pools, he was very much aware of the regular patterns that were used on the river. One day he decided that, if he could tie a fly that could incorporate some of the features which made each of the “good” flies so efficient, he would have a “super good” salmon fly. He then picked some features from four flies, the “Silver Rat’, “Rusty Rat”, “Green Highlander”, and “Green Butt Black Bear.” From these four flies he created his salmon fly, and called it “The Restigouche”, since no fly, to J.C.’s knowledge, had ever been named for that river. He started testing the fly, and got others to test it also. The results were very exciting, and towards the end of his fly tying he was putting out thousands of the pattern every year.
The “Restigouche” made its formal appearance at “Where the Rivers Meet”, Fly-Tying Exposition, hosted by the Restigouche Art Gallery in June 1994, for the Annual Campbellton Salmon Festival.
Other fly patterns created by J.C. are “The Unbelievable”, “Headlight”, and “Barcelona.” In 1986 he originated the “Rotary”, and in July 1993, he originated the “Grilse Agitator Special.” One of his last patterns was the “Restigouche Gallery”, salmon fly. This fly makes use of three different species of local fauna to celebrate the cultures of the Restigouche. Added to this fly are the colours blue, green and white, which represent the environment, water, forest and snow. Gold tinsel was chosen to reflect the Gallery’s focus on culture and heritage.
J.C. was a serious fisherman and a very serious fly tier. Like in everything else, when he started something, he wanted to do the best job possible. He would tie dry flies and test them in the kitchen sink until he was satisfied that it would float to his liking. And he always took the time to answer questions with words and/or a demonstration. He always welcomed an opportunity to share, and the majority of the sharing came from J.C. That’s just the kind of gentleman he was.
J.C. was involved in nearly every local community activity and sportsman show in, and around Campbellton. He participated in many of the activities in other communities as well. This gave him his chance to spread the “gospel” about fishing, fly tying and conservation. He was also the instructor at many fly casting workshops. J.C. and his brother Vincent held half the workshops on fly tying at the Junior High School in Balmoral for three consecutive years. J.C. was actively involved as a director of the Restigouche Art Gallery for a long time.
J.C. was really active in the last six or seven years of his life promoting fly tying and fishing by doing television programs and workshops on CHAU TV in New Carlisle. There was also a few programs done on J.C’s fly tying as well. In the early fall of 1996, he did his final television program, and attended his last Sportsman’s Show in Bangor, Maine.
I first met J.C. on June 12, 1993. He came to my “Atlantic Salmon Fly Collection” displayed at the GALERIE ARTcadienne in the former Town of Newcastle. I never met a person who could equal his excitement over what he saw in my display. He just had to have the collection visit the Restigouche area. With a lot of work on his part he succeeded in getting the Restigouche Art Gallery to sponsor the show, and it was that display that formed the foundation for the continued building and display of “Where The Rivers Meet”, The Fly Tiers of New Brunswick Collection. J.C. told me that what I was doing was exactly what he had dreamed of doing for the Restigouche area. More than anything else he wanted to preserve the fly tying history and heritage from there. At the time of his death he had accumulated a vast array of material in preparation for his dream.
Up until the time of our meeting in 1993, J.C. had been extremely active with his fly tying and fishing buddy, Ralph Billingsley, doing televised fly tying and fishing information programs. Together, they were a couple of naturals. They performed exactly the same off screen, and they were a joy to listen to. From 1994, to less than a year before his death, J.C. was extremely active in promoting the work of other aspiring fly tiers through the use of television.
In the short time I knew J.C., he never changed, right up until the end. After hearing of J.C.’s battle with cancer I found out he was a patient in the Tracadie Hospital. I phoned him from work to offer some encouragement and to thank him for his help and support. Unfortunately a job responsibility took me away from the phone before he could be reached, and regretfully I failed to make a later effort to contact him again. Shortly thereafter J.C. died. It is with his deserved inclusion among the other fly tiers in this book that I offer my many thanks to Jean-Claude Comeau. He was wonderful human being, and fine fly tying artist.
In 1993, J.C. told me that because of the beauty of the Upsalquitch, it was his favourite river. His favourite fly is the “Silver Rat.”
|Tip:||Oval silver tinsel|
|Tag:||Fluorescent green floss|
|Butt:||Bronze Peacock herl|
|Tail:||Golden Pheasant crest and three Peacock sword fibres|
1st half is silver tinsel, 2nd half is grass green floss
(Divide the body with several turns of bronze Peacock herl)
Tie in a veil on top of the body. The veil consists of three strands of gold floss tied in at the base of the herl dividing the body. The veil extends to rear of the tip.
|Ribs:||Three turns of oval gold tinsel over rear half of body, and three turns of oval silver tinsel over front half of body.|
|Body hackle:||Yellow hackle, palmered over the front half of the body|
|Wing:||Black Bear hair that is nice and straight. (Black squirrel can be used as a substitute)|
|Topping:||Golden Pheasant crest|
“Rotary” originated and tied by J.C. Comeau