John William Peter-Paul
1918 - 2001
Fishermen would gather round and pick the salmon flies out of the old cigar box he carried. After they took what they wanted they’d ask him how much he wanted for the flies. His answer was always the same, “Whatever you feel is fare” he’d say. Most times he wouldn’t take anything for his flies, but he never will forget the day an American gave him a ten-dollar bill for just one fly.
John William Peter-Paul was born in Red Bank on May 10, 1918. He was the son of the late Margaret (nee Metallic) and George Lemey Paul from Red Bank. His mother was originally from Quebec, but she moved to New Brunswick when she was seventeen.
John was eighteen years old when he first started tying flies. It was in 1936, and the same year that he started guiding. His need to tie flies came about due to not being able to afford to buy them. He enjoyed fly-fishing, and the action associated with catching fish with the fly rod, but because he couldn’t afford to buy the flies he decided to try his hand at tying. He made a vice out of some metal and wood, and though the vice used to break a lot he still managed to get the job done. He borrowed some flies from a friend so he could copy the way they were tied. He remembers the very first fly he ever tied. It was a “Green Butt Black Bear.”
He managed to get his fly tying materials from a number of different sources. A lot of times he used the fur, feathers and hair from the hides of local wild animals and birds. Sometimes he would get feathers, furs, and tinsels from the late W.F. “Billy Brown”, a very respected fly tyer in the former Town of Newcastle, New Brunswick. John liked Billy Brown a lot, and there was a time or two that he would take a nice two or three pound trout with him when he visited his friend Billy. John’s intentions were to just give the trout to Billy Brown, but it always ended in an exchange of fish for fly tying material. Even if he didn’t have a trout to give, Billy Brown would always give him some sort of materials to aid him with his tying and to help him out. “It was great fun,” said John. “Sometimes we’d share a little nip of rye or rum, and Billy would show me different things about fly tying. He was an awful good fly tier. People would pay a pretty penny for his flies,” said John.
“When I first started tying flies I was pretty poor at it. I never made any money from tying, even though I sold quite a few flies in the local stores, but I enjoyed tying the flies. Just getting them out there was half the fun. The other half was when someone came to me and said they caught a nice fish on the fly I tied,” said John.
Once John learned the knack of tying flies he started giving a lot of them away. “A fly tier has to give away a lot of flies if he wants to make a name for himself. The word soon got around when I started handing out free flies, and before long I was making a name for myself too,” said John.
Of all the many kinds of flies that John has tied, he has always preferred tying the ones that required deer or bear hair. He especially liked tying streamers. He tried tying feather-wing patterns, but according to John, you really had to know what you were doing. It was extremely important that you have really good feathers. If the feathers aren’t just right the fly will float. The key is to get the fly to sink below the surface of the water so the fish will take it more readily.
When John began tying he got patterns from many fishermen, but he didn’t know what the patterns were called, so he copied them, but at the same time added a little touch of something here and there of his own. The end result with most of his flies was that they were all newly created patterns that didn’t have names. To John they were just salmon flies.
John’s livelihood came mainly from working in the woods during the day. In the very early morning and evening he would grab his fishing rod and go fishing. When he couldn’t get a job working in the woods he would go guiding. He was eighteen years old when he started guiding. In his younger years he guided for Hubert Holmes at the Miramichi Rod and Gun Club. He also guided for Fred Johnson, Harry Blackmore, and Frank Ward. He freelanced as a guide too, mostly on weekends. John said that as a guide you had to be pretty tuff. You have to watch your words, and to gain respect for yourself you have to be very polite to all the guests. You have to be able to deal with people from all over the world with different ethnic backgrounds, religions, and professions. Most of his guiding was done on the Little Southwest Miramichi River. A lot of times he would have liked to fish on the Northwest Miramichi, but since he didn’t have a means of transportation it never really bothered him because he felt that there wasn’t much difference between the rivers anyway. As far as fishing salmon went, they were both good rivers. The Little Southwest Miramichi River was his favourite because he knew it better. He remembers the canoe runs he had with the Americans. They’d put in above Parks Brook and run the river out. They had great people to guide and some excellent fishing. John found that many of the well-to-do people from our own province were every bit as friendly and grateful for the guide, and they tipped well too.
John William Peter-Paul tailing an Atlantic Salmon for a happy Sport circa Mid 1960’s
John was the first one to tell you that fishing is good for the memory. John believed if a person is troubled they should go fishing because fishing cures a troubled mind.
In an interview with John in 1997 he admitted it was more difficult for him to get around. He didn’t go fishing as often as would have liked to, but whenever he did go he would head for the pools where his past fishing proved best. Places like the Big Hole, the Oxbow, and Mitchell’s Rapids, or the Pool between the Islands was where he caught most of his salmon. These are just some of the good fishing spots along the Little Southwest Miramichi River. At the Oxbow is where he went with his father, and caught his first salmon on a smelt when he was only eight years old. It is also the place where he caught his largest fish some twenty years later.
One Sunday morning in late spring John told his wife he was going fishing at the Oxbow. The odd bright salmon was starting to come into the river. It was John’s plan to go out and bring home a black salmon. He fished the pool a number of times without luck. Evening was coming on, so he decided to go through the pool once more before heading home.
He took out his fly box and selected a fly similar to a “Thunder and Lightning. It had a Golden Pheasant tail with a silver body and rib. The wing was a mixture of white and brown deer hair, and it had a throat made from orange hackle. He clipped the wing a bit shorter than normal. There were Jungle Cock cheeks on it too. John used the fly quite a few times in the past, and caught some nice trout with it.
He was fishing from shore and made his way through the pool to where a great big rock was breaking water. He cast the fly behind the rock, just like he had in his earlier trips through the pool. This time when the fly reached the area behind the rock, John saw a great big swirl in the water, and the fish hit the fly hard. John said it felt like a bulldozer was pulling on his line. The salmon moved a short distance off the rock, then went back and anchored itself behind it again. He stayed there for the longest time before John decided it was time to get him out of there.
“I started putting the grief to him, but he wouldn’t budge. I waded toward the rock and began to kick and splash the water. Suddenly, the salmon took off up the river. He was going right out straight, and in some places there was only a foot or two of water. I could see the back fin on the fish as he raced through the low water. It was then that I knew he was a big fish, but I never realized how big until later. Without warning the fish made a U-turn and headed back down-river real fast past me. I knew I wasn’t going to be able to hold him, so I started running down the shore to prevent my reel form running out of line and backing. I chased him about two hundred yards down river where he finally stopped at the Middle Pool. The very minute I caught up with him, he made off again. This time he never slackened till he arrived at Myrtle Somers’ Pool, a half mile below the Oxbow. The salmon had a couple minutes rest on me from the previous sprint, and now I was getting played out, and losing the race. When I caught up to him at Myrtle Somers’ Pool the battled continued. As I approached the fish I could only hope that he was every bit as tired as I was,” said John.
“I’ll never know why the leader didn’t break from all the pressure I kept putting on the fish trying to get him to shore. Try as I might, there was just no way I could bring that fish into low water near the beach. I decided I would have to wade out and try to grab him around the tail. I waded into about three and a half feet of water and guided the salmon just a little ahead of me, then I allowed him to float back between my legs. It was only then that I realized it wasn’t a hook-bill salmon, but a great big hen salmon. She was the prettiest fish I’d ever seen. Everything had changed now. I felt different, and found myself in awe of such a large and magnificent creature. My earlier thoughts were of landing and killing the salmon. The bragging rights and maybe even a prize for landing what might have been the largest salmon ever taken on the Little Southwest Miramichi, but that all changed now. It was difficult for me. In spite of my earlier thoughts of killing the fish, I now found myself fearing that I might kill the fish. With a gentle hand I reached out and took hold of the fly and freed it from the salmon's jaw. It seemed like a long time before the salmon eased away from me and out into the deeper water. When she did, she remained just within sight below the surface and watched me for what seemed like the longest time. The silent communication we shared is something I will never forget. Over and over I could hear her thanking me for her freedom, while at the same time I was telling her how much I appreciated the opportunity to do so. As she finally faded from my sight I raised my hand and gave a little wave and thanked her for fighting such a great fight, but thanked her more for the experience of being able to understand what it is like to win and lose at the same time. As I left the river I was enveloped with the energy of a newly awakened and happy child. Spiritually, the whole event changed me. It was a great happening that wonderful evening in the early 1940’s, on the Little Southwest Miramichi River. I will never know how much the salmon weighed, but I am safe in saying it was close to forty pounds. Since the day, when I hooked the salmon at that pool, people have gone there and taken the gravel out of the river and ruined that great pool. They also destroyed a number of other pools in the process”, said John.
John believed the Atlantic salmon is taking a real bad licking. He felt one of the problems was from a lot of poaching going on near Burnt Church. The salmon stocks just aren’t as plentiful as they used to be, but he’d seen this cycle before, and the salmon returned. He hoped that one day they would come back again, but if people didn’t help the salmon, the angling industry would be in really big trouble. “If that happens we all become losers”, said John.
John said that during the winter, and until early spring, there are a lot of salmon in some of the pools not far from his home in Red Bank. They wait until its time to go out to sea. John prayed for them to make the trip there and return safely once again so they can breed new life into the salmon stocks in the Miramichi River system.
John Peter-Paul was still tying flies in 1997, but not nearly as often as he used to. His eyesight had failed and his fingers weren’t as nimble as they were years ago, but his heart held the many precious memories afforded him through fly tying. There were the memories of nearby friends, and fishermen from far away places that searched his old cigar box hunting for magic solutions to lure the Atlantic salmon to them. He remembered the flight of the “Black Dose”, the “Silver Grey”, and many other patterns above the Little Southwest Miramichi River, back what seemed like a short time ago.
The following pattern is from the fly that John William Peter-Paul used the day he hooked and released the largest salmon he ever saw.
John William Peter-Paul died at the age of eighty-three on February 13, 2001.
Tail: Golden Pheasant Crest
Body: Silver tinsel
Rib: Oval silver tinsel
Wing: Mixture of brown and white Deer tail
Throat: Orange hackle
Cheeks: Jungle Cock