Ralph John Billingsley

1920-2012

          Ralph John Billingsley from Campbellton, New Brunswick, was born on July 23, 1920.  He is the son of the late May (nee Lemore) and John W. Billingsley.

Ralph is a retired Telegraph Operator, Station Agent and Train Dispatcher for the Canadian National Railway.

          In 1958 he started tying flies and has no formal training in the art, but has excelled to become one of the best-known commercial hair-wing tiers in Canada and the United States.  Although he gives priority to the hair-wing, he is not restricted from tying the fully dressed feather-wing patterns.

Ralph Billingsley 1993

           Ralph tied his first fly in 1958 and named it “Susan's Fly.”  It was tied using the hair from his daughter’s head. Appropriately, he named the fly after her.  He also originated a fly in the early seventies and named it after his granddaughter “Tanya Dawn.”  In 1980, he originated a third fly that he named after a song called Orange Blossom Special.  The “Orange Blossom Special” salmon fly has achieved an international reputation as a productive fly in murky waters, and on the Restigouche. It ranks second only to the “Rat” series of flies.  The “Orange Blossom Special” is his personal favorite and Ralph caught a 35-pound salmon on it.

          Ralph Billingsley has a small room in the basement of his home where he ties flies.  The walls are adorned with photos, trophies, and other memorabilia that Ralph’s fly tying earned him over the years.  It is literally a small museum.  But, the most amazing thing in that room is the number of salmon flies there. Ralph isn’t one to brag about his fly tying ability.  He usually introduces you to a few dozen salmon flies he has lined up on a shelf just above his tying vice.  You can’t help but to remark aloud how pretty they are with all their color and neatness.  This is the signal for Ralph to introduce you to his cache of flies that he has stored in large pullout drawers of a built in cabinet at the back of his room.  When Ralph introduced a friend and I to his cache he said, “I’ve got a few more in here that I tied for some orders that I’m about to deliver.”  He then showed us more hair-wing salmon flies than we’d ever seen before tied by the one person. He began telling us the names of the flies.  Midway through the naming process he pointed out a fly called “Orange Blossom Special.”  “I tie an awful lot of these”, he said.  “Let me tie one for you.”

 

Ralph Billingsley 2003

 

          As quick as a wink, Ralph was at his tying bench, put on his glasses and started grabbing material.  We were in awe at the precision and effortlessness by which he could mould the materials to the steel hook and within a couple of minutes produce a quality salmon fly that equaled any in durability and beauty.  When he finished he handed the fly to me and said, “Here, try this, it’ll catch a fish.”  I’ll never forget that moment. It was evident Ralph Billingsley was an authority on salmon flies and a master at creating them.

In June 1983, a box of salmon flies tied by Ralph was presented to His Royal Highness, The Prince Charles. Ralph’s flies have also made their way to the Honorable Gerald Merrithew, Minister of State for Forestry in the Federal Government of Canada.       

Ralph Billingsley has fly tiers from everywhere across this country who go to him to purchase flies.  However, during their visits they receive much more than a salmon fly.  They are always rewarded with valuable information on fly tying.  Ralph Billingsley always gives this information, free of charge.  The willingness of a fly tier to share fly tying information with all other fly tiers is the signature of a respectable fly tier.  Ralph Billingsley is a respectable fly tier.  He’s been extremely influential in helping other very distinguished New Brunswick fly tiers get their start in the art of fly tying.  Famous fly tyer Warren Duncan admits that it was Ralph Billingsley who helped him get started when Warren knew nothing about fly tying.  He spent some quality time with Ralph and in return gained some quality fly tying instruction.

In 1992 Ralph and his long time fishing and fly tying friend, the late J.C. Comeau, made a movie on tying flies and fly tying material. 

In 1993 Ralph made two solo movies on the art of fly tying.  The first of the two movies teaches you how to tie the “silver Rat”, “Rusty Rat” and the “Green Highlander”.  The second movie teaches you about tying Dry Flies, Bugs and Bombers.

In 1994, Ralph Billingsley became a member in “Where The Rivers Meet” The Fly Tyers of New Brunswick collection.

An article written in the 1996 Spring Edition of the Atlantic Salmon Journal recognizes Ralph for his contribution to fly tying in New Brunswick and the origination of the “Orange Blossom Special”.

          On October 23, 1997 the Atlantic Salmon Federation / New Brunswick Salmon Council honored Ralph Billingsley for his major contribution to the sport of angling for Atlantic Salmon in New Brunswick by having distinguished himself in the art of Crafting and Designing Atlantic Salmon flies.  Ralph was presented with an award at the 6th Annual Atlantic Salmon Federation / New Brunswick Salmon Council Dinner in Fredericton, New Brunswick.

          His favorite river is the Restigouche.  It was on this river, at the Red Bank Pool, on June 20, 1983, that he hooked and landed a forty-three pound Atlantic salmon.  Apart from being a skilled fly tier and angler, he is also an accomplished rod maker. For a number of years, Ralph was a freelance guide on the rivers of New Brunswick and Quebec.

          Ralph Billingsley is an extremely down-to-earth, jovial individual who loves tying flies and fishing.  On July 23, 2005 he will celebrate his 85th birthday.  After 46 years he continues to tie flies, and he is just as good at it as he was in 1993 when he tied me an “Orange Blossom Special”.  In 1993 I asked Ralph how he would like to be remembered.  His response was, “I would like people to remember me as a friend to all”

 

Orange Blossom Special Originated By Ralph Billingsley

Tied by Ralph Billingsley February 1, 2005 Orange Blossom Special

 

 “Dusty Miller” tied by Ralph Billingsley in 1980 “Green Highlander” tied by Ralph Billingsley in 1993

  “Blue Charm” tied by Ralph Billingsley in 1993

 

“Orange Blossom Special” originated by Ralph Billingsley in 1980

This version of the “Orange Blossom Special” was tied by Ralph in 1993