Wednesday, March 13, 2013


The venerable Rusty Rat, that famous-among-hairwing flies, came about as a collaborative effort between Joseph Pulitzer II and Restigouche County, NB fly tyer Clovis Arseneault.  The story goes that Pulitzer had been fishing the Restigouche with one of Clovis' Black Rats , the black body of which had an underlying layer of rusty-colored dental floss.  A couple of good fish withered the black body, exposing the rust-colored floss.  Pulitzer proceeded to land a 41-pounder on the "rusty" fly. 

He took the fly to Clovis, and had him create a reproduction of it.  This was in 1949.  The rest of the story, is, as they say, history.   For the best account of the fly's history, check out The Origin of the Rusty Rat in Joseph D. Bates, Jr. and Pamela Bates Richards Fishing Atlantic Salmon Flies: The Flies and the Patterns, page 329.  Bob Warren edited the book, which, besides being a great resource, I find to be downright inspiring.  Out-of-Print and mucho dineros if you find a copy.

One of a group of Rusty Rats I've been tying (size 6 Gamakatsu T10-6H):

The Pattern as I've tied it:

Tag and Rib - Lagartun oval gold tinsel, size small
Tail - Peacock sword (four or five fibers)
Body - Rear half Rusty Orange Uni-Floss, front half Peacock Herl.  Note that a piece of floss veils      the rear half of the body, extending to about half-way over the tail.
Wing - Gray fox guard hairs
Hackle - webby grizzly hen saddle (in this case from Theriault Farm in Maine
Head - Red 

Here's a Rusty Rat tied by the man himself, Clovis Arseneault (courtesy Vin Swazey):

Notice the black head.  All of the Rusty Rats I've seen actually tied by Clovis have black heads.  All of the samples of his work in the Bates' book also have black heads.  Don't know when the switch to red occurred, but I do like it better...and my hook, my rules!

A batch o' Rats (sizes 4-12) hot off the vise:

My good friend Vin Swazey used to buy flies directly from Clovis when he (Vin) ran a couple of corporate camps on the Miramichi.  He still has a collection of about 120 of Clovis' ties...just an awesome sight!  As Clovis' eyes were failing him (born 1902, died 1980, so woulda been 76), he sent Vin this letter (don't forget, you can double click on the pic to see a larger version):


Here are a few more Arseneault-tied flies (from Vin's collection):

Left column top to bottom: Silver Doctor, Canadian Black Dose, Durham Ranger
Right column top to bottom: Silver Grey, Silver Grey, Jock Scott

I must report that a dear friend, salmon-fishing buddy and world-class fly tyer who shall remain anonymous remarked that, "It looks like Clovis put his head cement on with a popsicle stick."  Made me laugh. 

Thus endeth today's post.



  1. Gary that is a great group of flies and a nice tribute to a true gentleman. A lot of tyers around here try to tell me that Warren Duncan invented the Rusty Rat because of his video tying one while reciting the Cremation of Sam McGee. When I try to correct them they just look at me incredulously. I get the feeling that there feeling is "The Old Man" doesn't know what he is talking about!.
    Clovis also tyed a beautiful bomber. I had the priviledge of being shown by him how to tye both the Rusty Rat and an Orange Bomber.
    Brian C

  2. Glad you liked it, Brian! I think its great to have known some of the "greats" too.

  3. Thanks for the wonderful blog post, Gary! And thanks also for the claret! Arrived in the mail today - above and beyond you've gone for me!Now to get away from the deer hair long enough to tie a few beauties ;)
    Thanks again, my friend!

    1. Absolutely my pleasure, Howie, and happy you enjoyed the post!