If there is someone in Quebec who makes fly fishing radiate, it is Paul Leblanc for sure! Distinguished fly fisherman, fly tier, fishing books author, and owner of Boutique Salmo Nature, this man is always generous with his advice.
Paul was born in Tracadie, New Brunswick in 1951 and grew up near the Trois-Saumon River in Saint-Jean-Port-Joli, Quebec. On his sixth birthday, his father initiated him to fishing. His first catch: nylon string on a branch. His father hands him a fly box and Paul choses a Red Ibis. His father ties it on and then adds a worm. Paul throws in a few casts and finally he catches a beautiful speckled trout. He reels it in, picks it up in his hands and he is moved by the softness and the beautiful bright colors. From that point on he was hooked.
On the train rides along the Matapédia to Miscou Island, NB, to visit his cousins during the summer, Paul would watch the salmon fisherman with envy, standing in their long canoes in the middle of the river. He told his parents that when he grew up he would be a fly fisherman. His parents, a little discouraged, would answer that he would not be able to live off of that. As a young boy Paul tied his first flies with feathers from his pillow preparing for the day when he would catch his first big salmon.
In 1972, he caught his first salmon on the very popular Matane and Sainte-Anne Rivers. At that time, most of the accesses to those rivers were reserved to rich Americans and their friends, which made it almost impossible for others to fish. In the late 70’s, due to a lot of pressure, the government retracted those privileges and the local fisherman regained management of the salmon rivers through the ZEC (French acronym) meaning Controlled harvesting zone. Paul and his friends now have access to the Godbout River and to all these mystical rivers that used to be forbidden. Salmon fishing was democratized and Paul became a fly tier. He moved to Montreal to be closer to his clientele and ended up living his dream of making a living at fishing.
Paul worked in a specialized boutique tying millions of flies, was consulted by Jacques Authier and was frequented by celebrities such as the Houle brothers, John Cuco and Serge J. Vincent. He consulted Jean-Guy Côté who created the new polyfloss thread, a material of quality that improves the durability of flies. In 1988, Canada Post chose 10 of Canada’s most popular flies and Paul’s Dark Montreal made it on the stamp series.
The Dark Montreal was created in the XIXth century in the small village of Cantons, by a postmaster by the name of Peter Cowan. The village was named Cowansville in his honor. In 2005, on a second stamp series by Canada Post, his partner Hazel presented a Mickey Finn fly which was popular in the XIXth century on the highly stocked, Jacques Cartier River.
Paul created many famous flies such as the John Olin, the Paul & Paul, the Lady Step, the Hazel, the 'Merci beaucoup' (one of my favorites), the 28/30, the Tremblant Smelt and multiply the honors.
In 1986, Paul is declared Master Tier by the « Fédération québécoise pour le Saumon Atlantique” (FQSA) and fly tier of the year by the Altantic Salmon Federation. He received two gold medals at the FQSA prestigious fly tying world championship. In 1996, with a few of his friends, he founded the Montreal chapter of the FQSA. In 2009, he received the Jean-Guy Côté Award and ented the renowned M.P.M.C.’s Hall of fame.
Paul’s success in tying is intimately intertwined with his fishing. In 1985, in Anticosti, Paul runs out of yellow thread to tie a Grey Ghost. He uses a fluorescent orange thread instead, replaces the black head with an orange head and returns fishing. Voilà, the “Orange Grey Ghost” is born and joins the classics. Paul is the co-author of the book ¨La Pêche à la mouche au Québec: 25 Expériences inoubliables¨. In 1998-1999 he participated in the television series «Le Québec à la Mouche”, he chronicled for R.D.S., Réseau Des Sports, he organized conferences, workshops and fly tying and casting courses. He is a co-founder of the Moucheurs du Montreal Métropolitain (MMM) and the Montreal Fly Fishing Museum. Paul is nicknamed “Mister ORVIS”.
Of all the famous Orvis boutiques like the ones in New York and London, Paul’s boutique, Salmo Nature, is the one that sells the most Orvis fly fishing rods in the world. His store located at 110 McGill in Old-Montreal, is a popular gathering spot for passionate fly fisherman. It is at this store, overflowing with beautiful flies and dream fishing rods, where I met Paul for the first time. I have met fisherman from Québec and abroad and have picked up some tricks of the trade from them along the way.