Harry Lemire's Tied In-Hand Atlantic Salmon Classics by PJ Wall


It’s a long way from Clarkston, Washington USA to Northeast Margaree, Nova Scotia Canada. Nonetheless, Bill Jollymore and his wife, Lori, have driven the 34 hundred miles for many years to angle the famous Margaree river for the king of sport fish—the Atlantic salmon. 

On their trip in 2017, they carried with them a precious cargo destined for its final home. The cargo—over two hundred Harry Lemire tied-in-hand classic Atlantic salmon flies. 

harry lemire atlantic salmon fly fishing tying tie

The fortuitous new home—the Margaree Salmon Museum.   

Harry Lemire was born in Rhode Island in 1932 and, at age four, was introduced to fly fishing by his brother Raymond.  In the beginning, he used his brother’s hand-me-down flies that were near the end of their usefulness.  When Harry asked for good ones, he was told he would need to start tying his own. 

Fortunately, he knew a gentleman who tied professionally and at age eight became his young student.  Initially, his flies didn’t look like much, but they caught fish.  Back then, effectiveness trumped beauty in Harry’s young mind.  These early experiences were the impetus for what would become a lifelong avocation for Harry.

At age eighteen, Harry joined the United States air force where there was little time for either fishing or fly tying.  But, it seems, there was time for participation in extra-circular activities from which Harry benefited tremendously.   It was there he met Marlene, the young woman from Washington State who eventually became his wife.  For most, life changes after marriage; it was no different for Harry and Marlene. 

While visiting Marlene’s parents on a month-long vacation, Harry was introduced to West-coast salmon and steelhead fishing by his father-in-law.  He was impressed, not only with the size and abundance of steelhead and salmon but also with the landscape and plethora of fishing locations in Western Washington State.  All of this made Harry think about where he wanted to live for the rest of his life.  After sharing his thoughts with Marlene, they made the decision to move West and Harry went to work for the Boeing Corporation in Seattle.

Harry had found his nirvana.  He spent the early years in his adopted homeland fly-fishing its many rivers before moving on to fish Canadian rivers with the Thompson in British Columbia becoming his favorite steelhead river. 

A traditionalist, when it came to fly fishing, he resented some of the modern methods used in the sport particularly the use of bobbers, also known as strike indicators. 

He felt it made fishing too easy.  His angling preference for steelhead and salmon was dry flies.  Not only because they caught fish but now their beauty thrilled him equally, especially if the fly-line was attached to one of his many bamboo rods built for him by his friend Peter McVey.

His inexhaustible enthusiasm for the sport led Harry to fashion not only wonderful flies but, according to his long-time-friend Bill Jollymore, he was also the originator of interchangeable fly-line heads.  An invention that has had significant impact on fly fishing worldwide.

harry lemire fly tying in hand atlantic salmon

Harry Lemire

An inveterate researcher, Harry’s interest in tying classic Atlantic salmon flies peaked when he saw, Meagan Boyd’s salmon flies.  For Christmas in 1990, Marlene gave him a copy of “How to Dress Salmon Flies” by T.E Pryce-Tannett. 

He admired how Tannett explained the making of classics and, because of his penchant for tradition, Harry was fascinated that the flies were tied-in-hand—long before the use of vises.  Always the consummate student, Harry studied Tannett’s book till the pages were time worn and eventually went on to become world renowned for his own tied-in-hand Atlantic salmon classics.

During the course of his long-life Harry visited Eastern Canada where he angled for Atlantic salmon on the Miramachi and Restigouche rivers in New Brunswick, and the Margaree in Nova Scotia.  While in Margaree, he and Marlene visited the incomparable Margaree Salmon Museum and, like all who walk though this unique little place, they were astonished by the cornucopia of angling artifacts it contained. 

Marlene was particularly impressed but neither she nor Harry would have ever predicted that sometime in the future a collection of Harry’s best tied-in-hand Atlantic salmon classics would rest in this setting.

tied in hand fly fishingUnfortunately, time ran out far too soon on Harry and he joined the angling gods in 2012. Following his death, his entire fly collection went to the Northwest Atlantic Salmon Fly Guild under the care of Dr. Rockwell Hammond Jr. 

Dr. Hammond wanted to find a permanent home for this priceless collection and initiated discussions with Marlene and some of Harry’s friends, including the Jollymores. Some thought the collection should stay on the West coast but—where? 

In the end, Marlene, who was familiar with and impressed by the Margaree Salmon Museum, decided it would be the final resting place for Harry’s admirable art.  She found solace with her decision since Meagan Boyd, Harry’s idol, was also represented there.

The fifty-five-year-old historical edifice know as the Margaree Salmon Museum is housed in a former schoolhouse beside the world-famous Cabot Trail on Nova Scotia’s Cape Breton Island. Inside is perhaps the largest collection of angling artifacts found anywhere. 

Flies, lines, reels, rods, pictures, stories and more.  It’s all there, well displayed, and documented for posterity.   The Lemire collection sits in its own striking display case designed, pro bono, by noted USA architect, Allen Moore of Massachusetts, and fabricated by neighbourhood craftsman, Brian Peters, from locally sourced wood. All expenditures associated with the fabrication, were borne by the Jollymores.  It’s an impressive exhibit and since its placement visitor traffic has increased.

Established and still operated under the guidance of volunteers, this tiny meeting place is undergoing significant change in the administrative, structural, and informational categories. 

bill and lori jollymore

Its longest serving curator has retired and two colleagues have accepted that role.  The original board members are emeritus and a new one is embarking on a progressive agenda.  An agenda that will address space limitations that have, for some time, prevented it from expanding its horizon.  The goal is to include artifacts from the entire Margaree river watershed and beyond.  In addition to angling, their aspiration is to make the museum the information and education hub for all angling and nature activities whether local, national or international.   A robust venture, but they are a hard-working group who are actively reaching out to all who can help make the museum even better.  It will happen. 

So, if you’re travelling on Cape Breton Island in Nova Scotia, Canada stop by the Margaree Salmon Museum and say hello.  You’ll decide to come back before you leave. 

Bill Jollymore, BC angling historian and fixture of NW angling, died suddenly on May 15th, 2020.  Bill will be missed by many.

- written by PJ Wall

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