Charlie Lovelette: fly tier and fly fisherman by Russ Lavigne
I met Charlie Lovelette in 1989 while attending a flyfishing class he was conducting with the local flyshop owner, Farrow Allen. For three days in late spring I fished with Charlie and Farrow on the Winooski river in northwestern Vermont. During the class I thought to myself "Farrow seems like a nice enough guy, but this old Vermont curmudgeon Charlie, well he doesn’t add much to the experience." Charlie was not given to idle chit-chat and had a deep, gravely voice that gave the impression that he was a far more stern individual than he actually was. A year or so later, while browsing through the fly tying materials in Farrows shop where Charlie was working part-time, I asked him if the shop had a copy of "Fly Tying Materials" by Eric Leiser. Charlie told me that the hardback book was out of print, but that he had an extra copy that he would part with for $25. It was a deal. From that day forward before I did anything new that had to do with flyfishing I asked Charlie about it and then I listened. Charles William Lovelette ("Charlie" as he was known to most everyone but his wife. I never heard her call him anything but "Charles".) was a fly tier for 56 years. He told me that he had learned to tie flies by taking other peoples flies apart. Back in the early days there were no books on how to tie flies, at least none that had made their way to northwestern Vermont. Charlie was born December 26, 1918 in Richford, Vermont. After graduating from high school Charlie traveled to a vocational school founded by Eleanor Roosevelt, near Eastport Maine, to learn aircraft engine mechanics. While in Maine Charlie found two new loves, one was his wife-to-be, Ruth, and the other was the Dennys river, fishing for Atlantic salmon. It was on the Dennys in 1948 that Charlie developed a variation of the popular Cosseboom Special, the Cosseboom Hairwing Dry fly for Atlantic salmon. The fly featured (and tied by Charlie) in Stewart and Allen's "Flies for Atlantic Salmon" is listed as "particularly useful wherever The combination of green and yellow take salmon.*". Charlies flies were also featured in "Sports Illustrated FlyFishing", as well as in the Allen/ Stewart book "Flies for Trout". COSSEBOOM, DRY: Thread: Yellow Tail: Gray squirrel veiled by one strand of light olive floss Body: Light olive floss Rib: Very fine oval silver tinsel Wing: Divided upright gray squirrel tail Hackle: About four stiff hackles dyed bright yellow "Vermont Charlie", as he became known to the locals downeast, returned to the Dennys river each and every summer for the next forty five years (with the exception of the summer of 1952 when their second child, a daughter, was born). Charlie would fish for Atlantic salmon and Ruth and the children would spend time with her people. In 1981 Charlie Lovelette was awarded a Lifetime Membership to the Dennys River Sportsman's Club. Ruth and Charlie were married in 1941. After a brief assignment in East Hartford Connecticut where Charlie worked for Pratt & Whitney they returned to Maine where Charlie taught aircraft engine mechanics. Charlie and Ruth then moved back to Vermont where Charlie worked for Northeast Airlines in Burlington before being drafted into WWII. Leaving behind his wife and two month old son Charlie was first sent to Gulf Port Mississippi, then to California and finally, in late 1943 to duty in Pacific where he served for two and one half years. When the War ended Charlie found work at the Swett-Cumings furniture factory in his home town of Richford. Having spent the War confined to an island in the Pacific working on a airplanes day in and day out Charlie had his fill of aircraft mechanics. He decided to become a photographer, and trained for that career under the GI Bill. For a time he worked at a photography studio in St. Albans , Vt. . During that period Charlie decided to take the Civil Service exam. When he passed the exam Charlie accepted a "temporary" position with US Customs. US Customs Officer became Charlie's permanent, full-time career from 1953 to 1981, though his interest in photography, and later, videography, stayed with him throughout the rest of his life. After retiring from US Customs Charlie's fascination and expertise with cold water fish lead him to take a position as the manager of a private fish hatchery in the north central mountains of Vermont. The facility raised rainbow trout for farm ponds and the like. Though Charlie enjoyed this new career he wanted more time to himself and with his family so Charlie "retired" one more time. From there Charlie went to work part-time at Booth's Sporting Goods in St. Albans, Vt. and the Burlington, Vt. fly shop owned by Farrow. Charlie tied flies commercially for a select group of customers who either hadn’t the time or inclination to tie their own flies. Charlie also made and repaired fiberglass, boron and graphite fly rods (Charlie was making two handed salmon rods back in the early 1980s, long before today's surge of interest in Spey rods). He could repair, rebuild and restore traditional split cane rods as well. Charlie routinely tied for demonstrations at the local sportsman shows and clubs. He was also a long-time member of the United Fly Tyers and the Federation of Flyfishers. Over the last few years each Sunday morning during the winter months Charlie met with a group of local followers to tie flies and give instruction in informal exchange of ideas. Charlie also continued to teach classes and work part time at the shop after Farrow had sold it and moved on. Farrow recalls Charlie as being "addicted to fly tying", always on the look-out for materials, tools and tackle, whether or not he had any immediate use for them. Though he preferred a traditional look in his own tackle Charlie was always amenable to at least trying each new innovation as it came through the shop door. Most he discarded as passing fads but some (like rotating hackle pliers, I recall) found their way into Charlie's permanent fishing or tying arsenal. Charlie credited Poul Jorgensen, the Dettes and Gary LaFontaine as being influences on his style of tying. Charlie said that he preferred an imitative style of flies, and that synthetic materials were the way all flytying was headed (at least flies that were actually going to get fished). Though Farrow characterized Charlie’s own choice for trout fishing flies as "meat and potato" flies, when I asked Charlie which flies he enjoyed tying the most, he said it would have to be old English style wet fly patterns and Atlantic Salmon flies. A couple of years ago Charlie told me that he enjoyed tying flies as much, or maybe even more, than fishing them. Just about every morning he was up and at his tying desk (a roll-top salvaged from an episode of updating office furniture at the Customs office) by 5:00 am. Charlie’s routine was to tie for a few hours, take a break for other activities during the middle part of the day, and return to tying for a couple of hours in the afternoon. Orders from customers ranged from near microscopic midges for trout to giant, foot-long baitfish imitations for sailfish, Charlie tied them all. "Fly fishing was his life." Ruth told me. Though Charlie's enduring passion was for fly tying and fishing, in his lifetime his interests touched every element of the outdoor sportsman's life. At varying times in his life Charlie trapped commercially and hunted deer, upland birds and waterfowl. He raised beagles, weimaraners, Chesapeakes, and Brittany spaniels as well as pheasants and quail. He made custom cabinetry , hand-carved a beautiful two and a half foot Atlantic salmon out of wood, and even taught himself to cane chairs which Ruth had refinished. Charlie could also turn a good phrase, if it amused him to do so. The following is an excerpt from a two page poem that Charlie and his son Alan wrote during the 1950s as a humorous tribute to some of their friends on the Dennys: "Pretty soon now Mays month shes done gone And does fishes call SaMoon, up da Dennys day run And da men dey do come from all over hell To try and catch one of does fishes dat smell ..Now dis fisher hees foxy, hees knows alla time, To catch one of does SaMoons, hees need a short line, So hees hide in da bushes, till da fellers all go, Den hees sneak up on dat pool, aw-fully slow. Hees changes hees fly, and hees trow a short line, Wid a fly dat dey wanted, alla da time Da beeg ones hees grab dat "Silvery Belle", And hees run down da river, like a bat outta hell. Now dat fisher shes run and shes holler and cuss, No need for dat SaMoon make alla dat fuss, Hees holler to odders, "Don stan dere and laff, Go upon my car and git me a gaff". Da SaMoons hees mad and hees fight lak hell, hees want to git rid of dat "Silvery Belle". Hees jump and hees shake and hees finally stops, And hees spit out dat ting dat was stuck in his chops…" Charlie spent decades fishing the lakes, ponds and rivers of his native Vermont as well as pursuing Atlantic Salmon in New Brunswick, Quebec and Maine. The last couple of years Charlie had rediscovered the northern pike in Lake Champlain. But first and foremost Charlie was an Atlantic salmon fisherman and fly tier. He tied salmon flies to fish himself, salmon flies for his friends, salmon flies to sell and salmon flies for exhibition. Charlie possessed boxes upon boxes of salmon flies. On the annual trips to the Dennys he would often sell them to the regulars who had waited for "Vermont Charlie" to return in order to fill their own salmon fly needs. According to Albert Mahar of Dennysville, Maine who fished the salmon rivers of eastern Canada and Maine with Charlie for many years, "On any new salmon river, you were never in the dark long with Charlie." Albert tells about arriving at the Matane, deep within French Quebec, where none of the locals spoke English. Charlie turned to Albert and said "No flies that we have are going to help on this river today, but we’ll tie up some that will." Charlie wasn't going to let a language barrier keep him from finding the materials he needed to tie some killing patterns for just that time and place. Charlie sized up the local fisherman around them on the river, lit up a Camel and assured Albert "When one of them wants an American cigarette, they'll speak English." He was right, and in short order Charlie had what they needed. Over the years Charlie was called upon by the local press whenever there was fly tying, fly fishing, trout or salmon news to be written about. In 1985 Charlie was asked to develop an original Atlantic salmon fly to be named for the then governor of Vermont, Madeline Kunin (currently the US ambassador to Switzerland). The occasion was a particular event in the Atlantic Salmon Restoration Project on the Connecticut river. The local press featured photographs of the Governor receiving the fly and Charlie received a warm "thank you" letter form her. THE GOVERNOR KUNIN (1985, As relayed by Farrow Allen): Hook: Salmon, turned up eye Tag: Oval gold tinsel and yellow floss Tail Golden pheasant crest over which is blue-green peacock breast feather fibers Butt: Black ostrich herl Body: Medium blue floss Rib: Flat gold and oval gold tinsel Hackle: Yellow hackle, palmered over the front 3/4 of the body Throat: Pale blue hackle Wing: Back-to-back Amherst pheasant tippet feathers over which are married strands of golden pheasant tail, yellow and white turkey wing slips, and dark blue-black peacock body feather Sides: Jungle cock, half the length of the body Cheeks: Short Amherst pheasant tippet half the length of the jungle cock Topping: Golden pheasant crest Horns: Blue and yellow macaw Head: Black In 1996 Charlie became interested in using his home computer to access fly tying information on the Internet. By the late Fall Charlie was "fishing the Net" and sending e-mail back and forth to friends and family. When I talked with Farrow about Charlie using a computer, he laughed. "I remember when Charlie wouldn't even go near the electronic cash register at the shop. I was even surprised to find that he had an answering machine when I called him a few months back." But still, if it had anything to do with fly tying, Charlie was at least going to give it a try. Charlie passed away on January 31, 1997. CHARLIES SMELT (1980) Charlie designed this fly for early season landlocked salmon (and even pre-season, through ice fishing) to resemble small smelt found in the bays of Lake Champlain in the spring just after ice-out. According to Charlie the fluorescent red head was essential to the fly's success. I have also found the fly to be very effective for Lake Champlain Northern pike during the latter part of May. HOOK-Streamer BODY-Fluorescent/reflective tape or mylar pearlescent tubing over a piece of soda can cut to shape of a minnow belly (similar to a Zonker shape). WING-Small amount of white bucktail, over which a large Mallard breast flank in applied horizontally after being treated with head cement. HEAD-Fluorescent red & black Submitted by: Russell Lavigne 4 Fox Haven Lane St. Albans, Vt. 05478 *Quotation from "Flies for Atlantic Salmon" by Allen/ Stewart used by permission. Thanks to Mr. Paul Marriner for technical advice regarding fly photography. Special thanks to Mrs. Ruth Lovelette, Mr.Farrow Allen, and Mr. Albert Mahar of the Dennys River Sportmans Club for sharing their memories and allowing me to put them in print.