From the Blog

Remembering Our Friend Warren Duncan

Dunc, a great friend of the Miramichi and a great ambasador for the Atlantic Salmon . If you were lucky enough to spend a moment or two with Dunc you were without a doubt intrigued with his ambition for , and knowledge of fly-fishing . Dunc was our friend ………

Lent a fly rod, he learned to tie and was soon sought out by rock stars and royalty
The Globe and Mail
Sat 24 Feb 2007
Page: S9
Section: Obituaries
Byline: Charles Mandel

CHARLES MANDEL Special to The Globe and Mail

If the kids who used to find their way to Dunc’s Fly Shop in a strip
mall near the oil refinery in Saint John expressed any interest in
fly tying, owner Warren Duncan would load them up with a brand new
rod, reel, line and flies. “They’d walk in with $10 and leave with
$300 worth of supplies,” his son John recalled in a telephone
interview. “My father wasn’t much of a businessman.

Mr. Duncan may not have had perfect business savvy, but by all
accounts he was extraordinarily generous, not to mention a legend in
fly-fishing circles around the world. Celebrities and common
fishermen alike revered Mr. Duncan for his meticulous salmon flies.
Even when death reeled him in, the 58-year-old was doing what he
loved best: tying flies. Mr. Duncan was found dead in his shop Feb.
10, having suffered a heart attack while working to finish a large
order for outfitter L. L. Bean.

Jeff Miller, product development manager for L. L. Bean in Freeport,
Maine, called Mr. Duncan “one of the top Atlantic salmon fly tiers in
this day and age. Warren’s flies speak for themselves.” The company
carried Mr. Duncan’s work for well over 15 years and at the time of
his death he was working on an annual order of about 190 dozen flies.

Dewey Gillespie, who organized a travelling collection of framed
fishers’ flies in the early 1990s and took it to art galleries around
New Brunswick, agreed that Mr. Duncan elevated tying to an art. He
nicknamed Mr. Duncan “the Highness of Hairwing” for his ability with
one particular type of fly.

“He certainly tied top-quality flies,” Mr. Gillespie said from
Miramichi, N.B. “Every one of them was just like a mirror image of
the one previous. That’s extremely difficult to do. He was just a
great fly tier.”

Born in Campbellton, N.B., in 1948, Mr. Duncan loved fishing as a
young man. He first encountered flies in his early 20s during a trip
to the Miramichi River. Someone lent him a rod and a fly and Mr.
Duncan successfully landed a number of fish. By day’s end, the fly
that had attracted the fish was beaten and tattered, so Mr. Duncan
searched a number of shops hoping to find another one. He ended up
purchasing a tying kit from a department store instead, launching a
great career.

As Mr. Duncan became more interested in fly tying, his pursuit led
him to New Boston, N.H., where Bill Hunter owned a store. Mr. Hunter
taught Mr. Duncan some basics, but soon the young man was putting a
personal mark on his flies. His son said he was talking to an
American fisherman who opined: “Your father may have gone down and
had Bill talk to him a few times, but I’ve seen Bill’s flies. He
didn’t teach your Dad much.”

Mr. Duncan first opened a store in the early 1970s, operating out of
his home’s basement, where he kept a fridge and a liquor cabinet for
the fishermen who wanted to hang out and discuss the sport. One of
the regulars to the house was baseball star Ted Williams, who kept a
camp on the Miramichi and had heard of Mr. Duncan. They became good

Over the years, as Mr. Duncan moved his shop around before settling
on Saint John, his fame grew. One day his son phoned the shop and
reached actor William Hurt, who had spent the afternoon discussing
fishing with his father. Rock star Alice Cooper stopped in. After Mr.
Duncan gave members of the heavy-metal group Iron Maiden some flies,
they reciprocated with backstage passes to their show.

Another time, in England to demonstrate fly tying, Mr. Duncan met
Roger Daltrey, lead singer of The Who. Mr. Daltrey asked Mr. Duncan
to sign a business card, and when he arrived home, Mr. Duncan told
his family he was famous. “Around this house, it wasn’t too long
before we brought him back to reality,” his son laughed. “He might
have been famous in fishing circles, but to all of us, he was just

Mr. Duncan’s flies incorporated everything from chicken feathers to
golden pheasant crests. He searched the world for materials,
according to his son. But it was more than the materials that made
Mr. Duncan’s work so valued.

“He perfected the art,” his son said, noting that it takes the
average person 15 to 30 minutes to tie a fly. Mr. Duncan put his
together in under three minutes. “He pretty much revolutionized how
to tie efficiently,” his son said. “Nobody else before him could tie
with the great speed that he did or the precision.”

Recipients of Mr. Duncan’s flies include former U.S. president George
H. W. Bush and Prince Charles. At the government of New Brunswick’s
request, Mr. Duncan created the Picture Province Fly, which
incorporates the provincial colours and is one of New Brunswick’s
official symbols. In fishing circles, though, Mr. Duncan might be
better known for popularizing a fly known as the Undertaker for its
efficiency attracting salmon.

Mr. Duncan’s love of fishing occasionally caused him pain. In 1980,
driving home from a fishing trip, he was involved in a car accident
that drove a rod through his shoulder and nearly cost him his leg. He
walked into his Saint John home with the rod still piercing his
shoulder and called for his wife. “Anne,” he said, “you might want to
come out in the living room. I think I’ve got a couple of scratches
on me.”

While he continued to maintain his shop, he also worked variously as
a loans officer for banks and finance companies and for a Saint John
oil refinery as supervisor of operations. As if that wasn’t enough to
keep him busy, Mr. Duncan read and recited poetry and gardened. He
would walk river beds across the province to find rocks for his
garden and packages of stones would arrive from friends around the

At the shop, men would gather and watch for hours at a time without
speaking while Mr. Duncan went about his work. One day, his daughter
went to a friend’s house where the father asked if Mr. Duncan was her
father. “I’ve been over to your father’s store three times and I’ve
always been too scared to talk to him,” the man said.

“We just never got that aspect of it,” his son said, “but others

John Warren Duncan was born June 24, 1948, in Campbellton, N.B. He
died of a heart attack on Feb. 10, 2007, in Saint John. He was 58. He
leaves his wife Anne, son John, daughters Catherine and Christine,
sister Joan and one grandson.

© 2007 CTVglobemedia Publishing Inc. All Rights Reserved.

Edition: METRO
Length: 1125 words


  1. michael messler says

    Today with sadness i read the story and discovered the news of warren passing to what i hope is a better river.
    i was priveledged to have had him heckle me during several fly tying courses in new jersey’s ramsey outdoor store. the abuse was enjoyed and the short time spent with him will be treasured. he truly represented the sport, not the business and that was very refreshing. i have a few duncan flies that i’m not sure if i should retire or use. although, i think i can hear him sarcastically commenting as long as it’s not a green machine, fish it. he told me any idiot can catch a salmon on a green machine.
    he will be missed. we will toast to his legacy on the miramachi this spring 2007.

Speak Your Mind