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the world's best
Russell Chatham
December 02, 1974
BILL SCHAADT IS A SIGN PAINTER, BUT HIS TRUE ART IS DISPLAYED ON THE RIVERS OF THE WEST, WHERE HE WIELDS A FLY ROD LIKE NO MAN ALIVE
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December 02, 1974

The World's Best

BILL SCHAADT IS A SIGN PAINTER, BUT HIS TRUE ART IS DISPLAYED ON THE RIVERS OF THE WEST, WHERE HE WIELDS A FLY ROD LIKE NO MAN ALIVE

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"My boat's already there," he said. "We'll take your boat on my car around to the Walker Hole and row down. After today we'll walk in from the other side, and no one will know how you got in. I've got another boat down at the Bailey Hole big enough for both of us if we decide to fish there later."

Bursting out of the trailer, he rummaged in his car for rope while I untied my boat. We lifted it onto his racks and Schaadt lashed it down. As we drove along the narrow North Bank Road at an intimidating speed, I thought about the time Schaadt had rolled his car over down on the Eel. He crawled out, dragging his fly rod with him, and hiked to the spot he had chosen on the river. It was not until that night, the fishing over, that he summoned help to right his car.

It was still dark when we turned onto the rutted road that angled through immense redwood groves to the river. Within moments after we arrived Schaadt had wrested the boat off the car single-handed. Upriver the sky was beginning to lighten as we rowed the slow stretch from the Walker to the Early Hole. "Easy! Easy now," he cautioned as we neared the pool. "Fish were in the top end yesterday."

He lowered an anchor and I did the same in my boat so we were both in position to cover the water. Some time passed without a strike or a fish showing. Then, some distance below us, in the deepest part of the hole, a big salmon erupted against the surface. We drifted down. Our anchors hit bottom at 30 feet, and in the full light of dawn you could see them sitting down there at the ends of the lines.

Within a few minutes Schaadt hooked a salmon. It was a smallish fish, no more than 15 pounds, and he slipped his fingers under the gills to bring it to the side of the boat. In the next few hours he caught half a dozen more, including one beautiful bright male over 40 pounds.

"Using lead?" he finally said to me.

I nodded.

"You must be going under them," he said. "I've taken some of the lead out of my line in sections so I don't go too deep. Plastic sinks too slow and plain lead line too fast. Here, try this."

He tossed me a line wrapped around a piece of cardboard that I substituted for the one I was using. Lead core line is often a necessity in fly-fishing for salmon, but it is a specialized piece of equipment and difficult to manage. Schaadt carries a variety which sink at different rates. Taking pieces of lead out in sections is only one of his inventions. He has also made a line he calls "the cable" by removing all the wire from a 30-foot section and substituting .30 lead fuse wire. This line weighs close to 800 grains, whereas the heaviest fly line on the standard scale weighs only 380 grains. Some water on the Smith River is so fast that only this big line will cut through it, and since Schaadt is the only one who has such a line and the only one with skill enough to cast it, there are places where only he can fish.

With the borrowed line I soon had a strike, and drifted over to the cliff to play the fish. Here a rock projection formed a right angle to the current, and the resulting swirl had dug a pocket more than 90 feet deep. As I played the salmon straight up and down, I could feel him going into underwater caves, sawing the line on sharp rock.

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