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John Underwood
June 29, 1981
At 62, the Splendid Splinter is none too slender, but he still is hard-hitting when talking of baseball and the outdoor life
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June 29, 1981

Ted Williams At Midstream

At 62, the Splendid Splinter is none too slender, but he still is hard-hitting when talking of baseball and the outdoor life

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"At the beginning of a rise, yes. Ordinarily I like high water because the fish come in then, as opposed to a drought when there's no water to move in. But when it's discolored like this, it's a signal for them to move on."

"What do you mean, 'move on'?" I asked.

"They don't hold in the pools as well. They see their chance and move. Still, there are pools in June and early July, high water pools, that are good to fish in. I use bigger flies in June, when it's moving, and smaller flies in low water and during the summer when the water is slower."

"Why do you suppose they take flies?" said a younger man in a red hat and red suspenders, an American, jumping into the discussion.

"Well, no one's sure," said Ted. "It's not out of hunger, though, I'm convinced of that. When they come up in the fall, they don't eat in the river at all. You ever found one that had anything in its belly going upriver, Roy?"

"Never did."

"Roy has opened thousands of fish, and he never found anything. Their bellies are just flat. Some guys say they go for bugs to squeeze the juice out of 'em, but that's crap. When they come upriver, they're here on business. To spawn, not to eat. In the spring it's a different story. They haven't eaten for five or six months, they're hungry, they're getting ready to go out. But I still think hitting the fly is more an instinctive thing. As parr [a young salmon], they are voracious eaters. They eat anything that floats. One of the prettiest sights on the river on a quiet summer evening when the bugs are hatching and you can watch the salmon jump 8, 10, 12 inches to grab 'em. So they react to flies and bugs—a nervous stimulus, something that carried them in the beginning. Instinct. That, and the annoyance of anything, even a fly, entering their territory."

The man in the baggy shirt picked up Ted's rod. "That's a lot bigger rod than I use, Ted. Got to be a weight-lifter to use that damn rod."

"Eight and a half feet, that's all," said Ted. He got up to demonstrate, putting his sandwich on the backpack. "Look, you're casting into the wind out here now, and it's ridiculous to use that little baton you're using—what is it, 6½ feet? I thought so. You might as well throw the fly with your hand. Adequate tackle. You've got to have adequate tackle, it's the first rule in the book, no matter what you're fishing for. All you do with inadequate equipment is frustrate yourself and maybe injure a fish that breaks off, or stick a hook in your car or in your eye. I was at a banquet 20 years ago, sitting next to a guy with a patch over one eye. He said he'd been an ambassador to Ireland and he fished there and used a lighter rod. and when he tried to pick it up, the fly came back and hit him in the eye." He worked the rod. "On a real windy day I've used as much as a 10-foot rod, with double-sixes. But 8½ is all you need, nine in toughest weather."

"But you're a lot bigger than I am."

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