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Ted said that his first time on the Miramichi, when he was still playing for the Red Sox, hadn't exactly thrilled him. He had come up to do a fishing film; the script called for him to span seasonal lines, to go for bass, bonefish, tarpon and salmon, and it had been a job getting it all in. "You couldn't even think about doing that now," he said. "They've made the baseball season too damn long for that. Too long, period. It's lousy for baseball. Lousy. Cold, rotten weather at the beginning of the season, cold, rotten weather at the end. I'd be screaming if I played now. I hated to hit in cold weather. They want to know why batting averages are so low, that's a factor."
He said he wasn't immediately won to the salmon: "In the first place, I didn't like standing in line on the river, with five guys in front of you and five guys behind you and guys casting right across from you, sometimes close enough to hit you in the eye. I didn't like having to fish somebody's private pool. It was a good pool, but I didn't like that part of the act.
"Then a guy gave me a couple flies he'd tied that were half the size of the ones I was using, and I got some fish, and I thought, 'Gee, if I could tie my own flies, and if I had my own pool....' Eventually, I got a pool, and right away came the biggest flood in 50 years and moved the rocks around and wrecked the whole damn thing."
Roy grunted amiably. The pickup banged into a rut and then surged forward noisily.
By 1958 Ted was hooked. That year he won his last American League batting championship, a steal at .328 compared with his supernatural .388 of the year before. In 1958 he was 40 years old. Right after the last game he flew to Bangor, Maine, and drove straight through to the Miramichi. He was on the river the next afternoon, beating the close of the salmon season by just two hours.
"It was cold as hell, and the wind was ripping down the river," Ted said. "But I'd been tying flies all summer and I had a yellow butt on a double-8 with a short shank, and I laid it out there. And I kept laying it out there—picking up slowly, laying it out. Then there was a big boil, and I put it out again, and there was that beautiful roll and the feel of weight that you get when he's taken the fly. Whooosh. He was way downriver before he jumped and I could see him for the first time. Then he came back upriver and greyhounded right past me. He fought like hell for about 30 minutes. A 20-pound hookbill, the best I ever got on the Miramichi."
Two trucks were already parked in the clearing that adjoined a narrow trail to the river.
"It'll be crowded today," Ted said, hurrying to put on his waders. "The Miramichi fishes 10 times more anglers than any other salmon river, wouldn't you say, Roy?"
"For sure," said Curtis. He and I were still gathering up equipment as Ted plunged off through the opening in the bushes, rod in hand. When we reached the bank, he was rigged and moving into the water. His pool was up and around the bend from where we came out, Roy said. This was public water through to the bottom end of the rapids. Three men were already on the river, casting.
I waited on the bank as Roy deposited our gear. I wasn't eager to fish too close to Ted. His scrutiny can be devastating, not to mention loud. Ted stripped out line and began to cast—righthanded, the way he threw rather than the way he batted. Still, the fluid ease and enormous power that made him so marvelous a hitter was reborn before me. The wind was angling into us; he double-hauled to build up line speed, and cast again. The line shot forward with a sharp whistling sound, and at its full length sent the tippet rolling out like a lizard's tongue to flick the water, delicately laying down the fly. A 70-foot cast. Farther out, a zipper on the surface signaled a fish. His next cast covered the distance.