Thursday, November 18, 2010


Remember the original Star Wars films as they appeared on the big screen? Luke Skywalker, Han Solo, Chewbacca, Princess Leia, and the ever imposing Darth Vader? Remember the Death Star, Tie-Fighters, and the Millennium Falcon? C3PO and R2D2?

Of course you do. Star Wars has become part and parcel of America, a slice of our collective unconscious. We've all dreamed of living in a galaxy far, far away. As such, I do not think it's entirely unreasonable to believe - or rather, hope - that you might remember one particular scene in the final installment of the trilogy, The Return of the Jedi. 

As the scene opens, Han Solo is frozen in carbonite, and has become the favorite wall decoration of interplanetary criminal kingpin, Jabba the Hutt. Intent on rescuing Han, his friends attempt an ill conceived prison break. Among his would be rescuers is one time romantic rival, Luke Skywalker.

Skywalker enters Jabba's desert fortress, and is soon accosted by a pair of guards. With a simple raise of his hand, the puzzled duo retreats into the shadows. Then Jabba's majordomo - Bib Fortuna - confronts the young Jedi. Skywalker is the first to speak.

"I must speak with Jabba now."

Fortuna answers in Huttese, clearly denying Skywalker's demand.

Skywalker raises his hand and insists, "You will take me to Jabba now!"

In subtitled Huttese, "I will take you to Jabba now."

"You serve your master well."

"I serve my master well."

Unfortunately, the Jedi mind trick doesn't work so well on Jabba, and the rescue attempt gets a little more complicated.

What has any of this to do with fly fishing? Truthfully, it has nothing to do with bug chucking, but I witnessed something earlier this month that made me think of that one particular scene in George Lucas' film.

The boys and I were on day three of a four day trip to New York's, Salmon River. Officially, we were chasing steelhead, but we were all happy to take whatever the river offered. And she gave us quite a mix. Sure, we caught steelies (some big boys too), but we also tied into kings, Atlantics, and browns. Some of the fish were small, but most were measured in pounds. I digress.

One of the fellas with whom we fished is something of a regular on the Salmon. Bert Turner has been running the river's holes, and drifting its runs for nearly 30 years. He knows every nuance of the place: every rock, every seam, every cut. He's been the tutor to some of the very best fishermen I know, and by the end of the trip I had nicknamed him Yoda - Master Yoda if you're nasty (yes, that's a loose allusion to Janet Jackson).

Do or do not ... there is no try!
Allow me a moment to explain precisely why Bert reminds me of the diminutive, grammatically challenged Jedi Master.

First, the guy can catch fish - a lot of fish. In simplest terms, I think Bert must have some sort of piscatorial ESP. He uses the force to see steelhead in their lies; he knows when they're moving, when they're holding, when they're likely to be caught, and when they have lockjaw. For two days, Bert was hooking fish with nothing past the rod tip but leader and fly ... in spots where the rest of us had been wading not 15 minutes prior. Twice Bert hooked large fish that I lost at the net. He simply shrugged and smiled a knowing smile. Never a harsh word or disapproving look. Master Yoda is a consummate teacher.

Second - and more to the point - Bert has mastered the Jedi mind trick.

As anyone who has fished the Salmon River and surrounding watersheds can tell you, the tributaries to Lake Ontario can be something of a circus. The river and its cousins are within a day's drive of several major metropolitan areas - New York City, Philadelphia, Syracuse, Buffalo, Boston - and on any given day the parking areas along the river might be packed with vehicles from four or more states. I would be willing to bet that the Salmon receives more fishing pressure than any other cold water fishery on the east coast. In order to stake claim to a particular hole or run, one had best plan on arriving early. By early, I mean one had best be rigged and to the river an hour or so before sun up. Unless, of course, one happens to be fishing alongside Bert Turner.

Size matters not. Look at me. Judge me by my size, do you? Hmm? Hmm. And well you should not. For my ally is the Force, and a powerful ally it is.

If you're fishing with Bert, you're guaranteed the opportunity to fish whatever piece of water you might like. For example, on day three of our trip Bert, Ben, and I had hoped to fish a section of river known as Paradise. Paradise is the perfect steelhead run. She glides about 150 feet from head to tail, and is two to six feet deep along her length (depending on water levels). If it isn't the most popular section of the river, then it's probably number two or three. We arrived at about ten o'clock to find ten or fifteen bug chuckers spread throughout its breadth. Ben and I settled for some of the marginal water that was available, while Master Yoda sauntered up to the fella' who was fishing the choicest spot at the head. The conversation went something like this ...

"Beautiful day. Any luck?"

"Kiss off!"

"I'd rather fish here."

"Kiss off!"

Bert slowly waved his hand in front of the angler's face.

"You want me to fish this water."

"Come to think of it, I want you to fish this water."

"You want me to smoke one of your cigarettes."

"Care for a smoke while you rig up?"

And just like that Bert, Ben and I found ourselves alternating through the head of Paradise. Ben hooked an enormous fish that fought the way you want a steelhead to fight, especially if it's going to come unglued before it comes to net. Bert hooked up several times, and even I managed a couple of smacks. Altogether it was an interesting and instructive day.

To close, I leave you with this. Should you ever find yourself on the Salmon River, and feeling a disturbance in the force, then you had best step out of the water. Chances are that the master has his eye on your end of the run. It's best if you just let it be.
Looks a little like Greedo, don't ya' think?


Shaq said...

It's ridiculous that this is an issue at all. All named pools in the upper fly should be mandatory rotation. Fish any way you want but if people rotated paradise, the experience would be much better. IMO, the summer regs should be extended too but that's just me.

BKill said...


I disagree insofar as I don't think courtesy is something that can be regulated. I've always shared the water with anyone that wants a turn, and I suspect you have too. While I'd like to see everyone do the same, I think it's unlikely ever to happen. When I first started fishing the Salmon, I thought bad manners ended as one worked upstream from the Altmar bridge. I was wrong. Flyfishermen can be d-bags too.

Shaq said...

That's why I haven't been in the lower fly in 4 years...I have found many people willing to rotate all sorts of pools below the tressle or so, not from ellis up. it's strange but the "all about the numbers" crowds tend to stay in altmar and the "experience" crowds hang in the lower..except for the poor guy who I let have it when he stepped on my line as it was dangling...He was like 3 times my size and I chased him from the glide to the wall...chewing his butt the whole way...almost. He must have thought I was a strange chewawa...

BKill said...

Lol ... Should have been there for a recent encounter we had on the Willows up above Trooper. Not a good day for a pinner to step on top of us ... especially when there were 150 yards of unfished water to flog.

And you're right about those folks who appreciate the experience. I'll take one hot, bright chromer over half a dozen fish that have been beat to hell by every bug chucker east of Toledo.

I do have to admit, however, that sometimes it's just fun to toss a line over stupid fish at the upper wire. Every once in a while my ego needs that kind of refreshment.