The Mountain Laurel
The Journal of Mountain Life

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from the
Heart of the Blue Ridge

The Best Salmon Lie

By Roderick Wilkinson © 1986

Issue: January, 1986

Editor Note: In the spirit of proving that a fisherman (or woman) is the same the world over, we present this story from Roderick Wilkinson of Glasgow, Scotland, for your reading enjoyment. If the mid-winter doldrums have got a hold of you, perhaps this will get you ready for the upcoming fishing season in spring.
Susan Thigpen, Editor

I thought I had met them all on a river-bank in my lifetime. And I thought I had heard every lie that could be told by arm stretching whopper-tellers.

But there's always a new one.

It was lunchtime and I sat down beside this man on the bank and offered him some of my coffee and a sandwich. He was no youngster - grey haired, grizzled and he had those delightful bright blue, innocent eyes of a born liar. And I knew right from the start I was going to get one of these hairy stories you get from those leather-faced, tweed-hatted anglers you meet on a river on a warm day like this.

His name was Johnny Forbes and he was a retired whisky stillman. He had worked for years in the malt distillery up the valley and, at a guess, I would think he'd been retired forever.

He and a pal of his, Archie Dempster, had fished this river nearly all their lives, and many a salmon they'd caught, even though Archie was very cross-eyed.

Both of them were fly fishers and it was Johnny who made those salmon flies at home every winter getting ready for the glorious spring and the opening of the season. Then he would produce them - masterpieces of the fly-tying art. Tying flies is a tricky business that needs a lot of patience in the winter evenings.

There was nothing too fancy about the flies he tied. They were mainly the good old standbys that anglers had been using on that river for a hundred years - the Blue Charm and the Black Pennel and the March Brown and the Teal and Silver - flies like that.

Then Johnny got ambitious. He got fed up tying the same old patterns every year and he decided to be creative. He invented a new pattern of his own. It was a big hairy monster of a thing he called Forbes' Killer. And it was a many splendored thing with purple wings and a yellow hackle and a wee bit of silver tinsel on the body with just a touch of crimson at the tip.

So when the season opened Johnny opened his fly box and showed his pal half a dozen of these majestic masterpieces.

"What's that?" asked Archie looking at them with his cross eyes.

"I invented it myself," says Johnny. "It's a Forbes' Killer."

Archie stared at them. "What's that going to catch?"


"Salmon? You're daft. It'll frighten the fish."

"It'll do nothing of the kind," said Johnny. "It's what's needed on this river to liven up the fish. They'll get one sight of that fly going past their nose and that'll be that - they'll be hooked."

"It's the silliest fly I've ever seen," said Archie. "You can fish with that if you like - I'll stick to the good old flies I know."

They fished all that week and it was Archie who got the only two fish they caught. Johnny persisted in using that many-splendored purple and yellow invention of his and caught nothing.

"Didn't I tell ye," said Archie. "That silly fly of yours'll catch nothing."

By the middle of the following week Archie died. He caught a bad cold in the spring weather and at his age didn't recover. Johnny attended his funeral and he was a sad man now that his old fishing chum had gone.

But fishing's fishing, and Johnny was out on the river after the salmon on his own the very next day. Of course, the fly he was using was his own invention - the Forbes' Killer. He had only made three casts into the swirling water when the fly was grabbed by a big salmon. He fought the salmon for all of ten minutes before he managed to get it on to the shingle.

I listened to this story and the old man paused. I said, "What happened?"

He sighed. "You're going to find this hard to believe."

"Try me," I said.

"Well, I bent down over the fish. It was still wriggling on the pebbles. And, d'you know, I could hardly believe it myself. That salmon had cross eyes."

"Cross eyes?" I said.

"That's right. It was the dead spit image of Archie - even about the mouth and the shape of his head."

"Is that right?"

"Now I know you'll find this hard to credit. I bent down and I took that fly of mine out of its mouth. And I knew it was Archie. Reincarnated."


"Right. And as I got it out of his mouth I said, 'Now will you admit that this fly of mine is a success?"

"Imagine that," I said.

"And d'you know this, as I was bending down I distinctly heard that fish let out a big sigh that said 'Aye.' So d'you know what I did? I lifted it carefully and put it back in the river and it swam away."

I said nothing. We had some more coffee then I shook hands with him. Then I said, "Congratulations. I thought I had heard them all. But that one is the best I've ever heard in my life."