On November 3, the American Museum of Fly Fishing (AMFF) will recognize Norman Maclean’s A River Runs Through It and the contribution that his novella-turned-motion-picture made to fly fishing. The film’s producer, Patrick Markey, will accept the award at the Racquet and Tennis Club in New York City as cast and crew reunite to tell stories commemorating the film’s 30th anniversary. Tickets for the event start at $1,000.
“In 1992, Robert Redford brought Maclean’s beautifully crafted tale of family and fly fishing to the big screen via screenwriter Richard Friedenberg’s remarkable adaptation of Maclean’s beloved novella,” AMFF said in announcing the event, adding “Filmed on Montana’s Gallatin River, a generation of filmgoers became captivated by the stunning Oscar-winning cinematography of Philippe Rousselot.”
“Redford and Markey took the fly-fishing discipline in the film very seriously, as many fans find Maclean’s book to be the sacred text of western fly fishing,” noted AMFF, explaining how legendary flycasters like KC Walsh of Simms, John Bailey from Dan Bailey’s Fly Shop, and Jerry Siem of Sage Rods advised Redford and Markey.
According to AMFF the movie’s success inspired “multiple generations of new fly fishers around the world who would go on to become advocates for cold, clean rivers and a healthy fish habitat,” which ultimately led to the fly-fishing industry seeing astounding growth of 60% growth in 1992 and 1993 as a direct result of the film. I guess everyone wanted to be Brad Pitt!
“Not only did the film help introduce the sport to a new generation of fly fishers, but the timelessly evocative visuals continue to shape the way fly-fishing is perceived by anglers and non-anglers alike to this day,” remarked AMFF Board President Fred Polhemus
In the mid- to late-1990s, dozens of retail fly fishing outfits had sprung up throughout the region, presumably due to A River Runs Through It; sadly, most are now gone. Although I hadn’t yet seen the movie, I was traveling from Sea Bright to Sussex County in northwest New Jersey quite a bit in the late 90s, just about the time that The Fly Hatch opened in Shrewsbury. That’s where I bought my first fly outfit at the tender age of 30, a 5/4-weight St. Croix Pro Graphite matched to a Cortland Vista DS reel.
In hindsight, I probably should’ve taken a couple of lessons too; this was around ‘98, and there were no Facebook experts to help guide me along. Instead I relied on the printed word and first-hand practical experience which entailed roughly 6 hours along a quiet stretch of the Flat Brook in the Walpack Valley, snagging branches and clumsily splashing a nymph into an otherwise peaceful setting. I say “6 hours” as that’s about how long it took to finally fool my first little rainbow not far from the Roy Tract Bridge.
Weeks later, I hooked my first trout on a dry fly that took me into a tangle of shrubs. I waded across the Flat Brook, stumbling through a deep pool and taking water over my waders, eventually handlining the chunky rainbow out of the brush before it bolted down stream. I was able to get line back and successfully slid that fish into the net, thinking then it was one of the more memorable fish of my life. Still is today, even if it wasn’t exactly the tranquility and grace of Brad Pitt “shadow casting” from a rock.
Sony Pictures recently released the movie Bullet Train starring Brad Pitt as an assassin named Ladybug. I just hope audiences don’t respond to Ladybug as they did to Pitt’s portrayal of fly fisherman Paul Maclean; they tell me the paid-assassin game is tough enough as it is!
I could only imagine what Bob the Garbageman could do to surf fishing in America as a character on the big screen!