“In our family, there was no clear line between religion and fly fishing.”
Those words, written by Norman Maclean and published in 1976, introduced a generation of anglers to the lives, loves, and losses of a Montana family. In October of 1992, Robert Redford’s silver screen adaptation introduced a whole new generation to Norman’s Montana, and to the desire to understand what happened and why. For me, a 21-year-old kid fresh off an undergraduate degree in film study, the production represented both a well-timed professional opportunity and deeply personal journey that took me back to my roots as a fly fisher.
I caught my first trout by my own hand not far from Storm Castle Peak in Montana’s Gallatin River drainage. A lucky cast, followed by a shout from my father, and I was soon clutching a 13-inch ‘bow. That was 1972. Nearly 20 years later, I found myself back in essentially the same spot as a casting double in Robert Redford’s film adaptation of A River Runs Through It.
Unlike my boyhood uniform of snap-button shirt, jeans, and cowboy boots, I was dressed in period wardrobe. I did, however, have a fly rod in-hand, although it was painted as faux-bamboo and came with an aerodynamically challenged Bunyan Bug lashed to a rope of a tippet. The script called for some shadowy trickery of trout, even though there were no fish awaiting an offering. The dearth of rainbows didn’t really matter. The scene was more about a brother’s momentary ascendance into grace via art.
In the finished film—which appeared at the Sundance Film Festival 25 years ago—only a few seconds pass, but it’s enough to lift the character of Paul into his own realm. For me, pivoting there on a rock, in that river, under a big sky, it felt as if my angling journey had come full circle. The time, place, and story had left an indelible, and deeply personal impression on me. I would never see fly fishing or the Gallatin in the same way again. Fly fishing as an industry (or hobby) would not be the same again, either, nor as many have argued, would Montana itself. Much has changed in our sport and our industry since the premier showing of that movie. It is my own hope that “The Movie” ultimately raised a larger, more enduring awareness of our angling resources, and created a deeper connection for those who share the passion.
Jason Borger is a fly-fishing author and illustrator. His latest book is Single-Handed Fly Casting. You can find his page on facebook @JBorgerFlyFish