Voices from the River: The movie that changed fly fishing

Director and producer Robert Redford eyes a shot during filming of "A River Runs Through It". Courtesy photo.

By Brett Prettyman

While most people talk about Brad Pitt’s shadow casting and the family drama the troubled soul Paul brought to his clan, I have different memories of “A River Runs Through It.”

Like so many other fly fishers — and unbeknownst to them, future fly fishers, I headed to a theater soon after the movie was released in 1992.

I had done some fly fishing prior to the movie and it is safe to say I was on my way to more, but there is little doubt  “A River Runs Through It” hastened my interest.

I had a chance to relive the past recently when Robert Redford, director and producer of the movie that changed fly fishing forever, held a special 25th anniversary screening at Sundance Resort – the resort he founded and still owns in Utah.

After an introduction to the movie by Redford, we settled in to watch it like I had all those years ago - on a big screen and surrounded by other fly fishers.

Robert Redford on "A River Runs Through It"

Robert Redford talks to the audience before the special 25th anniversary screening of “A River Runs Through It” at Sundance Resort.

The moment I had vividly remembered from the 1992 trip to the theater came when the main character Norman went to wipe off his neck while fishing and found a giant stonefly crawling on his hand. I, and every other angler in the theater, let out a gasp during the scene.

The same “oh my, the fishing is going to be awesome” gasp came from the audience 25 years later.

My second favorite scene in the movie came not long after when Norman presented his brother Paul, the character played by Pitt, with a “Bunyan Bug Stonefly #2” fly pattern. Paul graciously accepted the fly and ventured off to put it to use. A large trout took the fly and then proceeded to head downstream. Rather than lose the fish, Paul followed it downstream and eventually let the current float him along with the fish.

A River Runs Through It (6/8) Movie CLIP - Witnessing Perfection (1992) HD

It didn’t take long for the movie to impact the fly fishing world. Interest in fly fishing immediately picked up and within a year most fly fishing shops and associated businesses reported a 50 percent increase. Trout Unlimited played a consulting role in the movie and is recognized as such in the end credits.

TU and our conservation programs also benefitted from the interest generated by the movie. Numbers are a little rough, but it is estimated that membership at Trout Unlimited essentially doubled in the year after the film was released.

“It was the most important thing to ever happen to the fly fishing culture,” Brian Wimmer told the audience gathered for the special screening.

Wimmer, who serves as the fly-fishing ambassador at Sundance Resort, actually auditioned for a role in “A River Runs Through It”. In addition to overseeing the fishing guides at Sundance, Wimmer also serves as the president of the local Trout Unlimited Chapter – Alpine Anglers Utah County.

"A River Runs Through It" producer and director Robert Redford talks to actor Brad Pitt about a fishing scene. Courtesy photo.

Of course, there are those who complain the movie brought too much attention to fly fishing and the increased interest put too much pressure on fragile rivers.

Regardless of your take on how it impacted fishing, there is little doubt the film resonated with a lot of people and got them to enjoy the outdoors. I’m all for that.

So take some time to relive the first time you watched the movie or watch it for the first time. You won’t be disappointed.

Brett Prettyman is the Intermountain Communications Director for Trout Unlimited. He can be reached at bprettyman@tu.org

 

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