“The Way of a Trout”


As a kid, I had many fly-fishing opportunities afforded to me as a result of my father’s work in the industry. One of those opportunities was to travel with him across the country as he taught in the long-ago-disbanded Fenwick Fly Fishing Schools. Those schools were a strong part of my formative fly-fishing education, as well as later helping me to mature as an instructor.

There were a lot of things that I loved about those schools, but one of my favorite times was when my father would set up his 16mm projector and thread the single reel that contained the film, The Way of a Trout. Sitting on the floor—front-and-center—I watched that film over and over, never tiring of it. I don’t know how many times its flickering images and occasionally warbling sound saturated my senses, but it always seemed fresh.

Released in 1969, The Way of a Trout follows the imagined back-story of a six-pound rainbow trout and her meeting with a conservation-minded protagonist/angler. The well-crafted images, the orchestral soundtrack, and the carefully paced voice-over lend a sense of wonder, benevolent authority, and nostalgia to the film. Sort of like watching a cold-war-era educational reel, but with better production, better music, and better subject matter.

The Way of a Trout takes great pains to present both detailed and spectacular underwater footage (even if some scenes feel a bit on the “tank shot” side, they still cut in surprisingly well with the natural, above-water shots). The water scorpion sequence alone is worth the time to watch the film (as a kid, it spooked me a bit when I saw it the first time, and the second time, and the third…). My favorite shot? Perhaps the slow stalk of a green heron, with its yellow feet easing along an underwater log, accompanied by a well-tuned bit of musical storytelling. Of course, I am also partial to the humorous (and certainly familiar) moment later in the film when the angler takes what one might call a “little misstep.” And then there is the well-choreographed and edited “big fight” near the end. And then…well, you can tell that I am a bit of a fan.

The film was shot in northern Wisconsin (my home state), on a stream that flows through property that was part of the old Seven Pines Lodge. Throughout my youth, I spent a week or so every year at Seven Pines, which happened to be one of the locations that my father had arranged for the Fenwick schools. So for me, The Way of a Trout was not only a fantastic, engaging story, it was also a very real story, and one that I tried for years to repeat myself. I never got a six-pound hen rainbow, but I spent many gorgeous Wisconsin spring mornings and warm, lazy afternoons plying the lodge’s waters.

Well, that’s all a long way of getting around to the real point, which is that the film is now viewable on-line. VHS copies may still be floating around out there for purchase, but a Flash-based version can be watched at the Little River TU Chapter’s Web site. The video quality is admittedly at the YouTube level, and the colors suffered in the conversion, but the story is still as strong as ever. Thanks to the chapter for making the film available to the “2.0” generation of viewers.

If you have never seen The Way of a Trout, I encourage you to take the time to watch it. It is not only a engaging conservation and cycle-of-life story, but it possesses a degree of film-craft that takes it to another level.

For me, The Way of a Trout will never get old, and every time that I see it, or simply think of its main musical theme, I am transported back to a time of wonder and awe and hope that permeated my angling youth. I hope that you enjoy the viewing…


  1. Satoshi Yamamoto says:

    A beautiful reel! How did they find and shoot the spawning scene? I remember that you mentioned “being a heron” somewhere in your old tactics article. Fisherman’s fall must have been quite a stunt! I did that in Barn’s Pool #2, wasn’t too happy. Actually after this scene the clip got stuck. I will try it later. Either way it’s worth watching again and again.
    For the same reason, I watch the Equilibrium DVD again and again. Besides its beautiful shots, comments from experts always make me aware of not only fishing but also wildlife, conservation, and more.
    Thank you again for the DVD!

  2. JB says:

    Satoshi—I think one of the great things about the film is that sense of “how did they get that?” Even if we are talking about a well-contained shooting “stage,” the shots really speak of superb film-craft.

    I have only “bitten it” wading a few times in recent years, but I did it twice in almost the same spot on the Madison above Raynold’s (we certainly share an affinity for that river). Something about the combo of rock size, looseness, slickness and the hour (late). Of course, I took many more swims as a kid in my old-school Seal Dris, including a few in the same creek where Way of a Trout was filmed.

    Hope FF&W readers get the video to run all the way through. I had no problems on my end.

  3. Dan Knox says:

    I am sure you know that there is also a book entitled “The Way of a Trout” by R. P. Van Gytenbeek (J.B. Lippincott Company, 1st published 1972 in connection with Trout Unlimited). I had purchased the book back in the 70s and had always enjoyed the still frames from the video that were used in the book. I had hoped to someday see the video as well. Well, just a couple of years ago, more than three decades later, I was able to find a VHS copy, which I have enjoyed watching several times. Even so, I am glad that the piece is being preserved, and I am glad for the heads-up in your blog as to where to find it. Hopefully, many others will have the opportunity to see it.
    The book by the way is an excellent read. Part I is devoted to “The Way of a Trout.” Part II is entitled “The Battle,” a valuable trout and fisheries conservation handbook. I would commend it to your readers. Van Gytenbeek is a former Executive Director of TU.

  4. W.G. says:

    Jason- This film was used for school group presentations in Chicago area by Forest Preserve staff naturalists. This was one of the newer ones to show so it ran pretty smooth compared to some we patched many times. I showed this back between 1973 to 83 and then moved fairly near to the area where the film was made. I actually passed over the stream earlier today and looked up the name to see what I could find. I liked your story! I still work in conservation and natural resources – primarily on stream related issues but about to retire after a lifetime of such work. I think the thousands of children who viewed this film were in part instilled with some good values at a early age – some actually came back years later and said so. natural environment -powerful stuff.

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