A River Runs 15 Years (with Suckers!)

In 2007, I wrote a brief piece looking back at the production of A River Runs Through It (watch It on-line). It was the 15th anniversary of the film’s release and I guess I was feeling a bit nostalgic.

Anyway, the Trout Underground linked to it, and a bunch of traffic flowed to my (then) fledgling blog. When I completely re-built the blog in late 2008, the post vanished, leaving the link at the Underground as a dead-end. So I figured that I would re-post the post, with a bit of minor modification.

If you’ve had enough of River, feel free to skip this little remembrance and wait for something more relevant. If you’d like a bit of a story about jail-breaking suckers, read on…

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It’s hard to believe that so many Montana summers have passed since A River Runs Through It was released. The premiere in Bozeman was fairly low-key as far as premieres go, but the Ellen on Main Street had the red carpet out. Who knew on that night in 1992 the changes that “the movie” would bring to fly fishing?

The film went on to do reasonably well commercially (in terms of cost-to-return ratio), and it garnered a Best Cinematography Oscar for Philippe Rousselot, as well a Best Director Golden Globe Nomination for Robert Redford. In addition, Dennis Aig’s “making of” video took top honors (a Gold Hugo) at the Chicago International Film Festival.


Waiting (and waiting) on the set (i.e. the Gallatin River). Bunyan Bug anyone?

The production of River certainly supplied fodder for more than a few stories, both of film and fishing. I have my own collection of tales from the set, some of which are a good deal less glamorous than others. One of my more “interesting” moments came when I was transporting a styrofoam cooler full of suckers in the back of a rented sedan.

At one point in the journey, the suckers managed to get the lid off and then leaped callously into the backseat. I can only imagine what people thought when they saw me pulled over on the side of I-90, doors flung open, scrambling madly as I attempted to wrangle, de-fuzz, and re-cooler my charges. I made it and so did the fish, but I don’t think the rental company was amused.


A typical River Runs moment — just add a cooler full of suckers.

I still run into a few of my industry contacts from the film now and then, as well as my friends from the “fish crew,” such as John Bailey (who owns Dan Bailey’s), John Dietsch (now running Hook.tv), and Jerry Siem (“Dream Team” rod designer at Sage). I still watch the movie, too, and when I do I think back to those brilliant summer days, and how a river ran through the lives of everyone who worked so hard to tell Norman’s poignant story.


  1. Dan Knox says:

    I have added a few thoughts of my own at my Web Log. No doubt this is one of my favorite films. Thanks, Jason, for your behind-the-scenes commentary.


  2. Bob Brockett says:

    Nothing wrong with looking back now and again, JB. (Just so we can still see what’s coming an instant before it gets here!) You should be proud having been a part of what many, myself included, consider a modern cinematic classic. I realize the disdain many fly fishers still have for A River Runs, always grumbling on about the ensuing hordes of Orvis clad numbskulls clogging up “their” rivers, fashion fadders who couldn’t find their ferrules with both hands at high noon and frankly didn’t give a damn. Those people were clearly not in it for the long haul and, so far as I can tell, are long gone. What we’re left with is the percentage who, because of Norman McClean and because of Redford’s movie, did stick with it and became better people for it. Better naturalists. Better conservationists. Better fishermen. Even better parents. While I began fly fishing before “the movie,” it was an important influence on my children. It helped them to understand me better and, more gradually, me them. Anything that helps with that sure can’t be all bad.

  3. JB says:

    Bob—Thanks for taking the time to comment. The filming of River was a truly special time for me. I cannot help but to think back to those days, and remember the cast and crew, the still-gorgeous locations, and Norman’s lovingly crafted story of what happened (and why).

    I still find it surprising (or perhaps not so surprising, really) that the film continues to influence so many people. I suppose the relationships in the film reflect so many lives and families, that it’s hard for the film not to continue to wield influence. And for those who may not connect with the story in that way, at least there is Montana scenery (and one serious rainbow trout) to keep things flowing along!

    There may have a rush on fly fishing post-movie, but as you say, those who found a passion likely stayed, and those who didn’t likely moved on to another endeavor. It is those who stayed who hopefully have found more than just fish…

    I cannot, I think, tire of the last few dozen words in Norman’s book, nor have I heard a reading of them done as affectingly as what Redford did in the film. I suppose that the memories of those days under the Montana big sky color my perception of Norman’s words, but as someone whose life has been run through by rivers, I doubt they will ever lose their potency.

  4. Bill Jones says:

    I can honestly say that I’m pretty sure I saw the flick after having sampled the sport (sport?), by a few days perhaps, but what rapidly developed into passion most certainly was accellerated by that story. Thank you for that fine casting.
    I believe that the scenes of the actual actors making the casts prove that “Norman” did have more of the nack.
    I’ll be tying some Bunyan Bug No.2’s tomorrow with cork .
    Bill Jones
    Lolo, MT

    • JB says:

      Bill–Thanks for the kind comment, and I hope that the Bunyan Bugs do the trick. They seem to work for just about anything that swims (and looks up). Must tie some Tarpon Bugs, I’ve got the right spot to try them ….

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