About the Honoree

In 1992, Robert Redford brought A River Runs Through It, Norman 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. Filmed on Montana’s Gallatin River, a generation of filmgoers became captivated by the stunning Oscar-winning cinematography of Philippe Rousselot. The fly-fishing industry is reputed to have grown 60 percent in 1993 as a direct result of the film.

Renowned Montana author and previous Heritage Award honoree Tom McGuane originally introduced Redford to Maclean’s seminal work when Redford paid him a visit at his home east of Livingston. Redford returned to the area to film, with the town serving as Missoula in the early twentieth century and the Gallatin standing in for the Blackfoot.

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. Legendary anglers—including KC Walsh of Simms, John Bailey of Dan Bailey’s Fly Shop, and Jerry Siem of Sage Rods—advised Redford and Markey. Colorado fishing guide John Dietsch coordinated the technical team and, along with angling expert Jason Borger, doubled for the leads in several of the fly-fishing sequences. Bozeman’s fisheries biologist and stream builder Joe Urbani safely handled all of the fish seen on camera. Award-winning documentary producer Dennis Aig and outdoor cinematographer Paul Ryan, longtime colleagues of Redford and Markey, were also an invaluable part of the team.
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. The film was definitely an economic and environmental boon, contributing millions to the industry while focusing attention on the restoration of Maclean’s home water, the Big Blackfoot River, which is once again a pristine fishing destination.

A River Runs Through It introduced a wide range of new readers to the works of Norman Maclean and captured the essence of fly fishing in such a way that it is simply referred to as “the movie” in angling circles, although it only contains eleven minutes of fishing footage. Arguably, it also gave us one of the great final lines in film history, humbly borrowed from Maclean: “Under the rocks are the words, and some of the words are theirs. I am haunted by waters.”

Highlights of the Night

The American Museum of Fly Fishing hosted its Heritage Award event honoring Johnny Morris on April 7 at the Wonders of Wildlife National Museum & Aquarium (WOW) in Springfield, Missouri. The event also celebrated the opening of AMFF’s new gallery at WOW.

As guests gathered for a cocktail reception in the space outside the gallery, they were treated to a highlight reel of fly-fishing films included in the exhibition. They also had the opportunity to get up close and personal with a sloth, a snake, and an alligator who made special appearances. AMFF President Fred Polhemus welcomed nearly 100 guests to both recognize Johnny Morris’s accomplishments and share the expertly curated gallery, which tells fly fishing’s greatest stories, including its journey to becoming one of the world’s most fascinating and beloved sports.

Dinner was served in the Great Barrier Reef room. Guests enjoyed a delicious meal prepared by the White River Conference Center set against the backdrop of a dazzling aquarium featuring an impressive array of underwater life. Auctioneer Chris Ward took the stage for a high-spirited live auction, which included a paddle raise to support our new Vermont exhibit Tied Together: The Extraordinary Lives of Joan and Lee Wulff. Captain Robert L. W. McGraw made a pre-event pledge of $10,000, which was matched by Morris, and other generous guests brought the paddle raise total to $39,500.

Former AMFF trustee and event chair Annie Perkins introduced the honoree. It was the combined vision of Perkins’s late husband, Leigh H. Perkins, and Morris that brought the AMFF gallery to WOW.

Perkins and Polhemus then presented Morris with the Heritage Award. Morris shared captivating, heartwarming stories about his family and his love of the sport of fly fishing. The evening concluded with Senior Conservation Director Bob Ziehmer voicing his appreciation for his friendship with Morris and his excitement around the conservation opportunities that will emerge from the partnership with AMFF.

The museum would like to thank our honoree, Johnny Morris, and his extraordinary teams at both WOW and Bass Pro Shops for making us feel so welcome in Springfield, as well as our wonderful event committee: Mark Comora, Gary Grant, Karen Kaplan, Walter Matia, Annie Perkins, Fred Polhemus, Nancy Zakon, and Bob Ziehmer. We are also so grateful to all of our live and silent auction donors: Above All Vermont, Gordon Allen, Bass Pro Shops, Scott Biron, Nicholas Brawer, Henry Caldwell, Cheeky, Mark Comora, Deerfield Rods, Emerald Water Anglers, Fishpond, James Heckman, Hemingway Inshore, Hildene, Hollenbeck Club, Kimpton Taconic, Woods King IV, Carmine Lisella, Walter Matia, Mulligans, Al Quattrocchi, Annie Perkins, Harry Peterson, Fred Polhemus, Steve Ramirez, Scientific Anglers, Rich Strolis, Taf Schaefer Design, Tail Magazine, Three Forks Ranch, Tin Boat Productions, Trout Unlimited, the Wild Wander, James Utaski, George Van Hook, April Vokey, and Nancy and Alan Zakon.

The Heritage Award fly, the Heavy in Light.922.GFP, created by Val Kropiwnicki.

“In the pages of Maclean’s book, and in scenes of the film adaptation, we find that nature, religion, beauty and the complexities of being human can all exist side by side while one is standing in a river, and it was in the Blackfoot River that I found reasons to tie this fly. I tied the body of this fly to mimic the river itself. Starting at the tail the green and grey represent the flora and rocks that line the river bank. Moving forward the blue green and light blue floss and tinsel hark the current and flow of water. Throughout this mid section of the fly silver tinsel and white feathers and floss flit throughout to hark the bubble and foam that forms on the water’s surface. Within the collar an explosion of yellow green and green are meant to be a visual metaphor for revitalization the Blackfoot is currently experiencing. Below the body stonefly nymphs tied on 20ga gold filled wire swim towards the bend of the hook. Crawling up the bend are 2 golden stone nymphs with wings pads cut from pages out of my copy of A River Runs Through It. In the upper half of the fly American Stoneflies and October Caddis take flight. These flies too are tied on gold filled wires with wings and bodies fabricated from actual pages from the book. Finally, at the head of the fly, gold tinsel(life) over black thread(death) spirals between the salmon fly colored wire gut (the connection point between fisherman and fly) and the fly itself (the Blackfoot river).”

Val Kropiwnicki