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 the thirtieth anniversary of the film A River Runs Through It on November 3 at the Racquet and Tennis Club in New York City.

In a return to New York after a three-year hiatus, guests reunited to celebrate the film that is known in fly-fishing circles simply as “the movie.” During a buzzing cocktail reception, attendees were encouraged to guess the number of flies in a vintage Hills Bros. coffee can. After sitting down to dinner, a ten-minute retrospective video treated guests to behind-the-scenes footage of the extraordinary care and attention to detail that went into the legendary fly-fishing scenes.

Following a lively auction with Nick Dawes, the evening culminated in a panel discussion led by Montana State University professor Dennis Aig, who was on set making a documentary of the film in 1992. Aig was joined by Gary Borger, consultant; John Dietsch, fly fishing production coordinator; Paul Ryan, second unit director; and Joe Urbani, fisheries biologist. Producer Patrick Markey was unable to attend but was there in spirit as the group reminisced on the joys and challenges of bringing Norman Maclean’s novella to life. Clips of the panel discussion will be available on the museum’s Instagram account, @flyfishmuseum.

AMFF would like to thank our Leadership Circle donors and all those who attended the event and supported the auctions. We are grateful to live-auction donors C.D. Clarke, Nick Dawes, the Delphi Club, Bill Hespe, Lori-Ann Murphy, Robert Rubin, Trout Unlimited, and Winston Rod Company; and silent-auction donors 320 Ranch, Berkshire Rivers Fly Fishing, Mark Comora, Costa, John Dietsch, Paul Dixon, Far Bank, Rachel Finn, Fishpond, Ted LeBow, Richard Landerman, Carmine Lisella, John N. MacLean, Walter Matia, Mud Dog Saltwater Flies, REC Components, Roger Riccardi, Richard Rose, Paul Rossman, Jim Schottenham, Stonecutter Spirit, Sunny Brook Nets, Dave and Emily Whitlock, and Jeff Yates.

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