Learning the basics where ‘A River Runs Through It’ was filmed.
BIG SKY, Montana — There had to be a little magic in play that rainy September day on the Gallatin River when I first felt the fly line arc behind me just right and then sail back as if in slow motion. Sailing, sailing — out over the river to deposit my fly precisely at the top of a riffle where we’d seen a trout jump moments earlier.
It was my first time fly-fishing, and I was learning from a pro named Rick Fancher, with Gallatin River Guides.
I’m no athlete. I’ve never hit a baseball out of the park or thrown a winning touchdown. But while those things might bring crowds to their feet, this felt like a little bit of poetry being read quietly in the woods.
I had totally expected to be a klutz at this.
Once I caught on to the arm motion, the softly buzzing “whoo, whoo” of the rhythmically swirling fly line was a soothing complement to the constant “krishhh” of the wild river that swirled around my wader-clad ankles. By day’s end, the ending line of “A River Runs Through It,” Norman Maclean’s autobiographical paean to Montana and fly-fishing, started to take on new meaning to me.
“I am haunted by waters,” Maclean wrote.
There’s just some quiet bliss out there.
Where the film was made
That story was set on the Blackfoot River, but this stretch of the Gallatin is where director Robert Redford filmed Brad Pitt and Tom Skerritt in the 1992 movie made from Maclean’s novella, which he wrote at age 70.
“This is a nice river, it’s all freestone — meaning there are no dams, everything is natural in it, nothing is stocked,” said Fancher, a retired high-school football coach, as we rode in his big black pickup along winding, two-lane Highway 191.
The road snakes prettily along the shores of the Gallatin between rocky and forested ridges south of Bozeman, Montana, to Yellowstone National Park.
The river is home to rainbow, brown and cutthroat trout, as well as Montana whitefish and Arctic grayling.
Storm Castle Peak — a forested mountain that tops out in a gray pyramid of stone — loomed to the north as we turned off 191 and crossed an old bridge to the first of three fishing spots we’d try that day.
This was a stretch of river where the movie was filmed. (If you look hard enough you can find the rock Brad Pitt fished from.) “I have the movie poster on the wall of my cabin,” Fancher confided as he popped open the canopy of his pickup and pulled rods from a rack.
All gear was provided on this outing, so I could fly into Bozeman, rent a car and show up…