Al Campbell, Field Editor

June 24th, 2002

After the Movie
By Al Campbell

Growing up in Montana offered me some opportunities that other people never have. Now that I live someplace else, I find myself regretting some of the opportunities I let pass; but I also have memories of some great times in places others can only dream about.

Remember the "Movie"? I'm talking about that movie called "A River Runs Through It." Most fly fishers I know dream about fishing the waters represented in that movie. I understand their desires. I dream about it too, but I dream about going back and fishing them again, not just the first time. Some of my favorite fishing trips were played out on those waters, and I find myself missing those days a lot.

Blackfoot River That movie was about a family who lived near, and fished, the Blackfoot River. I was fortunate enough to fish the Blackfoot and several of its branches quite often in my younger days. There is a certain lure about the Blackfoot that can't be fully described. I'm not sure if it's the scenery or the river itself that draws my heart and mind back to its waters for repeated memories and dreams of days gone by; but there is something about that river that won't release its grip on my heart and mind.

The North Fork of the Blackfoot is a mix of violent water and smooth meadow pools. In the rough water, fish cling to life in pockets behind boulders and anything else big enough to break up the current. Anything eligible to be considered for lunch passes by so fast, the fish must make up their mind in a fraction of a second if they intend to eat at all. Big bright flies are always productive in that type of water. West-slope cutthroat trout are the most common fish, and they are easy fare for anyone who can hit pocket water with a big, high-floating fly. Hiking into the wilderness is the best way to fish the North Fork.

The main river is less violent, but also easier to access. Deep pools and fast riffles are etched into my memory of the river. When I was young, I could fish all day and maybe see one or two other anglers on the river. It isn't that way since the movie, but there are still some nice cutthroats to be caught if you can edge your way through the crowd.

When I close my eyes I can hear the wind blowing through the trees and smell the strong odor of pine and tamarack. I can hear the rumble of fast water on the North Fork and smell the white bear grass plumes that line the river in June. I can hear a bull elk bugle his love song in September. I can see the sapphire pools of the main river and the rings of rising trout searching out August hoppers or July caddis.

When I watched the movie, I knew right away that the filming was done on another river. That scene where they were fishing a stonefly hatch using Bunyan Bugs, was filmed on one of my favorite pools on the Gallatin River south of Bozeman. I spent many afternoons there in the early 70's trying to lure a big rainbow or cutthroat to my fly. Yes, the stoneflies really do grow that big in that river.

Wild raspberries in July and chokecherries in September were a pleasant break from willing and hungry trout. Not as violent as the North Fork, or as mellow as the pools on the main Blackfoot, the Gallatin is a pleasant stream with a character all its own. Fast water, hungry fish, big bugs and mountain air flood my memories.

I know that if I ever get the chance to return to either river, things won't be the same. With the movie came exposure and people who wanted to experience a part of Montana fishing I grew up with. Like most cases of exposure, there is a point eventually passed that overcomes any attempts by the river to recover. I doubt I'd want to share my pool with the hordes that flew to the river after the movie. However, it's nice to dream dreams based on real experiences on real rivers.

Maybe someday I'll get a chance to wander the banks of both rivers and revive some dreams that have haunted my sleep for several decades. If I'm lucky the weather will be foul and the sunbirds will be sucking up suds at a local watering hole, waiting for fair weather. If that's the case, I might have one or two favorite pools to myself for a while. And maybe, just maybe; I'll get a chance to skip back a couple of decades for a moment, and revive a long lost friendship with a couple of rivers I knew when I was young. ~ AC

Previous Al Campell Columns

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