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A River Runs Through It

March 10, 2017

My fellow fly fishermen may enjoy this. Some of the rest of you might enjoy it as well.

Many people have seen the 1992 film A River Runs Through It starring Brad Pitt. It was an excellent movie based closely on the story of the same title by Norman Maclean. Robert Redford did a great job adapting the book to the big screen. In the book, there are many pages that deal with the selection of appropriate flies, reading water and other subjects that the general public has little to no interest in reading about. Redford reduced these passages and re-wrote the timeline of the book to make it appealing to the public at large. In the book Norman is already married. In the film, he is courting his future wife. True, if you are a fly fisherman, you enjoyed both treatments.

While there are many great moments in the film, some of Maclean’s marvelous writing did not find its way to the screen. One such example is the scene where Norman has to tell his parents that his brother Paul was beaten to death and left in an alley. In the movie, the mother just staggers upstairs upon hearing the news. However, in the book a larger picture was painted with meticulous strokes: “My mother turned and went to her bedroom where, in a house full of men and rods and rifles, she had faced most of her great problems alone. She was never to ask me a question about the man she loved most and understood least.”

I have a copy of the book. It is the same edition that I gave to my father in 1995 with the simple inscription: To my father – who taught me all of life’s tight lines – Love, Allen. It is a cherished piece of our family tradition of fly fishing as well as a personal reminder to always be the best I can be and attempt to love those around me, even if they are elusive. Having seen the movie and read the book many, many times I can honestly say that I love both equally for their superb portrayal of a fly fisherman’s approach to life.

To many of us, fly fishing is not merely a sport or a pastime. It is a philosophy of living that binds us to nature in our busy daily lives and affords us a clear vantage point to view the world around us with extreme clarity. When you have waded hundreds of streams in the search for trout, you learn to read people and the world around you much in the same way you read a river’s currents. What is underneath the surface often becomes immediately clear, ultimately leading to a better understanding of our surroundings and how to deal with them. This is not to say that fly fishing is actually a religion, although some including me would argue that it is indeed. Rather, as Maclean’s book states: There is “no clear line between religion and fly fishing.” Standing alone in a stream in the early morning mist, connected with the world’s natural rhythms, is in many ways a greater communion with God than sitting in a pine pew and having the world interpreted for you.

The book and the film partly inspired my own book, The Blackest of Canyons. The themes are different but in the end both books deal with fly fishing as a backdrop to larger questions in life. Maclean’s book largely deals with loving people in one’s life who can’t be fully understood. My book deals with how father and son trade places as life moves forward and the bonds that allow that to happen.

For fly fishermen, a river does run through all of our lives, be it a spiritual stream or one of the many rivers we have fished. In the end we are all haunted by waters….

Photo: Author on the North Fork of the Willamette River, Oregon in 1994 (Photo by Rachel Rizzi).


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  1. Reblogged this on allenrizzi and commented:

    In anticipation of this year’s fishing season, I am reblogging this post from March 7, 2017. Tight Lines!


  2. Lovely writing. I think I’m going to watch the movie. I’ve heard about it, but never jot to see it.
    Thank you

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Sono molto ignorante non conosco il libro né tantomeno il film deke dalle tue descrizioni sono molto interessanti.
    Cercherò sul web ormai si trova quasi tutto per fortuna!!!

    shera 😊

    Liked by 1 person

    • Nei primi dieci minuti del film c’è una foto di mio nonno. Robert Redford ha realizzato il film e preso in prestito la foto da un museo nel Montana.


  4. Gosh this was a good post. The movie made me ask my dad (a fly fisherman since he was 8 years old) to teach me to fly fish back when I was in college. The book helped to make me a lover of language. I even wrote a paper and a blog post on Maclean’s book. You are also right that while fly fishing is not necessarily a religion, I feel like I see proof of God when I’m out fishing–the landscape, the animals surrounding me, the humility I feel when I start to get cocky only to get skunked, the beauty of a brown trout, etc. A river feels renewing, and I’m so happy to read someone who feels very similarly to how I do.

    Liked by 1 person

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