Remember in “A River Runs Through It” when Brad Pitt hooks that big trout? It´s a long time since I saw the film but I do remember this sequence vividly. Pitt plays the character Paul MacLean and, in the scene in question, he manages to hook this leviathan trout in a river in Montana. In the ensuing battle he ends up being washed down river attached to the mighty fish. At times you can only see his hat and his elevated rod connecting him to the rainbow as he bobs and weaves among boulders as the rapids carry him downstream.

The behind the scenes stories from this film are very interesting. It probably comes as no surprise that the casting was done by fly fishing professionals and that it was somebody else flailing around in the drink. I didn´t know until recently that the “fish” used in this film sequence was actually a half gallon milk jug and the trout that were featured in other scenes were pond-raised stockies kept in an aerated tank on site. No hooks were used. Instead a line was tied to the the lower jaw of each fish under the watchful eye of representatives of the Montana Humane Society!

A River Runs Through It was the film that really launched Brad Pitt. It made him a star. To those of us sitting in audience he came across as a hero, albeit a flawed one, like some of the heroes of Greek mythology. He is youthful, dynamic and handsome. Women everywhere had the hots for him and just one of those big Brad Pitt smiles would be enough to get their knees banging together like castanets.

And so when boy wonder finally he hooks this great fish we begin to ask ourselves “how much good fortune is one person allowed to have?” This guy is a star, he is good looking, he is famous and now he even gets the fish! So when he is subsequently washed down the rapids I guess a lot of regular blokes like me were secretly hoping he might drown! But, of course there´s no way that they´re going to let happen. Instead our hero mines the scene for all its dramatic potential and emerges triumphant, shivering, elated and, of course, with the great fish in his hands.

What a bastard!

Why all this talk about Brad Pitt? The truth is that I had a couple of occasions on Sunday when I was forced to leap into the river to avoid losing fish that were running hard downstream. Between you and me, I was not thrown around like a cork in white water, and so my experiences do seem pretty feeble compared with what can be concocted by Hollywood. But the experience of following the fish and the fear that I might lose them did bring to mind the scene from the film and my own experience was like a scaled down reenactment. Maybe somebody will make a film one day about Sunday´s fishing adventure? If they do, I want all the royalties and they have to use my preferred title: A River Almost Runs Through It.

In fact the fishing was particularly good on Sunday and I caught six or seven barbel before deciding that I should leave them alone. There are rare days when the fish are feeding seriously and if the nymph was put in front of an undisturbed fish it would be taken with confidence. In the end I decided simply to observe the fish as they went about their business.

Two of the fish I hooked were particularly memorable. Both were hooked in the same pool and within a few feet of each other and each charged off downstream at the speed of light through a snaggy, constricted run. I was forced me to jump into the river to chase after them, à la Pitt. The first of these fish slipped the hook just as I was easing it out of the river. I nearly touched it, but not quite. The second one I did manage to land. It was a handsome fish and was, I think, the biggest that I caught that day.

This is a very exciting spot to fish. The fish could be seen from an elevated pathway above and there was just enough colour in the water to allow me to show the nymph to them without giving myself away. The nymph was not cast but gently swung so it landed a couple of feet upstream of the fish. Then I let it drop and gave enough time for the fish to accept it. The fish were pretty indistinct and so I had to go with instinct when deciding when to tighten up and thankfully in each case I managed to hook the fish.

And that´s when all the drama began! The fish turned tail and swam strongly downstream making the line peel out from the reel. Within a couple of seconds the line was brushing off some canes and I had to get the rod high to get around them. The river here narrows to a run which is only about a rod length across in places and there are many trailing branches. The water which is free of obstacles and obstructions is bang in the middle and my two fish were obliging enough as to remain there for much of the time. As for me, I had to leg it after them and then slip into the river and follow them downstream.

When these barbel go it really is something. They will break you if you try to stop them and for the first run, and often subsequent runs, it really is just a case of hanging on. I couldn´t see the bottom in most places as I floundered downstream after my fleeing barbel but the river was nowhere deeper than the top of my legs. Eventually I managed to get the fish on a short line and ease them into a seam where I could land them. At this point, as I mentioned earlier, the first of them said “hasta la vista, baby!” and spat my nymph back at me but the second one I managed to unhook and take a couple of snaps.

Okay, I realise that this might all sound pretty lame compared to what Pitt´s character manages to pull off in the movie. However, I not beyond embellishing things a little. If I am to recount such tales again, particularly if I have a bit of booze inside me, the river will have become a torrent at least as big as Montana´s Big Blackfoot River and, to keep everything in proportion, my barbel will have grown too. When I tuck into that bottle of Jameson that Brian Jones gave me recently, that barbel will have become so large that it will make Pitt´s trout seem, comparatively speaking, like something he might have caught in a minnow trap.


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Back he goes.

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After releasing the fish I looked back upstream. From here you cannot see where the fish was hooked. The vegetation encroaches from both sides- Luckily the fish did not go for the snags.

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You can make out a path on the far side. Both fish were hooked just on the left of the bush in the centre of the picture while I was standing on the footpath. The nymph was swung a little upstream and allowed to fall to where the fish were. Sometimes this works and sometimes it doesn´t! I think I was lucky that the water was cloudy enough to conceal me. Once hooked the fish rocket off downstream and you have to go chasing after them!

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The fish were feeding so well that after having caught a few I decided to just observe them. Here are a couple of fish feeding in the shallows.

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This is a little clearer. The water was somewhat coloured so this is about as good a photo as I could manage. The fish were sifting the bottom sediments and sorting out the edible bits. Clouds of discoloured water are released from the gills.