col And a shiver runs through it

I date my interest in trout fishing to the day I first saw the movie "A River Runs Through It." I'm sure I'm in good company; I challenge any red-blooded American male to watch that film and not be instantly enamored with the sport.

And it's not because the film makes fly-fishing look like so much fun. Actually, it makes it look rather difficult.

No, what hooked me on trout fishing was that Brad Pitt looked so cool. How could any man who's ever held a fishing pole not want to look like Pitt, standing in the middle of a clear, rushing Montana river, making a fly rod and line dance amid the sunlight and rising mist? It's like the river was there just as a backdrop for him.

To put it in the words of the character who played Pitt's brother, "He was perfect."

Unfortunately, there were a few obstacles in my way as I sought to re-create the movie's magic.


First, and most obvious, was that the resemblance between Pitt and myself wasn't exactly striking. His hair, or so I've heard, is spectacular; mine, as anyone can see, isn't. He's a rather strong-looking fellow; I only recently outgrew my childhood nickname of "bean-pole," and the weight I'm adding isn't exactly finding a home in my biceps and shoulders.

But, I reasoned, by adding a hat, waders, vest and fly rod, my appearance would improve considerably.

Necessity is the mother of invention

That was the second problem. I didn't have any of those things, and I quickly discovered that stores didn't exactly give them away. Being a first-year teacher at a private school that wasn't exactly rolling in cash, I had to get creative.

I dug up a vest that I'd purchased several years earlier at a close-out sale. It cost a dollar, and I think it might have been made with fishing in mind, but I'm not sure, because it was a light shade of red (OK, it was pink). I dyed it green and it didn't look too bad if the onlooker didn't get within 10 feet of me.

Because a real trout angler's hat, the kind Brad Pitt used as a fly repository, was a bit out of my price range, I opted for a faded Twins hat. I buried the points of some hooks in the bill, and they sometimes stayed there for up to half an hour without falling off, so I deemed the experiment a success. The fact that I repeatedly snagged my fingers when I adjusted the cap seemed a small price to pay for the right look.

A fly rod (and the lessons to learn how to use it) were out of the question, so I rigged my ultra-lite crappie rig with 2-pound test line. The drag didn't work very well, and I had to open and close the bail by hand, but I thought it would serve my purposes well enough.

New waders were out of the question; however, if Brad Pitt could submerge himself completely in the Blackfoot River while battling a monster trout, I figured I could tolerate a few hours in the water with bare legs. I opted for old tennis shoes and shorts.


All I needed now was a river, but I soon discovered that Missouri was short on naturally occuring trout water. Instead, the state contains four "put-and-take" trout parks. Purists would call them "cash-and-carry" parks, because you paid a daily fee for the right to fish in water that was infested with trout that 12 hours earlier had been swimming happily in the on-site hatchery.

So it was that I found myself in Bennett Springs, Mo., standing hip-deep in water so cold that, fortunately, I lost all feeling in my feet and legs. As long as I didn't attempt to move, I was fine.

And there was no need to move. I could see dozens of trout swimming around me, but it was obvious that, having enjoyed hatchery food for their entire lives, they weren't interested in the brown blob of glue, thread, brass and hair I was dunking in front of them. I didn't even attempt to cast in true Brad Pitt fashion, and there was no need to do so; the stream was only 20 feet across.

Victory at last (sort of)

Finally, after two hours of frustration, I chose one fish and decided I'd simply annoy it into a strike. I twitched a maribou jig (my uncontrollable shivering made this easy) in front of the trout's nose for 10 minutes and finally was rewarded. I didn't even have to reel it in; it was right next to my numb foot when it hit.

As I lifted the rod tip and pulled 12 inches of flopping, squirming rainbow trout into the air, I waited for the sun to break through the overcast sky, but nothing happened. No music played. It wasn't exactly a Hollywood moment, and strangely, none of the 20 anglers within view paused to admire the scene.

Which was good. I'd forgotten to use my dip net, the one piece of authentic trout fishing equipment I possessed, and with a final flop, the fish broke the line and was gone.

I guess they cut that scene from the movie.


Atherton is a Post-Bulletin copy editor and an avid outdoorsman. To comment, send him an e-mail at or call him at 285-7709

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