Thursday, October 06, 2005

Legendary Fishing Movie and Legendary Fish

Two stories today, one about the passing of the man who ensured the greatest movie about fishing and rivers, in my humble opinion, was true to its roots, and the other about our local festival celebrating the legendary salmon.

Legendary angler who taught 'Rivers Runs Through It' actors dies
By Vince Devlin of the Missoulian

It was, his son-in-law says, a ridiculous-looking thing. George Croonenberghs called it the Santa Claus fly, and he swore by it.

It had a bright red body wrapped in golden tinsel, with polar bear hair for wings, and it wound perfectly around Croonenberghs' preferred fly-fishing technique.

"When he fished, he liked to put the fly between the sun and the fish so it was more radiant," says Karlheinz Eisinger, who is married to Croonenberghs' only child, Sandra. "He liked to cast into the sun so the fly would light up. It seemed to excite the fish." Croonenberghs, who died last week in his native Missoula at the age of 87, was best known for his work as the fishing and period adviser on Robert Redford's 1992 film, "A River Runs Through It."

This is the man who taught Brad Pitt how to fish.

Croonenberghs wasn't just hired for the movie - based on Norman Maclean's famed novella about his family, fly fishing and the murder of his brother Paul - but because he knew fly fishing inside and out.

No, Croonenberghs knew the Macleans inside and out, too. It was the Rev. John Maclean himself who taught Croonenberghs to tie flies at the young age of 6, and the two families built two of the first cabins on Seeley Lake back in the 1920s, sharing the same beach, ice house and water tower.

"He tied for Paul and Norman, and if they didn't like the flies, they'd give him the old one-two-three off the dock," Sandra says. "He learned the hard way early."

Norman Maclean, mostly ambivalent about whether "River" was ever made into a movie, was adamant that, if it was, it be accurate.

Croonenberghs, a retired railroad engineer, was the key to helping Redford keep his promise that it would be. Croonenberghs didn't only tie the same flies for the movie the Macleans had once used in real life.

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And the story of the legendary fish, whose continued health and presence in our river is so vital to our mission, is about the annual Salmon Festival.

At salmon festival, all hail the king
Bee Staff Thursday October 6 2005

With all due respect to other fish, you have to like the wild salmon's style.

Locally, the species found in the American and Sacramento rivers is the chinook (a.k.a. king) salmon. Big and powerful, the king has been known to reach 50 pounds in California - the size of a small child. Catching even a 10-to 30-pounder is a seasonal thrill for anglers; observing the salmon's upstream tenacity and surging movements is just as satisfying for others.

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