When I was a kid, I was a total fish nerd. I wore a Bassmaster trucker hat to school every day, dug for worms at the bus stop, and made fishing rods out of sticks and dental floss so I could “fish” the playground puddles. Needless to say, this childhood obsession with angling didn’t make me the most popular kid in school, which was why I always loved fishing scenes in movies.
These scenes let me know that somewhere out there, there were people who liked fishing as much as I did. And then, there were the other scenes, those that made me think, “Wow, that’s just wrong.”
Throughout cinematic history, there have been a lot of both. There are films where the directors and writers put in their research and created a scene where the fishing action feels authentic. There are scenes where it feels like someone simply looked up fishing terms in the dictionary and crammed them into their script with an uninterested, “Yeah, that’ll work.”
Whether it’s a movie entirely about fishing or just a random scene, Hollywood almost always goes to the extreme ends of the spectrum—either fantastic or an insult to all fishermankind.
You can’t make a list about great fishing movies without including this 1992 classic. Directed by Robert Redford and filmed on location in Montana, this beautiful movie is about two brothers, Norman and Paul Maclean, who only truly understand one another when they’re fly fishing. It’s probably one of the best and most accurate angling films ever made—shadow casting aside.
The best scene comes towards the end of the film when Norman and Paul take one last trip down to the Blackfoot River. Norman, the traditionally weaker angler of the two brothers, catches a stonefly on his neck, ties on a matching fly pattern, makes a cast, and immediately catches a big-ass trout. The scene captures the essence of those little moments in fly fishing when you know you’ve made the right choice. It’s a feeling that every angler knows well and can’t wait to get back.
Say what you will about the hokey robot shark or about how unrealistic it is to have 25-foot great white stalking humans in the waters of Maine. This 1975 film, directed by Stephen Spielberg, has one truly authentic thing going for it—Captain Quint. This beer-can-crushing, PTSD-riddled shark fisherman, played by Robert Shaw, is as authentic and genuine as a crusty old charter captain. His character is so authentic that Quint is a folk hero for most big predator anglers, and there’s hardly anyone out there who doesn’t quote him at least once when they’re on the water.
Despite his flaws and mannerisms, Quint is a hardcore angler to his core, which is made apparent during the scene when he hooks the shark on a fishing rod. While the two rookies on the boat continue to banter around him, Quint slowly and carefully reaches for the rod and silently straps himself to it, ignoring the rest of the world as he braces himself for what’s about to come. The fight of a lifetime ensues, and Hooper (played by Richard Dreyfuss) quickly learns that this beast isn’t just a marlin.
While not necessarily a fishing movie, this 1981 film about an old curmudgeon trying to reconnect with his estranged daughter actually has some great fishing scenes in it. Norman, the main character played by Henry Fonda, is a bitter and angry man until he finds happiness within himself again when he starts taking his step-grandson on fishing trips.
The best scene is the first time that Norman and Billy go trout fishing. The pair anchor up in a “secret cove,” and they set their rods down to eat lunch when Norman suddenly gets a strike. He hooks the fish, and in the ensuing fight all the grouchiness falls away, and for a moment, Norman seems young again. It’s a scene that’ll make you miss all those grumpy old anglers who first took you out on the water. Speaking of which…
Talk about a true gem. This 1993 comedy starring Walter Matthau and Jack Lemmon is genuinely one of the funniest movies ever made. There are some great ice fishing scenes throughout the film, the best of these being when John Gustafson (played by Lemmon) heads out onto the ice after bantering with the local bait shop owner to forget his troubles for the day.
While the scene doesn’t have any fishing in it per se, what truly makes it feel authentic is the shanty town. Having grown up ice fishing on the Connecticut River, Lake Champlain, and Lake Winnipesaukee, I’ve always had a special fondness for the ramshackle shacks that sprung up on the ice every winter. They’re villages in their own right, full of characters, fishing lore, and camaraderie.
You can tell the production team that set up the ice fishing town in “Grumpy Old Men” shared that affection. It’s all in the details—greetings from fellow anglers, the fishing report John receives from his father, and the woman selling cigarettes and beer out of her truck. Everything about that scene feels authentic and brings me back to those days of knocking on neighbor’s ice fishing shacks to borrow a cup of minnows.
A relatively unknown and severely underrated film, “The River Why” is an excellent 2010 film based on an even more excellent 1983 novel of the same name. It’s a coming-of-age story about a young man named Gus trying to find his way in life while dealing with the constant bickering of his bait-fishing mother and fly-fishing father. He eventually abandons his family and flees to a cabin beside a river to find his own way in the fishing world and consequently find himself.
It’s chock-full of mostly accurate and well-shot angling scenes (including that one scene with Amber Heard), the very best of them is when Gus first arrives at the cabin. He nails a schedule to the wall (14 hours a day for fishing, of course) before running down to the river and hooking a trout. It all rings true for anglers who know the freedom of fishing—the smile on Gus’s face as he fights the fish, the banjo riffs, and a montage of fly-tying scenes. What more do you need?
The fishing scenes in 2011’s “Salmon Fishing in the Yemen” are meant to be a metaphor for faith and hope but, for God’s sake, if you’re going to make a movie about salmon fishing, you’ve got to do a better job. The plot surrounds fisheries expert Dr. Alfred Jones being recruited by a wealthy Yemeni sheikh to help introduce salmon to a river in the desert. The movie does a few things right, firstly by acknowledging the ridiculousness of salmon living in the Arabian desert. Additionally, it does have a couple decent fishy scenes, such as when Jones completely bug-nerds out over a picture of a caddisfly and when he disarms a would-be assassin with an accurate Spey cast.
But when it comes to fishing, the movie just falls flat. The fish being pursued in the movie are Atlantic Salmon and, in both scenes where the sheikh hooks one, he does so on his very first cast. As any Atlantic salmon angler can tell you, hooking one of those fish on your very first cast is akin to winning the lottery. It just doesn’t happen. As someone who has spent countless hours standing in a cold river with sore arms and no fish to show for it, those scenes of instant success were borderline offensive.
I am a huge Lord of the Rings fan. I watch all three movies at least twice a year (yes, the extended versions), have a Green Dragon bumper sticker on my truck, and even fish a custom-built, 10-weight fly rod named Narsil. However, no matter how many times I watch Peter Jackson’s nearly perfect trilogy, I can’t help but get irritated during the movie's only fishing scene.
The scene begins with Smeagol (soon to be known as Gollum) on a fishing trip with his cousin Deagol. The pair thread a couple of worms on their hooks and then cast them off the side of their boat. Deagol hooks what appears to be a Chinook Salmon. I know these fish are powerful fighters, and I know that the River Folk in LOTR are small in stature. But, there is no situation where a freshwater fish is going to pull a person out of a boat. I don’t care if his line is made from woven unicorn hair and his rod is made from the legbone of a cave troll. One of those things is breaking long before that fish could pull Deagol out of the boat. In a world full of elves and dragons, that scene is the most unrealistic part of the entire film.
It’s a national phenomenon, but there’s still a hell of a lot that “Yellowstone” gets wrong, particularly its fishing scenes. Though there have only been a few brief angling scenes throughout the show’s five seasons, all of them have been equally terrible. As the show does its best to reflect what Montana is all about, you’d think they’d do a better job portraying the fishing in a state that has produced some of the best anglers in the country.
Let’s do a quick rundown. In season one, episode one, the three Dutton brothers go down to the river and proceed to catch trout on horseback with fly rods. Beyond the frantic splashing of the horses somehow not scaring the fish away, the actual casting from the actors is absolutely abysmal. Even worse, after the brothers catch a few trout, a fly-fishing guide rows by, admitting to a big, fat skunk. Apparently, the trout in that river only bite when you’re splashing around like a maniac.
Another fishing scene in season two, episode six, shows a reporter sitting in a boat while her girlfriend fishes. Or, at least that’s what she’s supposed to be doing. It looks more like she’s trying to scare off a swarm of bees with a broom handle.
“The Walking Dead” was a hugely popular zombie show that lasted for 11 seasons between 2010 and 2021. Yet for all its popularity, the show has one of the worst fishing scenes in all of cinematic history. In episode four of season one, sisters Andrea and Amy are canoeing around a quarry, trying to catch fish for the group. During the scene, they start discussing their father who taught them both to fish in a conversation:
Andrea: “Didn’t dad teach you to tie nail knots?
Amy: “Why would he do that, he only ever used a fisherman’s knot. One knot.”
Andrea: “No he didn't, he tied at least three.”
Amy: “Clinch knots? No way.”
Does this make any sense to you? Yeah, me neither. Not only are those knots used for completely different things, it also implies that clinch knots and nail knots are the same thing! The scene continues with the two discussing “wet lures,” “dry lures,” and getting the hook “seated.”
The scene had me screaming and throwing things at the TV as if my favorite team was losing the Super Bowl. To top it all off, the sisters show up at camp with a stringer of what appears to be a mix of tropical tilapia, bluegill, and saltwater snapper—all from a freshwater reservoir in Georgia. It’s such a bad scene that any angler watching simply just can’t wait for the zombies to arrive and devour everyone.