Roundtable: The Best Fishing Movies of All Time

Roundtable. The rules are simple: each participant gets five choices for the best fishing movie of all time. They also get a vote for the worst fishing movie of all time, which we’ll publish next week. This week’s contestants are FTR’s Ken Duke and Joe Sills along with fishing industry maven John Mazurkiewicz.

“Mazurk” spends his days benefiting the American Sportfishing Association, the Bass Fishing Hall of Fame and Shimano North America, but he put a suspicious amount of research into this week’s roundtable, leading us to believe that he simply watches fishing movies in the office.

No. 5

Ken: “Man’s Favorite Sport?” (1964) — The Rock Hudson/Paula Prentiss romantic comedy didn’t win any awards (and it shouldn’t have), but it’s an amusing look at the retail tackle business and how one man (Roger Willoughby) is living a lie. He’s considered a leading expert on fishing and has written several books on the subject, but has never actually caught a fish. Fifty years later, it’s interesting and ironic that Hudson was selected to play the part of a man living dual lives.

Joe: “The Incredible Mr. Limpet” (1964) — Was 1964 the definitive year of fishing movies? Probably so. Don Knotts stars as a man who tries to join the Navy. For some reason, Knotts cannot enlist, but as a consolation prize he is turned into a cartoon tuna or something. Conveniently, Knotts is able to use his new life as a two dimensional figure to hunt down Nazi U-Boats for America. He becomes the Allies’ secret weapon, because audiences needed a primer for 1966’s “The Ghost and Mr. Chicken.” This movie gets on my list because it’s likely the only one where fish are not used as bait, but rather as a secret government war weapon.

Mazurk: “The Perfect Storm” (2000) – This movie just smells fishy! Gloucester, Mass. being the heart of Northeast commercial fishing. The Grand Banks. George Clooney’s profanity-laced speech telling Mark Wahlberg he knows how to catch fish. Plus, I’m a weather junkie, so the combination of the hurricane, a northern cold front and a Gulf warm front all colliding added to it all.

No. 4

Ken: “Low & Clear” (2013)— This is a nice little documentary about a couple of guys who are only friends because of their shared passion for fishing. The sport brings them together even when their personalities want to drive them apart — so disparate are the things that draw them to fishing in the first place.

Joe: “Finding Nemo” (2003)— A disturbing tale about fish harvesting for office aquariums, Finding Nemo has been lauded as another Pixar classic for children about a dad searching for his son. The truth is much darker. Nemo is filled with euphemisms for alcoholic’s anonymous—fish are friends not food—and a staunch lesson on the food chain (most of Nemo’s family were devoured by barracudas). Still, this is probably the best fishing-based movie from Pixar.

Mazurk: “Grumpy Old Men” (1993) – I live in northern Indiana where our water gets hard in the winter and we go ice fishing. “Grumpy Old Men” not only starred greats in Jack Lemmon and Walter Matthau, but then there’s also Ann-Margret and Daryl Hannah. Plus the lines from Burgess Meredith were absolutely hysterical! You should watch “Grumpier Old Men” (the 1995 sequel), too. Pure escapism after a long day at the office.

No. 3

Ken: “Jaws” (1975) — I saw it the summer it came out, when I was 13 years old. A friend and I snuck into the theater when we were supposed to be watching something else. It scared the bejesus out of us, and it’s still one of my favorite films of all time. All the stuff with the shark is great, but my favorite scene is on the boat at night with Quint, Hooper and Brody sitting around the table, drinking and telling tales.

Joe: “Deep Blue Sea” (1999)— The only movie loosely based on the idea of fishing featuring Samuel L. Jackson. Hey, as long as we’re counting movies that feature exploding sharks, this one is in! “Deep Blue Sea” has everything you want in a fishing film: catching fish, tagging fish, hot chicks, Samuel (insert adjective) Jackson, LL Cool J getting eaten by caught and tagged fish. It’s the saltwater “Anaconda.” Before “Sharknado,” there was “Deep Blue Sea.” Sidenote: I really included this movie in hopes that we’d show the trailer instead of “Man’s Favorite Sport?” which appears to have been produced by Don Draper.

Mazurk: “Man’s Favorite Sport?” (1964) – My kids looks at me strange when we walk by the Abercrombie & Fitch store at the local mall and I tell them A&F used to sell fishing tackle, just like Eddie Bauer. I had to make them watch this movie to prove it. And since this film does deal with the retail side of our sport, it makes my list. And it is funny. Especially watching Rock Hudson catching fish. He’s not using a crankbait. He doesn’t know how!

No. 2

Ken: “A River Runs Through It” (1992)— I’m mostly a bass guy, but every time I see this movie (and if it’s on, I always stop and watch), I get the urge to pack up my fly rods and drive to trout water. Although the fishing is only a tangential part of the film, it’s everything that exemplifies trout fishing — attitude, an air of superiority and a certain majesty that’s lacking in almost any other kind of fishing. Listening to Robert Redford’s narration and watching the old guy fishing at the end is more than enough to make me verklempt.

Joe: “A River Runs Through It” (1992)— Okay, fine. I will bite on this one. I actually hated this movie, but the genre isn’t entirely filled with gems when you have a cartoon Don Knotts in the top five. “A River Runs Through It” scores a whopping 83 percent on Rotten Tomatoes, which means I am in the minority on this one. I didn’t see the Redford “masterpiece” until earlier this year, and I guess by then the hype machine had already ruined it for me. I expected too much from this movie. I expected more fishing. I expected a film that wasn’t a thinly veiled metaphor. And maybe, as a kid who grew up with a band director as a father, I couldn’t stand the idea of fishing by metronome.

Mazurk: “A River Runs Through It” (1992) – This is one of the all-time great movies, just so happens that fishing plays a major role in it. I was working for 3M Scientific Anglers when it premiered. The folks at SA were involved, including Bruce Richards making specially-colored fly lines that would show up well when Brad Pitt (or whoever his ‘casting double’ was—Jason Borger, John Dietch, someone else?) was targeting trout on the Blackfoot River. We pitched in on the PR side as we could, and I’m hoping it may have helped sell a few more fly rods and fly lines.

No. 1

Ken: “Bigmouth” (1974)— Yes, this counts! It’s a documentary, and Glen Lau traveled much of the country showing it in theaters and auditoriums wherever he could in the 1970s. By the time VHS and DVD came along, it gained new life in those formats. Today, every serious bass angler recognizes it as the best film ever made about the lifecycle of the bass. But did you know that the narrator is Rod Serling of “Twilight Zone” fame?

Joe: “Jaws” (1975)— Are you kidding me, Ken? Nobody ever took a (successful) date to see a documentary. There can be no king above “Jaws.” “Jaws” serves double-duty as a pulse-pounding thriller that is at its heart a tale of fishing. Sure, it’s fishing on an incredibly dangerous scale, but that only makes it better. As a bonus, “Jaws” is actually a movie that stands the test of time. Readers knew going into this who the champ was going to be. And I guess that’s why Ken threw a curveball. But seriously, “Jaws” ….

Mazurk: “Jaws” (1975)— If we find this movie playing while scrolling through TV channels, we’re watching. There are times when I even do a quick cutaway from a Notre Dame football game or Chicago Cubs games – yes, believe that! My kids love it – both have watched it at least 10+ times – we wore out the VHS tape – wore out the first DVD – and now have the 25th anniversary DVD put away for safe keeping. One of the all-time great lines – “You’re gonna need a bigger boat”; Quint’s story about the USS Indianapolis; John William’s music. I think I’m going to watch it again tonight!