Beginner’s Mind

Where is Curtis Creek? Wherever you can find it.

by Scott Sadil

My sweetheart’s son, fifty years old and counting, has decided to take up fly fishing. Midlife crisis? A more sympathetic view would include his own son, just turned ten: Picture the pair of them, at large on waters near and far, meandering together through the joys and perils of this long fitful journey, the timeless respite of the young at heart.  

At least he didn’t choose golf.

A technical question arrived over the airwaves while my sweetheart and I were enjoying breakfast: home-made bread – sourdough, rye, oatmeal – enlivened with fresh strawberry jam.  Line.  Leader.  Tippet.  Some of the phrasing was off just a bit, the way I might pose a question about hunting or even sailing, the errors in touch, not necessarily vocabulary, made by newcomers to the discipline’s peculiar vernacular. 

But I got the gist.  While I dictated a reply, carefully trying to refine definitions of some of the terms, my sweetheart, a retired teacher, and teacher of teachers, mentioned that her son was happy to report all of the helpful direct instruction he received from a local fly shop.  Plus, he’d told her, he had purchased a “graphic novel” about the sport.

Graphic novel?

That’s funny.  If I assumed correctly, when the book in question, Sheridan Anderson’s The Curtis Creek Manisfesto, was first published, shortly after my sweetheart’s son was born, the label “graphic novel” didn’t even exist. 

Today, in retrospect, the term is applied, with debate, to a very small handful of books that were published before CCM – and, of course, now you have commercial and literary categories for which your graphic novel could earn a spot atop the New York Times bestseller list, a Pulitzer or, if Bob Dylan can do it, become part of a body of work that garners you a Nobel Prize in Literature.  

Meanwhile, back when Oregon’s Frank Amato took a risk and published Anderson’s gently irreverant yet utterly useful and deliciously-illustrated primer to the sport, most everyone who saw it referred to it as a comic book.  Think Zap Comix, Fritz the Cat, or Mr. Natural – without the sex or, mostly, references to drugs.

If you’ve had anything to do with fly fishing the past half-century, you no doubt know that Anderson’s manifesto has been the best-selling book about the sport, by far, since its initial publication.  Reprinted now more than two dozen times, it has reportedly sold hundreds of thousands copies – not exactly Girl with the Dragon Tatoo, or Harry Potter, but a pretty good market share for a sport that, when all is said and done, approximates the size of model railroading.

Education should be fun.

I’ve bought nearly 300 copies myself.  Back when I introduced at least that many adults to fly fishing in a class I taught regularly through Portland Parks & Rec, I’d hand out copies of the book to all my students hoping that, one, they’d read the text and study the illustrations for the valuable information they offered and, two, that they’d recognize a tone I felt was useful in contrast to the hype and solemn pontifications often associated with the sport.  Anderson’s book suggested, right from the start, that the essence of the sport was to have fun.

What a concept.

Sound advice is timeless.

Sadly, Sheridan Anderson’s life was cut short by health problems that he responded to (or were caused) by heavy drinking.  Following his manifesto, Rip Off Press published Anderson’s Baron Von Mabel’s Backpacking, and his illustrations were also included in other climbing books, none of which I’ve ever found.  Details of Anderson’s death, at age 47, in Las Vegas, have always seemed a little sketchy; we’re left, finally, with his single immortal work, plus a reminder of that timeless saying from the vernacular of the era:  “Get it while you can.”  

The question now, of course, is whether my sweetheart’s son, and his son, can find a Curtis Creek of their own, where the fun and real learning can unfold.

Gray’s Angling editor Scott Sadil believes both his casting stroke and writing career offer clear evidence of the pros and cons of the self-educated life.