The Subtle Genius of Curtis Creek Manifesto

The Subtle Genius of Curtis Creek Manifesto

Fly fishing is tough and anyone who tells you differently is misleading you.  While it is my passion and passion of many of my peers, it is not the easiest sport/hobby to learn, let alone master.  In fact, the barrier to entry in fly fishing has been one of its most difficult obstacles to growth.  While A River Runs Through It captured the mystic of the pasttime and the River Why captured some of its romance, very few books have been able to make it easier to learn.  And countless have tried.

But if you look back to 1978, you might just find the best attempt yet to spread the gospel of fly fishing and it was a 48 page hand-drawn book on learning how to fly fish called Curtis Creek Manifesto: A Fully Illustrated Guide to the Strategy, Finesse, Tactics, and Paraphernalia of Fly Fishing by Sheridan Anderson.

For the record, I have gifted this book more than any in my life.  And I have done so for two reasons–one, to encourage a friend or family member to learn how to fly fish; and two, because it is fascinating to watch people’s expression after you give them a hand-drawn book on how to fish.  The first look from them usually denotes the following comment: “what am I, 12?”  And that look is priceless, because they don’t know I just handed them something incredibly elegant and profound.

You see, to learn anything new, you have to start with the basics.  If you want to build a website, don’t start reading about Ruby on Rails or Javascript.  That may (or may not) come later. At first, you will need to understand how a web browser works and how it calls files from a server located somewhere in the world.  And that you can type in a language things that will make it look and act like you want.  Pretty simple…just learn bits of the language.

Fly fishing is nearly the same thing–to take a piece of graphite, bamboo or fiberglass and you attach a line to it upon which you attach a lighter line to and then a fly.  These bits of line can all be stored on a reel.  And then you look for water that houses fish, put yourself in a position to cast to that fish, throw your fly line and fly somewhere in that vicinity on the water and try to catch the fish.  Now, in reality, there are probably 72 things that have to happen right during that sequence of events in order to be successful, but who cares.  The main point is that you have distilled the craft to its essence.  And that is exactly what Curtis Creek does so well.

Mr. Anderson’s masterpiece simply distills the art of fly fishing in to bite-sized nuggets that are easily digestable.  And he summarizes all you need to know and wraps them brilliantly in his Eleven Commandments that act much like our U.S. Constitution–a roadmap that can keep you centered.

Sheridan Anderson was a unique character and I do strongly encourage you to read Evelyn Spence’s article first published in The Drake and republished on MidCurrent. Mr. Anderson hung out with all sorts of characters, including Patagonia founder Yvonne Chouinard. I only bring this up because Mr. Chouinard published his own book just last year entitled Simple Fly Fishing: Techniques for Tenkara and Rod and Reel. Why is this important? Because the last time I checked last week, Curtis Creek was outselling Mr. Chouinard’s effort on Amazon. That’s right–a 48-page book from 1978 was outselling a book by the founder and owner of one of the world’s most powerful outdoor brands.

So what is it about Curtis Creek? I think we can distill it to a few important things to remember about teaching (and learning).

  • Tell us what we really need to know.  A lot of books talk over your head or try to impress the reader about the author’s encyclopedic knowledge.  Instead, Curtis Creek gives nuggets and that is all.
  • Don’t insult the reader.  Anderson chooses a child-like display of information, but the content is true and honest.  He doesn’t belittle his audience.
  • Make it interesting.  I have to give a marketing presentation tonight to some 17-year-olds.  I hope I am interesting.  Anderson made Curtis Creek interesting by choosing compelling content wrapped in hand-drawn narration.  Go ahead and open the book without turning the page several times.
  • Motivate and captivate.  I can remember taking shoelaces and practicing all of the knots in the book.  That is the first time I can remember knots being illustrated so they were easily repeatable.  This book has actionable lessons.
  • Make it effortless.  You don’t feel like you are digesting The Brothers Karamazov when reading Curtis Creek.  You feel like the end goal (which he begins the book with brilliantly – “Despite rumors to the contrary, the paramount objective is to catch fish”) is attainable without quiting your day job.

So, the next time someone tells you they want you to “teach them how to fly fish,” go ahead and help them out with a copy of the Curtis Creek Manifesto.  You might have to watch them roll their eyes, but they will thank you in the long-run.  And they might out fish you quicker than you realize.

A couple of the great pages from Curtis Creek:

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