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The Curtis Creek Manifesto: Being a Basic Guide to the Art of Fly Fishing on Moving Water... new standard revised edition. By Sheridan Anderson. Portland, OR: Frank Amato Publications, 1978. 48p. $7.95. ISBN 0936608064.

Nonfiction; fishing

Adults, teens, kids

This "fully illustrated" book is actually a primer on fly fishing in full graphic novel format. It begins with a "Preamble and Opening Salvos" in which Anderson explains his rationale for creating this book: it's hard for beginners to visualize from mere text, and most primers are overwritten and loaded with peripheral information. The book is the product of 30 years of Anderson's fly fishing experience, and "the Manifesto won't guarantee a posy of trout on your next fishing trip, but it will set you solidly on the right path to becoming a worthy angler." Next comes "The Eleven Commandments" of fly fishing, including "Thou shalt avoid fly-drag like the plague and watchy thy lure like a hawk" and "Thou shalt strike quickly but gently, and thou shalt hopefully release thy quarry to fight another day."

Anderson then takes us into the primer, which moves from basics to complexities and covers every possible aspect of fly fishing. Sections include "Mustn't Scare!", "Fish Upstream," "Refraction," "Stalking," "Streamken," "Reading Water," "Your Friendly Local Empiricist" (identifying bugs that fish like to eat), "Insects," "Nymphs," "Strike," "Playing," "Landing," "Catch and Release," "Tackle," "Flies and Foofaraw," "Gear," "Hooks and Knots," "Fly Casting," "Dapping" (easing the rod through bushes and setting a fly on the water), "Fly-Tying," "Backpacking for Trout," "Guddling-Tickling" (catching trout with bare hands), "Rod Medicine," "Cleaning Trout," "Trout Cooking," Tips and Contrivances," "The Priorities of the Game" (the five most essential disciplines for becoming a good fly fisher), "Sanity, Anyone?" (a plea for water preservation), and "Is there really a Curtis Creek?" Every complex action, from casting to fly-tying to trout-cleaning, is illustrated, often in easy-to-follow steps. Unfortunately, the book lacks a table of contents and an index.

I love finding books like this, which are almost certainly unknown to the comics community but are well-known within their specific niche. The friend who loaned it to me explained that it's a classic in the field, one of the most helpful and informative guides to fly fishing that he's ever seen, and that every time he reads it he has the urge to go fishing. Not being a fly fisher myself, I can't say that the urge struck me, but with this book in hand I certainly would feel up to the challenge if the opportunity ever arose. Thus, I heartily concur with my friend's assessment.

Like Whitewater Home Companion, this book strikes a lovely balance between humor and fact. The text is matter-of-fact but occasionally droll, while the illustrations are frequently droll but always informative. In no case does Anderson's humor drown out the basic purpose of the book, and for that he should be commended. Frankly, all instructional books should be like this. (In Japan, they often are. In the US, they're still so uncommon that they have to be referred to as "fully illustrated" rather than "comics format" or "graphic novel format" [see my latest essay at PopImage for a discussion of this issue] Why Americans are so resistant to having nonfiction in this format is a mystery, given its obvious effectiveness when done properly.)

The style of the black-and-white art reminds me of a cross between the old "Ripley's Believe It or Not" columns and MAD's pseudo-technical comics by various people (especially Al Jaffee), with key statements in LARGE letters (e.g., "FRIGHTENED FISH CAN'T BE CAUGHT!") and little, serious, highly detailed, Dover-like illustrations interspersed with funny, more cartoony illustrations of various things (e.g., the Fish Frightener section's "Lunkers" picture shows a big nasty fish bearing down on a terrified smaller fish with flop-sweat emanating from its brow). There's also a hint of Larry Gonick here and there, though I have the impression (which could be inaccurate) that Anderson preceded Gonick. The text and graphics are perfectly balanced, with neither overpowering the other.

This book is a must for fly fishers both beginning and expert. It would also make an excellent example of instructions done in comics format.


Copyright 2000, D. Aviva Rothschild


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