Sheridan Anderson was an American outdoorsman, fly fisherman, author, and illustrator.
Born near Los Angeles, Anderson moved with his parents and younger brother to Salt Lake City, where he attended the University of Utah and studied art. He dropped out and became involved in the rock climbing community, writing and drawing for various climbing publications and co-authoring books on the subject with Royal Robbins. In the 1980’s Anderson lived in San Francisco and made ends meet as a sign painter. He mixed his sign-making with his incredible wit and humor.
Anderson’s most enduring reputation is for The Curtis Creek Manifesto, a 48-page illustrated guide to fly fishing named for a creek of the Blacksmith Fork River in Utah. Originally published in 1976 by Salmon Trout Steelheader, and later by Amato Publications. This is Amato’s best seller with roughly one million copies sold since its publication in 1978. Yvon Chouinard, a fellow outdoorsman who founded the Patagonia outdoor clothing company, called it “probably the best beginner’s treatise on how to fly-fish.”
One of my favorite artists/illustrators, Sheridan Anderson was a weirdo, a misfit much like his contemporaries R. Crumb, Harvey Pekar, Gilbert Shelton, Clay Wilson ~ the list goes on … He was perfect for the times … his art is treasured and admired … found in many places such as Summit Magazine, Mountain Gazette, Royal Robbins climbing books
Steve Komito (Komito Boots) would periodically get mail from Sheridan, who also came to visit in Estes irregularly. The post office would make a special phone call to Steve to ask him to come and pick up the letters or packages from Sheridan and would wrap them in plain brown paper/envelopes……due to the ‘radical’ nature of the drawings that would cover the outside of said packages….I think that Steve has saved all of those thru the years. The guy was a genius…..if somewhat dysfunctional.
I loved the Sheridan post and history. I do remember his presence in Camp 4 in 68-70. We later were contributors to Mountain Gazette during the hay day.I was living in Berkeley after returning from my odyssey in the Haute Savoie and searching for a livelihood. I sold my first published photos to the Gazette, ($10 per photo)and felt like I was finally a photographer! Sheridan’s cartoons were throughout the Gazette.Mike Moore, the editor,who I had not yet met, sent me a single spaced 3 page letter to mybivouac in Berkeley which began, “Dear Edgar, I fear your life is in danger…..” Later on an all night bar tour with him of Colfax Avenue I began to understand.Such were the times.
I will prepare a debrief of the Patagonian exile for the Intelligence Dept. at rŌbert upon returnto be only verbally delivered in person to the appropriate heads.
~~ ~ …
TROUT SAVANT IN A BIG BLACK CAPE ~ LA Times
By CHRISTOPHER REYNOLDSAPRIL 20, 2004
Chiloquin, Ore. —
In ALL OF TROUT LITERATURE, THERE MAY BE NO VOLUME more often prescribed, or more likely to be mistaken for a comic book, than a 28-year-old wonder called “The Curtis Creek Manifesto.” But this book’s admirers — hundreds of thousands of them — have never been too clear about the man behind the manifesto.
He claimed four names. He favored black hats and a flowing cape and considered himself “one of the last Edwardians.” He died 20 years ago at age 47, leaving only the most cryptic biographical clues in his work. But in certain circles, Sheridan Andreas Mulholland Anderson is still remembered clearly.
“He was an artist, you know? He didn’t do anything halfway,” says Yvon Chouinard, sportsman and founder of Patagonia sportswear, who met Anderson at Yosemite in the 1960s and climbed and fished with him. “ ‘The Curtis Creek Manifesto,’ ” says Chouinard, “is probably the best beginner’s treatise on how to fly-fish. It’s all sensible stuff.”
The author’s big break came nearly 30 years ago, when Frank Amato of Portland, Ore., publisher of fishing books, found an odd manuscript in his in box. Clever drawings. Sound fly-fishing advice. San Francisco address.ADVERTISING
Amato bit. First he called the author, then he flew south to firm up a deal.
“He picked me up at the airport,” Amato remembers. “He seemed to me to be a perfect ringer for Long John Silver. Dark hair, 6-2 or so. Full chest. And he had kind of a challenging air about him.”
Conceived as “a fully illustrated guide to the strategy, finesse, tactics and paraphernalia of fly-fishing,” Mr. Anderson’s opus covers 48 pages, providing at last the missing link between Izaak Walton’s 17th century angling wisdom and R. Crumb’s high-stepping “Keep on Truckin’ ” man.
Looking like a Renaissance Faire bouncer, the author stares out at readers from an opening page, mustache bristling, hair tousled, perhaps from jousting. His chin rests on a hand and the eyes blaze in ferocious thought. “Angler, artist, wander, eternal foe of the work ethic,” says the caption.
Googling will tell you that the manifesto stands about 54,000th on Amazon’s sales chart and that Anderson is also credited as the illustrator and co-author, years back, on a handful of rock-climbing and camping books, including a couple written by celebrated climber Royal Robbins. As for the man behind the pen, “he was big. Probably close to 300 pounds…. Always dressed in black, and had that black hat and big black cape,” recalls Amato’s sister, Lorraine Guelker.
“He came to our home once,” says Amato. “My wife was cooking two roasts, with the idea that we would have one the next day. I brought out a bottle of Scotch. He pretty much put away the whole bottle before dinner. And then he polished off one of the pork roasts. Voracious appetites.”
On that same visit, Amato remembers, Anderson decided to check out a creek near the house. When Amato looked out, he saw the big man on his hands and knees, crawling toward the water’s edge.
“The book,” says Amato, “is really, exactly him.”
Anderson was a stealth man. In the manifesto, he warns against letting your shadow fall on water, casting sloppily, walking heavily, standing tall — anything that might scare fish. When fly-fishing is done right, he writes, “the water becomes a glorious, shimmering three-dimensional chessboard” and the contest is “a game to be mastered thru skill, diligence and imagination.”
As for the location of the beloved body of water in the title, “that is your final lesson: to go forth and seek your own Curtis Creek…. There are few Curtis Creeks in this life so when you find it, keep its secret well….”
Michael Anderson, 62 and retired in Fullerton, says his older brother spent most of his youth around Salt Lake City, tying flies, keeping pigeons, reading, keeping an asthma inhaler handy, drawing, painting and fishing like a fiend. With a favorite uncle, he learned fly-fishing on the West Yellowstone, the Snake and the Madison in Montana, among others.
Later, Michael Anderson remembers his big brother dropping out of the University of Utah, hanging out at Camp Four in Yosemite, tending to their grandmother in Las Vegas and composing haughty notes to editors who dared to reject him. Before he mailed envelopes, Anderson would scrawl messages taunting the postal service. “If you were to look into whatever the FBI was doing in the ‘70s, they’d probably have a file on him,” says Amato.
Twice-divorced and childless, the author seemed to live on book royalties, guiding the occasional Sierra fishing expedition. Eventually he bought a cabin in Chiloquin, Ore. He was visiting his grandmother when he died. Emphysema and asthma were blamed, but friends and family suspect the drinking abetted. His ashes landed in the Sierra’s Golden Trout Wilderness.
“Sheridan’s personal life was not such that one could recommend it to youth,” reads Michael Anderson aloud from a tribute written by Royal Robbins. “Sheridan had a double talent: the ability to read character, and the skill to render it with precise satirical strokes…. Like most of us, he was caught in the mud and yearned for the sky.” Then there’s a pause.
“I’m starting to choke up,” says Michael Anderson.
These days the Amato Publications catalog includes 300 titles, but the manifesto is still the top seller every year, in all nearly 300,000 copies.
Now, about the Oregon dateline above. In this life, as the author says, we must each find our own Curtis Creek. But I happened to be passing near Sheridan Anderson’s old territory recently, and I couldn’t resist stopping just outside Chiloquin, where the Williamson River meets Spring Creek.
In his mind’s eye, Frank Amato had told me, he’d always pictured the big guy out on the Williamson, watching the trout rise. I parked in an empty lot and crept to the water’s edge, listening to the current burble past a fallen pine. There wasn’t another man or woman in sight. But that doesn’t mean I was alone. Even with that cape, Sheridan Anderson was always a stealth man.
Pioneers & Legends: Sheridan Andreas Mulholland Anderson 1936–1984, Part 1
Larger-than-Life Visual Bard, Bohemian, and Boulder Rat
By Don Roberts
There’s something disconcerting about watching a very big man make himself exceedingly small. Imagine for a moment the unmistakable countenance of a 250-pound hulk, dressed head to toe in black and cloaked in a black cape, his battered black fedora, with brim crumpled upward fore and aft, pushed slightly back on his brow—the dark, bearish figure crouched excruciatingly low to the ground and inchworming across the green-felt expanse of a highly manicured suburban lawn.
A vignette misappropriated from Alice in Wonderland? No—but close. What you’re being asked to envision here is an episode that had its roots in 52 pages of ink-stained paper, a bottle of decent Scotch, and two pot roasts.
Sometime in 1976 or ’77 (the exact dates are muddled), a large manila envelope came over the transom to Frank Amato’s desk in Portland. As the editor/publisher of the burgeoning Salmon Trout Steelheader magazine, Amato was on the lookout for promising material. But nothing could have prepared him for the outlandish, hilarious, yet eminently practical illustrated treatise—essentially a comic book—that had reached him from the fog-shrouded streets of San Francisco. There was no hesitation, no agonizing. Upon first laying eyes on the Xeroxed sample pages from The Curtis Creek Manifesto, Amato thought, “Wow, I’ve got to call this guy immediately.”
Mere days later, Amato—in those days a self-confessed homebody—blithely hopped a plane to San Francisco. Upon meeting Sheridan Andreas Mulholland Anderson at the airport and repairing to a restaurant for breaking bread and broaching business, the first thing Amato asked was whether Anderson had submitted his manuscript anyplace else. “Yeah,” replied Anderson. “I sent it to a couple of Eastern publishers who rejected it because it wasn’t ‘sophisticated enough’ for them.” Perhaps fearing the possibility of another publishing house getting its mitts on the manuscript—and sans further ceremony or hand-wringing—Amato pushed a book contract across the table right then and there. And without further ado, the two men began hashing out the details amid dirty plates and rumpled napkins and ongoing splashes of wine.
“My immediate impression,” said Amato, “was that Sheridan looked the perfect ringer for Long John Silver. He was tall, 6-foot-2 or -3, barrel chest, dark shaggy hair, wore all black, and had a slightly gruff manner, a kind of challenging air about him. But underneath he was all artist and also all perfectionist. When we talked about doing the book, he wanted it done precisely his way, including all the copy and cover art, with highly stylized hand-lettering throughout.
“We hit it just right,” Amato observed. “Six months later the book came out, and it took off like wildfire.”
Remember that through the ages fly-fishing literature had largely been held hostage by a strong sense of propriety and Eastern establishment airs, characterized, if not literally, then at least figuratively, by button-down tweed and leather elbow patches. Fly fishing as a subject, as opposed to an act—actually being out in the field and getting dirty—had been taken so seriously as to appear shackled by Puritanism. Now here came Anderson’s Manifesto, a lavishly, often outlandishly, illustrated primer that, yes, preached a strict credo of angling dogma, but the credo was aberrantly proffered with a sly wink and an overriding glint of mischief and madness: the trout on the title page sports a wing-shaped dorsal fin; the “Preamble and Opening Salvos” on the following page point out that in most textbooks “the beginner is assaulted with . . . text he must translate into visual images.” Such books, he continues, serve “only to confuse the issue.”
Appearing throughout the work, the “hero”—bearded and wearing a crumpled fedora—stares intently past his long, bulbous nose at the waters ahead as he wanders among countless illustrations of streams, insects, tackle, and wildlife, some overtly cartoonish, some beautifully realistic.The Pirate and the Pot Roast
A year or two after the work was published (again, the dates are hazy), Anderson made a pilgrimage north to Portland to meet with his publisher. Of course, he was invited over to Frank and Gayle Amato’s house for dinner. Amato described the events: “While Gayle was preparing the table, I suggested to Sheridan that we go up to my study where I had stashed a bottle of aged Scotch . . . thinking we could relax and sip a shot or two. Well, as it turned out, Sheridan wasn’t one for just sipping.” Frank laughed, “Before we sat down to dinner, he pretty much managed to polish off the whole bottle.”
Dinner then proceeded apace, marked by both gusto and civility, one large pot roast disappearing amid animated conversation. That is, up until Gayle went to clear the serving tray upon which perched the remaining pot roast, deemed ample for another meal. Anderson had other designs. While barking out pirate lingo—Aaaarrrrggghhh, matey, whar be hornswagglin’ yon booty (or something to that effect)—he brandished his fork like a cutlass and, per the prerogative of any starving seadog, impaled the roast and commenced to devour it with a fixed squinty-eyed glare and much attendant gnawing and growling.
And then, as Amato recalls, during the after-dinner quiet, “Sheridan said to me, ‘Frank, you want me to demonstrate some of the maneuvers in the book?’ ” Given that Kellogg Creek ran through Amato’s oversize backyard, Anderson’s proposal was not all that capricious. “So, Sheridan borrowed a fly rod from me, and with his long black coat dragging and his black hat low on his brow, this big fellow starts crawling across our lawn. It was uncanny,” said Amato. “He literally became the book.” Imagining the scene doesn’t require a great deal of mental exertion; indeed, all you have to do is turn to pages seven and eight in The Curtis Creek Manifesto, where along with other approaches Anderson depicts “The Upstream Crawl.”
The experience still resonates in the Amato household. Frank noted that his two young, almost clinically hyper boys, Nick and Tony, were riveted by the “Sheridan sneak”—stunned into stillness. That’s saying something.The Pirate and the Persona
Anderson’s pirate persona probably started taking shape well before pubescence. It was clear from an early age that Sheridan wasn’t quite like the other kids on the block. As his younger brother Michael wryly observed, “He always had to do things his way.” Michael elaborated, “My side of our [shared] bedroom was always straightened up, neat as a pin. Sheridan’s side was littered with Sports Afield and Outdoor Life, oil paintings, drawings, books on local flora and fauna. He had his vise over there and tied flies, and he had his creel and some other damn things.” Taking brotherly exception, but doubling down in the process, Sheridan shot back, “Mike was a fastidious little bastard. When he wasn’t outside fielding grounders, he could usually be found lying on his bed staring with big calf-eyes at Yvonne De Carlo or seated thereon rubbing some kind of mysterious goo into his baseball mitt”.
As perhaps can be inferred from their rough-hewn language and less-than-saccharine sentiments, the Anderson boys were raised in a stormy environment. In a matter-of-fact tone, Mike observed that their parents didn’t exactly emulate Ozzie and Harriet. While the parents got into frequent altercations, “fueled by alcohol”—a constant dynamic in the Anderson clan—the boys developed strategies for maintaining an even keel, including highly honed extracurricular interests and activities. Mike had his team sports, baseball and football—“everything but fishing”—while Sheridan veered toward solitary pursuits, particularly an abiding passion for fly fishing and a flourishing aptitude for art.
Sheridan Anderson was born in Southern California in 1936, though he didn’t live there long enough to form even a vague memory of the place. In the early 1940s, his father, having completed a stint in the Army, took a job as a used-car salesman, which entailed frequent moves between Los Angeles and Hawaii before he finally settled the family in Salt Lake City. Eventually he acquired the wherewithal to establish and manage his own car lot, with a sign proudly declaring “BATTLE FATIGUE ANDERSON’S,” thus becoming something of a local landmark. Despite the fact that it’s hard to imagine Anderson embracing much of the lifestyle, not to mention the theistic rigors, of the area’s engulfing Mormonism, it’s not so hard to see the fledgling angler being inexorably drawn to the rugged drainages of the Wasatch and Uinta mountains. With wild backcountry looming at the city’s edge—decades before the carcinogenic spread of urban sprawl—Anderson could escape to the forest and highlands at will. Michael recalls, “We lived close to the mountains, and he knew these wonderful places that no one else knew. He’d bushwhack into these tiny creeks in the canyons.”
Art was not something Anderson dabbled in: he drenched himself in it—a tidal disarray of cartoons, sketches, oil paintings ,and, with the right audience in tow, humorous, over-the-top impersonations. He was fiercely unconstrained and free-spirited, attested to by the fact that when his parents and brother moved back to Southern California, Anderson, still in high school, elected to stay in Salt Lake City. No doubt his decision was more than partly influenced by Utah’s famously dry climate, an acknowledgement and half-surrender to his chronic asthma, a condition he had been diagnosed with at an early age.
Although as a callow teenager Anderson accepted a scholarship to a prestigious art school, he failed to habituate himself to its conservative atmosphere. The hallowed halls proved too musty and far too orthodox for his unfettered, if not anarchic, artistic leanings. He enrolled at the University of Utah down the road and, after again bristling at the conventional restraints of college art classes, he dropped out long before the need for gown, cap, and tassel.
Lest he seem heedlessly fractious and reckless, keep in mind that, even as a mere tadpole, Anderson possessed a stubborn and slightly pugnacious streak. Neither hostility nor rebellion had anything to do with it. Instead, his gruff disposition acted as a kind of force field surrounding the core of his artistic and intellectual independence. At the risk of being accused of understatement, Michael observed, “He was pretty opinionated in his youth.”
One thing’s certain: Anderson’s rocky relationship with formal education rewarded him with more time for sauntering into the boonies—the one and only place where The Curtis Creek Manifesto could have taken root in his brainpan. Grant Wootton, his favorite uncle, lived nearby in Salt Lake City, and later in Montana, and was there to help provide care and watering for the fledgling Anderson’s angling skills and for his creative inclinations. “Uncle Grant was a bullshitter’s bullshitter and a great fly fisherman,” Michael fondly recalled. What better epistemological style for ensnaring young Sheridan’s attention?
When his uncle Grant and aunt Sadie moved to West Yellowstone to manage the Alpine Lodge, Anderson took every opportunity to visit and hang out. Under Wootton’s wing, he learned to ply the waters of the Madison, Yellowstone, Snake, Firehole, and a host of other waters within a gas tank’s reach. The tutelage he received on these rivers would later imbue The Manifesto with pure, indelible, and, yes, hilarious wisdom, wisdom that thumbed its nose at pretense—with allowances, of course, for a quota of pirate’s swagger.The Pirate and the Pinnacle
One’s teenage years are often recorded in a litany of damage control. During our mid- to late 20s, most of us turn sharp corners, make the big decisions. Normally this is the crucial period for building a stable life: a promising career, a steady partner, a first mortgage on a fixer-upper, and a growing array of kitchenware. In his 20s, Anderson became a man of the mountains, finding his emotional and psychic center in the higher elevations. He was happy with what he could fit in his backpack. But there was a problem.
Always on the move from mountain range to mountain range, from state to state, he met and fell in with the hardest of the hardnosed rock climbers—literal rock stars such as Patagonia founder Yvon Chouinard, Royal Robbins, Roger Keckeissen, and Joe Kelsey. The vertical walls at Yosemite emerged as the epicenter of the world of rock climbing, and Camp 4 (the birthplace of modern rock climbing, that is) famously served as the bivouac, the place where spider men, scroungers, and scoundrels kicked up their heels and laid down their heads at night. Being accepted into the boulder-rat pack is one thing; keeping up with them is quite another. While his cohorts were chalking up “impossible” routes on El Capitan, Sentinel, and Half Dome, Anderson, a decent amateur at best, was stymied by the likes of Lurking Fear, a so-called beginner’s wall. Here’s the rub: über-climbers are composed of pure muscle, their skin mere ornamentation and their bones mere trusses and struts. Endowed with a build more closely resembling a water buffalo than the lithe lizard somatotype of a rock climber, Sheridan was prevented by genetics—betrayed by his own body—from ever being an accomplished “ascensionist.”
That was all right, actually serendipitous, because Anderson had a more important role to play. Among other things, he was there to keep egos from overinflating and to keep heads screwed on tight. Although Camp 4 was by turns party hearty and blissed-out mellow, climbing itself is serious business—gravitas versus gravity. The atmosphere was not always an arm-in-arm bro-fest. Besides being innately competitive, climbing is ruthlessly goal oriented. Steely resolve—and nerve—is required. The personality and character traits of the best climbers could be perceived as self-absorbed, if not downright self-aggrandizing. (“Peel off? Nah, not me.”)
While his daring comrades were out scouting an approach or attempting to execute their next slick-rock maneuver, Anderson wandered the alpine meadows and tarns, fishing, drinking, and drawing. As Kelsey noted, “Unflattering caricature was one more obstacle at the end of an arduous epic (a difficult and/or dangerous climb), but . . . a returning Rock God could drink beer with Sheridan and be himself.” On one occasion, when Chouinard was out attempting to bag a big wall, Anderson took it upon himself to repaint Chouinard’s trusty old van—with nothing less than Grumbacher oils.
“At one Camp 4 party, Chuck Pratt was too drunk to stand up, and he passed out on the ground, curled up with my golden retriever,” recalled Kelsey. “The party went on around him, and Sheridan grabbed his pad and sketched them. The caption was ‘I knew there would be someone at this party I could talk to.’ ”
Though Anderson was never hesitant to use a sharpened pencil to puncture a bloated ego, his character sketches were never hateful, mean-spirited, or tinged with even the slightest drop of venom. His humor instead veered more toward the gentle poke in the ribs, sometimes coming off so droll, so classically rendered, as to seem blue-blood British in context. Robbins became one of the frequent targets of “Sherry’s” cartoon harpoons. As an ardent climber of ever-increasing fame, Robbins was a figure Anderson couldn’t resist depicting in the guise of a glowing Superman or a Tyrolean aristocrat-cum-mountaineer wearing his trademark glasses and English driving cap. Many years later, Robbins wrote, “He was one of the chief chroniclers of the vanities and pretensions of many stars of that period. Sheridan had a double talent: the ability to read character, and the skill to render it with precise, satirical strokes.”
In all-too-comfortable middle-class America—its culture hungry for adventure, the more dangerous the better—there was a market for climbing lore, not to mention an athletic subculture clamoring for its own identity. Sheridan Anderson provided one, contributing illustrated features to a host of periodicals, including Summit, Mountain, Ascent, Mountain Gazette, and, last but not least, The Vulgarian Digest, to which he appointed himself artistic director (AD of V.D.) while insisting that he contribute under the nom de plume E. Lovejoy Wolfinger III, so that his publishers at Summit, the highest-circulation, best-paying climbing journal of the lot, wouldn’t know. Fat chance, given his rather irrepressible style.
But that was not all that he provided. Besides drawing their images for posterity, Anderson was provisioning his fellow tribesmen with freshly caught fish. In fact, the idea for The Curtis Creek Manifesto first coalesced around a frying pan at Camp 4. In Anderson’s own words, he got in the habit of “supplying a half-dozen fellow pirates with fresh trout. . . . Lazing over Red Mountain Burgandy [sic] and sloe-eyed maids by the crystalline pools of the Merced, I was often admonished to harness my expertise for posterity in order to maintain my orthodoxy in a more lavish manner.”
Fortunately for the far less athletic—but certainly no less devoted—angling community, he took that admonishment to heart—and to his drawing pad.
Sheridan Anderson: Master of the Manifesto
By: Evelyn Spence
FROM THE TOP BUNK of a bed, in the half-darkness of a tiny childhood nightlight, Sheridan Anderson hears his little brother, Mike, whisper up to him, “Tell me a story.” There’s an easel in the shadows. “Sherry” starts talking from an imagination somehow wider than the boundaries of a ten-year-old mind, spinning tales about characters from his daytime doodles. That his dominant protagonist is a balloon called The Creep doesn’t matter—what matters is that the imagination and the doodles formed the genesis for the greatest instructional fly-fishing book of all time.
Browse the fishing section of any chain bookstore and there are enough how-to titles to fill an entire shelf. There’s The Everything Fishing Book, Fly Fishing for Dummies, The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Fly Fishing, Fly Fishing Made Easy. There’s The Essential Guide to Fly-Fishing, The Simple Art of Fly-Fishing, and The Ultimate Book of Fly-Fishing. But none have endured—and been cherished—like Sheridan Anderson’s Curtis Creek Manifesto. Almost every fly fisherman has it, knows it, or has recommended it. Its humor, illustrations, and touches of randomness are unique in the literature of the sport. If a fishing book sells a couple thousand copies, it’s considered a success. The Manifesto has sold a quarter of a million.
And it was clear, from very early on, that Anderson could pull it off. Even as a kid, he was passionate and creative and curious. Brother Mike, three years younger, was into practically everything but fishing: hiking, biking, baseball, football. “My side of the room was always straightened up, neat as a pin,” Mike recalls. Sheridan’s side was littered with Sports Afield and Outdoor Life, oil paintings, drawings, books on the local flora and fauna. He drew cartoons for the school paper and wrote for the school yearbook. “He had his vise over there and he tied flies, and he had his creel and some other damn things,” Mike says. As Sheridan once countered, “Mike was a fastidious little bastard….When he wasn’t outside fielding grounders he could usually be found lying on his bed staring with big calf-eyes at Yvonne DeCarlo or seated thereon rubbing some kind of mysterious goo into his baseball mitt.”
Despite all his book and magazine research, Sheridan long felt he was an inferior angler. “I am, at best, a poor fly fisherman,” he once wrote. “I wanted to be a master streamsmith with a dry fly. The Lord of the Rivulets. The Scourge of the Firehole.” His uncle, Grant Wooton, was his inspiration, a man who could “see through water as tho [sic] he had sonar, and no one, no one, in over sixty years of fishing, ever beat him.” With Uncle Grant and Grant’s son, Jay, the teenage Sheridan fished his way across the Yellowstone Plateau: The Firehole, the Madison, the Gallatin, Grayling Creek, Duck Creek, Cougar Creek.
And when he couldn’t travel so far out of Utah, he still managed to head into the nearby mountains and find the inspiration for his future book: Curtis Creek, on the north fork of Utah’s Blacksmith’s Fork River. It was tough water, fair water, but “definitely not a pussy stream.”
Anderson was born on September 18, 1936, in the Los Angeles area, and his father—after a stint in the Army— became a car salesman and moved the Anderson clan, four strong, to Salt Lake City. “My parents were never like Ozzie and Harriet,” Mike says. “It wasn’t really dysfunctional…well, I guess it kind of was.” Their parents got into frequent spats, fueled by the alcohol that was a part of family life from the beginning. Their relationship was consistently rocky, but they managed to stay together—in honor of the now-tired phrase “for the kids.” Recalls Mike, “It was hard to keep the boat going in one direction.”
When Mike was a junior in high school, he moved to L.A., but Sheridan stayed in the dry Utah climate, having suffered from asthma since early childhood. He studied art at the University of Utah but never finished, and took a few courses at colleges around the West. In his early 20’s, always migrating from one place to the next, he met climbers whom he eventually followed to Yosemite, and the rockcraft epicenter at Camp 4—men like Yvon Chouinard, Royal Robbins, Chuck Pratt, Steve Roper, Roger Keckeissen, and Joe Kelsey. Sheridan was never a climber of their caliber, but he was part of their climbing fraternity for nearly two decades.
In the late 1960s, Camp 4 was full of unruly pioneers, lithe superclimbers who spent their days forging new ascents and their nights partying under the yellow pines. “We shoplifted to feed ourselves,” says Roger Keckeissen, now a flyfishing guide in Livingston, Montana. “We’d hang out in the cafeteria and get coffee, and when the tourists left, we’d finish off their leftover toast and bacon.” They hung out on Sentinal Beach, on the Merced, long-haired and naked, tanned and stoned. While the climbers were scouting routes on El Cap’s Salathe Wall, on Half Dome, on Sentinal, Sheridan would fish, drink, and draw. As Kelsey wrote in The Climbing Cartoons of Sheridan Anderson, published after Sheridan’s death, “Unflattering caricature was one more obstacle at the end of an arduous epic, but…a returning Rock God could drink beer with Sheridan and be himself.” Once, when Chouinard was out climbing a big wall, Sheridan painted his ubiquitous van. “At one Camp 4 party, Chuck Pratt was too drunk to stand up, and he passed out on the ground curled up with my golden retriever,” says Kelsey. “The party went on around him, and Sheridan grabbed his pad and sketched them. The caption was, ‘I knew there’d be someone at this party I could talk to.’”
But there was not a hint of sadism in him; he liked to tease, but he was never mean-spirited. There was a certain gentleness behind his earthy humor and roguish impression. He was never shy about poking fun at the self-serious athletes in Camp 4, never afraid to pick up on the foible of a starchy, serious climber and make light of it. Royal Robbins was often the butt of Sheridan’s doodles, represented as a shining Superman or wearing his trademark glasses and English driving cap. Robbins wrote in a tribute to Sheridan: “He was one of the chief chroniclers of the vanities and pretensions of many stars of that period. Sheridan had a double talent: the ability to read character, and the skill to render it with precise, satirical strokes.” Some of his cartoons were obscene, some were touching, but all were spot-on. If anyone—climber, fisherman, friend—took himself too seriously, he was open fodder.
Sheridan was a man who made strong first impressions. (What other fisherman shows up with rod, reel, creel, and cape?) Kelsey first met him at breakfast in Yosemite in 1968 to talk about publishing a climbing rag that eventually became The Vulgarian Digest. (The name was chosen, in part, for the initials.) “I’d seen his cartoons, and I figured he was just a cynical artist, some wiry chain smoker with beady eyes,” Kelsey says. “But I was way off. He was big and round and had a laugh you could hear all over the lodge. When I first met him he was wearing a white t-shirt, brown, paint-spattered slacks, suspenders, and shoes that looked like he’d stolen them from a wino.” Sheridan promptly appointed himself artistic director of the V.D., but insisted that he draw under the nom-de-plume E. Lovejoy Wolfinger III so that his publishers at Summit, another climbing journal, wouldn’t know. “From the very beginning, he was wildly outgoing,” Kelsey says.
And perpetually artistic. He drew for Ascent, Mountain, and Mountain Gazette, coming up with characters like Sir Jack Long-Gland, Lord Bonehead, Hamish McPiton and the dreaded snake, Bullshitmaster. The idea for the Curtis Creek Manifesto first took root when Sheridan was living at Camp 4, climbing and, as he wrote, “supplying a half-dozen fellow pirates with fresh trout.” He continues, “Lazing over Red Mountain Burgandy [sic] and sloe-eyed maids by the crystalline pools of the Merced, I was often admonished to harness my expertise for posterity in order to maintain my unorthodoxy in a more lavish manner.”
While he spent summers in Yosemite, he wintered in Reno, in Bishop, in San Francisco. “He was very much of the San Francisco crowd, “ says Frank Amato, the eventual publisher of the Manifesto. “He really captured the mindset of that time and place.” When then-fledgling photographer Ed Cooper was looking for a place to rent in 1967, as the Summer of Love was peaking into pot and bellbottoms and beads, he moved in with Sheridan. It was a random union, but the pair got along and soon moved into a bigger apartment near Golden Gate Park in the Richmond District. Dubbed the 6th Avenue Delicatessen and Commune, there was enough room for darkrooms, easels, and girlfriends. “When I lived with him, I had a girlfriend—now my wife—and he married a woman named Leslie Fairbairn, but he’d already been married before—to another Lesley (this one with an l-e-y ending) who had two kids,” Cooper says. “I think his attitude toward women was kind of archaic.” Neither matrimony lasted more than a year or two, perhaps because Sheridan claimed that “marriage was an admission of failure.”
Cooper fondly remembers Sheridan’s incredible talent, but also how heavily Sheridan was hitting the bottle, and how he once admitted to him, “From the first drink I ever had, I knew this was what I wanted to do.” Sheridan seemed to need the prod of liquor—three parts water, one part whiskey—to get creative juices flowing, and once wrote, “Frequently in the execution of his artistic and literary pursuits, Mr. Anderson is wont to employ spirits to prime and sustain his muse…Historians believe that a similar formula was used to render the ancient Celts fearless in battle.” When Cooper moved to Mendocino with his new bride, Sheridan and Leslie came to visit; Sheridan promptly drank all the booze in the house, left in his pick-up, and stayed out most of the night. The “final binge,” as Cooper put it, was a little too much, and he lost touch soon after.
During one of his Bay Area stints, Sheridan finally started drawing The Curtis Creek Manifesto while making a small amount of money by painting signs for city businesses. It was a process. Sheridan later joked, “It took me three seasons to dope out the teaching methods, employing live guinea pigs, all of whom knew nothing and who now catch fish.” In 1976, Joe Kelsey lived with him in a tiny, pie slice–shaped apartment on Potrero Hill. “It was a mess,” he says. “And Sheridan would go in these diets—one bowl of oatmeal a day for a week. On the eighth day, I’d come home and he’d be shit-faced, and we’d go get a huge Mexican dinner in the Mission.” His work patterns followed in much the same way: Sometimes Kelsey would come home from his editing job in Berkeley and Sheridan would have big drawings hung on the walls. And sometimes… nothing. “I tried to help him, but fishing wasn’t my thing,” says Kelsey. “I know he was out talking to people at the Golden Gate Park casting ponds and wandering around fly shops.”
One of those shops, just off 3rd and Market, happened to be where Glenn Brackett was working for Winston Fly Rods—and one day Sheridan just walked in and wanted feedback on his cartoon concept. “He looked like he’d just fallen out of the gutter,” Brackett says. “And that never changed. He always seemed a bit ragged.” What started as a short conversation turned into a close, yearlong relationship, spiked with Sheridan’s productive spells and sporadic vanishings, filled with talk of tackle and rivers and philosophy. “He’d bring in his galleys and idea sheets and pieces, and we’d review it with him,” Brackett says. “He is the character in that book, although it goes unnamed.” When Winston moved to Twin Bridges, Montana in 1976, the two lost touch.
After finishing about 15 pages of The Curtis Creek Manifesto, Anderson sent them—and his vision—up to Frank Amato in Milwaukie, Oregon. “He looked like the perfect ringer for Long John Silver,” says Amato. “He was this big guy and he sort of talked with a growl.” Amato liked what he saw and The Curtis Creek Manifesto, published in 1978, turned out to be a cult classic, a requisite primer, and one of the publisher’s top five sellers—out of 300-odd titles. “Other than Isaak Walton, he’s probably the single American who got more people fishing than anyone else,” Amato says.
By the time the book was released, Sheridan was in his early 40’s; he kept moving, kept drinking, kept doodling and writing for various outdoor mags. Every so often, he’d head into the mountains for days at a time to backpack and fish—when it was time to “belabor my 235 pounds of pickled blubber out beyond the road heads, far beyond the siren call of Crisco beer stubs and sybaritic deadfalls.” His asthma kept worsening, so he split time between his grandmother’s home in Las Vegas and a cabin on the Williamson River in Chiloquin, Oregon (which he shared for a while with legendary Oregon fly tier Polly Rosborough, author of the seminal 1965 book, Tying and Fishing the Fuzzy Nymph).
All this time, and, in fact, all his life, he stayed in sporadic touch with friends and family in letters and postcards with (sometimes) random flair and (sometimes) plain lewdness. His buddy Joe Kelsey received a postcard addressed to “Captain K and His Traveling Circus and Canine Hit Squad.” His brother, Mike, received a wedding announcement—on a postcard—that read, “Leslie and I are getting spliced at 11 A.M. this A.M. … Don’t send money (we’re knocking over the 1st National at 11:45).”
“I’m sure they went all the way through the postal system with every postal employee saying to themselves, ‘what in the hell is in this thing?’” says Amato. Sometimes he wrote about conspiracies that held not a shred of truth; sometimes, he sketched naked women crawling with their fly rods; sometimes, he simply took artistic liberties with Goofy and Mickey.
Just like everyone can remember the first time they met Sheridan, almost everyone can remember the last time they saw him. Joe Kelsey, who was on his way from Berkeley to the canyons of southwest Utah, stopped by to visit Sheridan in Vegas in 1981. “By then, there were all these hot climbers sleeping in their VW buses near Red Rocks,” he says. “They were drinking Perrier and doing yoga. Sheridan came in with a bottle of Jack, and plunked down in a chair, and they were all in awe of him. They knew he was one of the greats.” One of the last times Mike Anderson saw him was at their father’s funeral in February 1983; Sheridan was close to 300 pounds, and didn’t look well. “I hadn’t heard from him in a while, other than that drunken phone call every so often: ‘I miss you, I love you, brother,’” says Mike. “He just didn’t take good care of himself.”
On the evening of March 31, 1984, while he was in Vegas, he suffered an acute attack of emphysema and passed away. Mike spread his ashes in the Golden Trout Wilderness near Lone Pine, where Sheridan had spent many seasons exploring the streams and high mountain lakes of the southern Sierra. It was a place he’d hiked before, where he had found peace and solitude—and even found the elusive golden trout, “a leaping, flashing, dancing, bold ray of living sunlight.” He wrote:
Mount Humphreys was blazing away in the late afternoon sun, looking like a colossal throne against the relentless blue sky. I grinned and started laughing. I’m an eagle (I thought), a big, fat, very thirsty, rollicking eagle who was about to spread his wings and swoop down to Bishop and drink gallons and gallons of cold beer.