Voices from the River: Losing Patrick F. McManus

By Chris Hunt

Years ago, after being abruptly transplanted from the high-mountain meadows of Colorado to the hot, sticky pine forest of East Texas, I found solace in the loss of my Rocky Mountain roots in the writings of men like Bob Saile, Ed Dentry and Charlie Meyers.

And I found the spirit to laugh about my predicament—for a Colorado kid, being transported largely against his will to Texas amounts to a premature death sentence—in the words of Patrick F. McManus. There were nights, early in my Texas furlough, that I giggled through tears at the books McManus shared with the world. I read them under the covers, of course, by flashlight until the D-size batteries faded and sleep followed soon after.

Sadly, McManus died Thursday at 84.

His vivid descriptions of fishing and hunting with the characters that influenced his own upbringing in rural northern Idaho inspired me to adapt to my newfound home and make the best of it. While I didn’t have friends named Crazy Eddie, Rancid or Retch, or a sister he called the Troll, I eventually collected enough buddies an annoying little brothers to stir up enough mischief in the Sabine River bottoms to while away sticky summer days in a state my mother would have been horrified to see in person.

Pat McManus was my inspiration. In fact, he may be why I gravitated to journalism after high school and college, and why that journalism took on a serious outdoor-writing bent shortly after that.

I know I’m not alone in my adoration for the words produced by the outdoor humorist. To this day, I occasionally find myself using phrases from his books and back-page columns in Outdoor Life in conversation and giggling all over again. From his books ranging from They Shoot Canoes, Don’t They? to A Fine and Pleasant Misery (My favorite was The Night the Bear Ate Goombaw. I don't think I've ever laughed so hard), he provided a source of outdoor artistry that motivated me and many others to get outside, uncover the mysteries of the outdoors and experience life away from the television. He was, in a sense, the Mark Twain of his generation, an unassuming, gifted writer who found humor behind every tree and under every rock. We should all be so lucky.

I’ve handed his books down to my own kids, but, sadly, their magic seems to have faded a bit in the face of hand-held screens and an ever-running series of Ridiculousness videos that keep young minds sadly captivated and entranced. My daughter read his books voraciously as a youngster. My son never caught the bug.

His death has inspired me yet again—I’ll try once more to gently push his words on Cameron and see if, by chance, he’s ready to let them stick. McManus’ stories are often silly and slapstick, but from his writings about his days spent as a near-vagrant youth following tracks into the woods to his later descriptions of fatherhood and family, he has provided generations of outdoors people with true joy. I hope my son can experience that, too.

Rest in peace, Pat. Thank you for leaving behind so much inspiration. Your words have made my world better, and I know I’m not alone.

Chris Hunt is the national digital director for Trout Media. He lives and works in Idaho Falls.



said on Friday, April 20th, 2018

I too am a 'wandering transplant' from Wisconsin, to Iowa, to Upstate New York, to Illinois and back to Wisconsin.  As a boy I marveled his writings and wit.  I finally met him in 1989 and got a signed copy of 'Never Sniff a Gift Fish'.  He will be missed but Crazy Eddie, Rancid, Retch, and sister Troll will remain in my heart.

said on Friday, April 20th, 2018

Now a senior in age, I recall days past of reading McManus in Oudoor Life inside back cover.  One particular article stuck with me, being at the same time humorous and serious. I don’t remember the details but the subject was “sequences”. About how he would start to do one thing, maybe it was go fishing, but first he had to do something else.  But before the something else could be completed, yet another, and another needed done. Such that the first thing was either too late or just plain forgotten.  After reading him, I noticed how true this was in many aspects of life be it not just outdoors, but also work, family, or socially. So, seriously I learned a lesson from him to stay focused and on task be it fishing or otherwise. Think about it - I bet you got caught up in sequences even today!

said on Saturday, April 21st, 2018

Thanks for the outstanding tribute to a writer who many of his readers compared to Mark Twain. 

I chuckled reading Patrick McManus stories in Field and Stream (before he wrote for Outdoor Life) while supposedly studying in the college library in Lake Charles, Louisiana.  Little did I know that I would be relocating to McManus' hometown of Sandpoint, Idaho for a forestry career.  In fact, my wife, Marianne, grew up  a mile from the McManus farm.  The famed Packard Hole on Sand Creek that Pat wrote about was between the two farms. Although he was 14 years older, the two of them shared other bonds as well.  Marianne later became an English and journalism teacher at Sandpoint High School -  McManus' alma mater.  She would invite him to talk to her classes.  He later encouraged my wife to write and even endorsed her first book.  

Despite his national following, Patrick McManus was a quite, humble gentleman but always a humorist..  I once asked him if Rancid Crabtree was a real person.  The twinkle in his eye and smile on his lips suggested that his response might be a fib.  "Of course he was" but the master story teller stopped short of revealing Rancid's true identiy.

Every outdoors person who ever found themselves in a humorous predictment in the field, forest or on the water can read Patrick McManus and find that the story has already been told.  But knowing that you weren't the first person to survive the experience only makes you laugh that much harder.

As for me, I know some of Pat's favorite haunts around Sandpoint so I'll revist them this summer and take along one of his books.  And, I will laugh with him once again.





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