Remembering a day with one of the greats in outdoors writing: Pat McManus – 1933-2018

Last month the outdoors and fly-fishing community lost legendary angler and author Bernard “Lefty” Kreh  This morning, I’m sad to see literary great Pat McManus has passed. Shawn Perich introduced me to Kreh’s writing in the late 1990s, but I’d been reading McManus in Outdoor Life magazine since my youth in the early 1980s.

My hunting and fishing crony cabal of the Mississippi River bottomlands country downstream of Winona, Minn., actually read books and magazines when we weren’t jigging walleyes or cruising the islands for whitetails. We passed around dog-eared copies of Outdoor Life, and Field & Stream, and most of us turned first to McManus’ “Last Laugh” column on the inside back of the magazine. One buddy owned all of McManus’ books of his collected columns from the 1970s, so we pored over those, too, especially during the winter.

The books had fantastic titles that illuminated his love for the English language, like “A Fine and Pleasant Misery,” “They Shoot Canoes, Don’t They?” and “Never Sniff a Gift Fish.” His characters, too, had awesome names like Retch Sweeney, Crazy Eddie, and Rancid Crabtree.

A couple times per year, my family would load up and visit grandparents in Chicago. I didn’t particularly enjoy leaving bluff country for the Eisenhower Expressway, but I loved one thing about Chicago: the massive newspaper that landed on my grandparents’ front step every morning. That vibrant Chicago Tribune full of great writing and news delivered every day was almost magical to a rural kid where the local weekly shopper was the closest thing we had to a newspaper. Mike Royko’s daily column is probably the reason I became a newspaperman, but the writing of McManus, among others, exposed the business and craft of outdoors publishing to a young kid living “off the grid” before anyone had invented the phrase.

Meeting and interviewing McManus in October 1997 stands out as a professional highlight of my first year as editor of Outdoor News. A press release arrived explaining that he’d be in town promoting his latest compilation book, “Into the Twilight, Endlessly Grousing.” I called his rep and asked if he’d visit the Outdoor News office for an interview. To my shock, McManus spent the better part of an afternoon with me, and he was – unsurprisingly – completely unpretentious.

While I tried not to act starstruck, we grabbed lunch and chatted about the status of outdoors writing in the late 1990s. Storytelling, he lamented, was becoming a lost art. (The age of social media has done storytelling no favors in the 21 years since I met Mr. McManus.)

While reminiscing about some classic hunting stories that graced the pages of our favorite magazines, he recounted a Jim Carmichel piece set in Zimbabwe with a massive crocodile that wouldn’t die.

“I remember that!” I replied, recalling an incredible page-turner that gave me a nightmare or two back around 1984. “That crocodile kept coming back alive, and it almost sunk their boat.”

“Yeah,” McManus said, smirking and nodding. “Now there’s a piece of outdoor storytelling that sticks with you.”

You can see my short interview with McManus below, but one thing’s for sure: His stories will be sticking with hunters, anglers, and anyone who appreciates good writing for generations.

McManus hailed from Sandpoint, Idaho, and was 84 years old. If you haven’t read any of his pieces before, find them and enjoy. Rest in peace, Mr. McManus.

Categories: Blog Content, Bloggers on Hunting, Rob Drieslein