The Man Behind The Legend
In the world of fly-fishing, Lefty Kreh stands out as the best-known and best-loved outdoor writer and teacher in the world. And he has held that lofty niche for well over 50 years.
John Randolph, the respected former editor of Fly Fisherman magazine, says of Kreh: “Lefty Kreh’s effect on the sport of fishing has been enormous during his lifetime. I consider him to be the best, and the most influential, sport fisherman in the last half of the twentieth century.”
The venerable Nick Lyons—writer, editor, publisher and all-around fishing philosopher—has this to say about Lefty: “For he’s a man of many parts, even in his eighties and it is hard, even with fine prose and a wealth of detail and stories, to get the full measure of this remarkable fellow. To have been privileged enough to hear him, sit across from him, fish with him, is to know more.”
I am proud to call Lefty my friend, mentor, and frequent fishing partner for these past several decades. It’s really easy being around this true legend, because Lefty is a homey, down-to-earth, real guy. He’s embarrassed to be called a legend, but it’s true, and it is quite a lofty status considering his humble beginnings.
The Early Years
Bernard Victor Kreh was born in Frederick, Maryland on February 26, 1927. His father died when Lefty was six, leaving his mother and three younger siblings behind. The family survived on welfare for years and, as Lefty grew, he helped provide food and money by hunting, trapping and fishing along the nearby Monocracy River, a tributary of the Potomac. He earned the moniker “Lefty” by playing basketball and using both hands almost equally in shot-making and passing. (Lefty later coached a girl’s basketball team that always posted superb records.)
After graduating from high school, Lefty headed to Europe with the U. S. Army for the final years of the Second World War. As an artillery forward observer he fought in the Battle of the Bulge in the dead of winter (to this day he hates cold weather); crossed into Germany over the famed Rhein River bridge at Remagen; helped liberate a concentration camp for Jews; and hooked up with the Russian Army at Torgau on the Elbe River near war’s end. He won five battle stars.
While his artillery unit was preparing to deploy to the Pacific Theater to fight against the Japanese, the war ended and Sergeant Kreh headed home with millions of other young men.
Shortly after the war ended Lefty met a man who would greatly influence his life. That man was Joe Brooks.
Lefty was doing some smallmouth bass fishing guiding on the upper Potomac River, and Joe Brooks hired him in for a day on the water. Brooks was a well-known fishing writer and one of the early saltwater fly fishing aficionados. On that day in 1947, Joe’s fly rod out-fished Lefty’s plug casting gear, and Lefty was hooked on fly fishing from then on. Brooks taught him to cast and helped him acquire his first fly fishing outfit. Brooks remained a friend and mentor to Lefty the remainder of his life.
Lefty wrote outdoor articles for the local newspaper and his easy, practical, and informal style found its way into national publications such as Outdoor Life and Field & Stream magazines. He was on his way.
The Last 60+ Years
Lefty’s fabled career includes tenure as the Director of the Miami Metropolitan Fishing Tournament; as a columnist for The Miami Herald, The St. Petersburg Times, and The Baltimore Sun; and has published outdoor articles and photographs in every major fishing magazine in the world. He has authored over 30 books, most of which are still in print, and he’s working on one or two others as I write this in the spring of 2015. He was a demonstration shooter for the Remington Arms Company; a consultant for the National Wildlife Federation, L. L. Bean, Bass Pro Shops, Sage, Scientific Anglers, and many other fine companies. Currently he designs, tests, and markets fishing rods and accessories for Temple Fork Outfitters. One of his biggest contributions to our sport is his fly-casting ability and, more importantly, Lefty’s ability to successfully teach fly casting in his books, videos, and in person. He fully understands the physics of the cast, you don’t throw the line, he says, you unroll it in the air—and puts the concepts into plain, everyday language that, when applied, lead to good casting. His philosophy: you cast well, you catch more fish, you have more fun, and that’s really what it’s all about.
Lefty and I have fly fished and done outdoor shows together and spoken at various banquets and meetings around the region. We’ve fished together in Virginia, Maryland, Pennsylvania, Maryland, Maine, The Bahamas, and other locations. “What’s it like to fish with Lefty?” people often ask me, and I always tell them it’s a great experience in which I learn something each time and, most of all, it’s just a lot of fun just to be around a good guy.
Note: The John Randolph and Nick Lyons quotes at the beginning of this article are from the Foreword and Afterword, respectively, in the 2008 biography All the Best: Celebrating Lefty Kreh by Flip Pallot. King Montgomery and the others quoted above contributed a chapter. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.