There are people you meet that truly leave a mark on your heart and soul. Lefty Kreh was one of those people. Lefty died on March 14 at his home in Cockeysville, MD. He was 93.
Lefty was bigger than life. He would light up a room with his big smile and hearty voice. Although Lefty fished over the world with US presidents, foreign dignitaries and movie stars, he was most comfortable with the common man. The reason was simply that Lefty was a common man.
Lefty’s humble beginnings made him a common man. He was born in Frederick, MD in 1925. His father died early in Lefty’s childhood so he had to help earn money to put food on the table throughout the Great Depression. After graduating from high school, he joined the army and fought in Europe during World War II. After being released from the army, Lefty worked for many years at Fort Detrick in Maryland. It was also around this time, due to his uncanny eye-hand coordination, that Lefty did trick shooting for a rifle manufacturer.
However, Lefty also was becoming a well-established smallmouth bass fisherman. It was around this time that Lefty was hired by renowned angler Joe Brooks. As the story is told, Joe Brooks hired Lefty to guide him on the Potomac River for smallmouth. Joe used a fly rod and Lefty was “hooked” on fly fishing from that point on.
And, from that point on, Lefty Kreh began his ascent to legendary status. In the 1950s, Lefty did some freelance writing for local newspapers including the Baltimore Sun.
Although not precise with the year, Lefty moved to Florida to manage the Miami Metropolitan Fishing Tournament while also reporting for the Miami Herald. In 1972, Lefty went to his wife Ev and said “we’re moving back to Maryland”. Lefty told me that Ev said “Thank you Lefty, I’ve never liked Florida.” Lefty proudly would say what a wonderful wife…she never told me that she didn’t like living in Florida.
Lefty did return to Maryland and took a full-time job with the Baltimore Sun where he worked for 18 years until his retirement at 65. Although writing for a local paper, Lefty’s reputation, through books and national magazine articles, had spread around the world.
Early on, what caught the attention of a world-wide following was his unorthodox casting style. The old English style of the book under the arm, picking up the rod with a firm stroke, and stopping at 11:00, drifting to 1:00 and then beginning the power stroke forward was being challenged by Lefty. Amongst traditionalist, this was pure heresy. Lefty felt you could learn faster and cast farther using his technique. That technique was simply while keeping the casting hand on a parallel plane, you could take your hand back as far as possible as long as you didn’t break your wrist. Lefty taught that style through books, DVDs, articles in national magazines and hundreds of public appearances at sportsmen’s shows around the country.
Lefty’s technique did not go unchallenged. Another pillar of the fly fishing fraternity, Ernest Schwiebert, called it “jock” casting. It the late 1970s, 80s and 90s, I produced sportsmen’s shows. Both Ernie and Lefty appeared at the same shows for many years. Ernie would ask me to let him follow Lefty on the casting pool so folks could see the real fly fishing stroke. Fortunately, there was room in the industry for both legends and they each had their followers.
Through a 30-year friendship, I got to know Lefty well. Many people who achieve legendary status, in any profession, will only demonstrate their knowledge but seldom share it. Lefty always shared his knowledge. I fished with Lefty from the Northwest Territories to the Bahama Islands and many points in-between. Lefty always wanted to help other anglers. Whether it be lakeside or ocean side, Lefty would always be working with folks on their casting. I recall a man at Andros Island Bonefish Club who had always been an Eastern trout fisherman and was having a difficult time reaching the bonefish schools. Lefty had him casting 20 yards farther in just 15 minutes. The man was so happy he had tears in his eyes. That was Lefty…always wanting to share knowledge and help anglers better enjoy their sport.
Lefty, thank you so much for many years of friendship. I, along with the entire fly fishing community, will miss you terribly. However, we’ll all be fishing shoulder to shoulder someday…I’ll call you when I get there.
Copyright 2018 Paul Fuller
Paul Fuller is a life-long sportsman. He’s been an outdoor writer since 1971. He’s the host and producer of the award winning Bird Dogs Afield TV show (www.birddogsafield.com) and produced the epic video Grouse, Guns & Dogs. Paul shot over his first German shorthaired pointer in 1961. Paul may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.