An­gling leg­end Lefty Kreh

Jeff Prest takes a look at the main man

Trout Fisherman (UK) - - Contents - Jef­frey Prest: The TF Fea­tures Edi­tor on what’s caught his at­ten­tion this month.

WE might be­rate the young’s ob­ses­sion with celebrity but maybe those of us nearer the op­po­site end of life’s rain­bow are guilty of go­ing to the other ex­treme. Be hon­est (be­cause I’m hop­ing it’s not just me) how many times in the last 12 months have you learnt of a fa­mous per­son’s death and felt a pang of guilt be­cause you were un­der the im­pres­sion that he or she had been dead for years?


Equally dis­com­fit­ing, how many times did you won­der what other house­hold names are up to th­ese days, only to find that they have been dead for years? Put it down to ac­cu­mu­lated worldly wis­dom, I sup­pose; our in­creas­ing de­tach­ment from the great and good, no mat­ter how de­served their fame. With a clar­ity thank­fully de­nied us in our youth, we see that all the Os­cars and stand­ing ova­tions in the world won’t save th­ese il­lus­tri­ous souls from ex­actly the same destiny as lit­tle old you and me; an ap­point­ment with trench or fur­nace, clad in their Sun­day best.

Thus do fa­mous names tend to float in our men­tal ether. We know of them but tend to make less and less of an ef­fort to know any­thing more about them. In the case of Lefty Kreh, that would have been a lam­en­ta­ble over­sight. Even if I only re­alise that now. Key­board war­riors among you will have heard of Lefty Kreh. You can’t have the world of fly­fish­ing come to your door via the mir­a­cle of Wi-Fi with­out be­ing aware of an Amer­i­can lu­mi­nary who’s fished ev­ery­where, for­got­ten more about cast­ing than most of us may ever know and has the most blue-chip con­tacts list out­side of The Hol­ly­wood Re­porter. If you bought or were given the book, you’ll know that he and his pub­lish­ers de­vised a clever trick when Cast­ing with Lefty Kreh came out nine years ago. Nowhere does it re­fer to it­self as a ‘bi­ble’; in­stead, it gen­tly con­veys the mes­sage by be­ing de­signed like a Bi­ble: with 456 pages between 9x11 inch hard­back cov­ers, it’s like lift­ing a slab of mar­ble. Get your­self a copy for each hand and you’re ninety per cent of the way to a full up­per-body work­out. Lefty, went the im­plicit mes­sage, knows how to heave a line. But then, as you’d ex­pect, a 91-year-old who’s never had to worry about a proper job since he be­gan guid­ing at age 22, knows a whole lot more of in­ter­est to the likes of us. Vividly pro­filed in the South African magazine The Mis­sion this month (the­mis­sion­fly­ he talks about his trek from a child­hood so poor ,“we couldn’ t buy a mos­quito un­der­wear ”, to a pre-emi­nence that lists Hol­ly­wood star Michael Keaton as one of his cast­ing pupils, earns him doc­u­men­tary work along­side some of the big­gest names in Amer­i­can tele­vi­sion, and has mu­si­cian Huey Lewis phon­ing him up to talk flies. The no-frills ques­tion and an­swer for­mat of The Mis­sion’s in­ter­view can of­ten amount to lazy jour­nal­ism but when some­one has as much to say as Lefty, frills are re­dun­dant. There will come a time soon when 20th cen­tury fig­ures like Hem­ing­way and Cas­tro are aloof icons, as the num­bers of those who can talk about them first-hand di­min­ish like a re­treat­ing tide, so there is a poignancy to Lefty’s rec­ol­lec­tions of be­ing afloat with both of them, a week af­ter the Cuban rev­o­lu­tion. “Good writ­ing,” Hem­ing­way told him, “can’t be edited.” I braced my­self slightly when Kreh be­gan to ex­pound his fish­ing phi­los­o­phy. Great peo­ple in any field can go two ways here, and ei­ther make their sub­ject sound so com­plex as to leave the rest of us de­mor­alised, or else be so ca­su­ally dis­mis­sive of its chal­lenges that we feel in­sulted.

Cast­ing straight

Thank­fully, Lefty casts a straight line some­where between th­ese ex­tremes, re­ject­ing purism and com­pe­ti­tion, but po­litely so. “...ifit­won’ttakeafly,uselures.Ifit­won’ttakelures,use bait...I’mgo­ing­to­catchthedamn­fis­hon­eway­ora­n­other.” “Ididn’tget­intofly­fish­ing­to­beat­peo­ple.Ifly­fish­to­have fun with peo­ple.” Iron­i­cally, the one time I felt he was be­com­ing glib (“Never learn­to­cast­the­way­most­peo­pleteach...thi­sis­the­most in­ef­fi­cient way you can do it”) he fol­lowed up with what may be the most daz­zling in­sight I have yet heard or seen re­gard­ing my per­sonal neme­sis; the dou­ble-haul. I of­ten won­der if destiny spared me writer’s block be­cause it had a dif­fer­ent kind of block in store for me. Put me in the com­pany of a ca­pa­ble in­struc­tor and I can just about dou­ble-haul, but the minute I’m on my own, it’s like the clock has struck mid­night in Cin­derella. In a world of dou­ble­haulers, I sim­ply look for closer fish. “Whaty­oure­allyshould­dowith­adou­ble­haulis,with­y­our line­hand,repli­cateth­e­ex­act­strokey­ou­did­with­y­our[rod] hand.” Time will tell if that’s the penny drop­ping that it sounded like, but I know this: Lefty Kreh got me out in my back gar­den with a fly rod for the first time in a long time, obliv­i­ous to what the neigh­bours thought. It needs a lot of work and I’m aware that throw­ing both hands in the air si­mul­ta­ne­ously has an un­wel­come look of Max By­graves about it, but there is sud­denly a pin-prick of light at the end of a pre­vi­ously bricked up-tun­nel. I don’t know what mark you made on Fidel Cas­tro, Lefty, but I cer­tainly won’t for­get you. Dead or alive.

“If it won’t take a fly, use lures. If it won’t take lures, use bait... I’m go­ing to catch the damn fish one way or an­other.”

Lefty on cast­ing to a promis­ing swim: “Like rollingaw­inebot­tle in­toa­jail­cell...”

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