LEFTY

LEFTY KREH HAS BEEN ONE OF THE MOST IN­FLU­EN­TIAL AND BELOVED FIG­URES IN FLY-FISH­ING

Anglers Journal - - CONTENTS - BY GARY RE­ICH POR­TRAITS BY JAY FLEM­ING

One of the most in­flu­en­tial and beloved fig­ures in fly-fish­ing, Lefty Kreh re­flects on a life­time of fish­ing, teach­ing, ty­ing and friend­ships. By GARY RE­ICH

It had been a few weeks since I’d ar­ranged to take a cast­ing les­son from fly-fish­ing sen­sei “Lefty”kreh. I rang the door­bell at his mod­est split-level home in Cock­eysville, Mary­land. “Who the hell are you?” he shouted from a sec­ond-story win­dow. “Just kid­ding,” he chor­tled be­fore duck­ing his head back inside. Kreh reap­peared at the front door, hold­ing a bun­dle of fly rods. At 5 feet 7, he was shorter than I re­mem­bered from fly-fish­ing shows, but his pierc­ing, light blue eyes and con­ta­gious, gap-toothed smile gave him a cheery, ap­proach­able ap­pear­ance. “Hey, my ball is hang­ing low,” he said with a chuckle. “Can you go check my mail?” He’d rigged a rope-and-ball con­trap­tion on his mail­box to let him know when the mail was de­liv­ered. Many more jury-rigged con­trap­tions were around his home and in his truck, in­clud­ing a bob­ber on the truck’s ra­dio an­tenna to help him find the ve­hi­cle in a crowded park­ing lot. He also had a padded shelf on the driver’s-side door. “I’m al­ways try­ing to fix stuff,” Kreh said as we drove.

We ar­rived at a park, and he started putting to­gether rods. Look­ing at my brightly col­ored run­ning shoes, he said, “I sure as hell hope you didn’t buy two pairs of those, Gary.” He made a snick­er­ing sound, some­thing he al­ways does when he’s de­liv­er­ing one of his in­fa­mous one-lin­ers or not-safe-for-print jokes.

An au­thor, colum­nist, in­no­va­tor and teacher, Lefty Kreh is one of the most in­flu­en­tial fig­ures in fly-fish­ing. He rein­vented the way fly an­glers cast, cre­ated some of the most suc­cess­ful mod­ern fresh- and saltwater fly pat­terns, col­lab­o­rated in the de­sign of nu­mer­ous pieces of gear and taught tens of thou­sands of in­di­vid­u­als how to im­prove their cast­ing. Known for his wel­com­ing and charis­matic per­son­al­ity, Kreh is a beloved fig­ure among fly an­glers ev­ery­where. And yes, I was a lit­tle in­tim­i­dated the first time I met him.

Kreh handed me a rod and said, “Go ahead and cast.” I mus­cled the line back and forth be­fore launch­ing about 30 feet of it across the pond. “Well, the good news is you’re go­ing to be a hell of a lot bet­ter when you leave here,” he said. “Have you ever looked at your back­cast?” I had not.

“Good,” he said, “be­cause it’s ugly as hell.”

Kreh then showed me a style of fly cast­ing he’d taught to thou­sands of peo­ple since he per­fected it in 1957. In­stead of the stan­dard ap­proach of stiffly whip­ping the fly rod be­tween the 10o’clock and 2 o’clock po­si­tions, Kreh moves his body, reach­ing far back with his arm on each cast. “You gotta pivot your body,” he said. “Don’t use your arms. Keep your el­bow on a shelf. Don’t bend your wrist.” He demon­strated, ef­fort­lessly launch­ing the fly line about 60 feet across the pond. A few min­utes later he stood be­side me with one hand on my shoul­der and the other tightly wrapped around my cast­ing wrist. In­stantly he added 20 feet to my cast. “I told you you’d be bet­ter,” he said. “Come on, let’s eat.”

Early Catches

Bernard “Lefty” Vic­tor Kreh was born Feb. 26, 1925, in Fred­er­ick, Mary­land. His fa­ther, “Whitey” Kreh, a brick­layer by trade, was killed in 1932 in a freak bas­ket­ball ac­ci­dent. Six-year-old Bernard was the old­est of four

chil­dren and be­came the de facto man of the house. His mother, He­len, had no in­come, so the fam­ily ended up on wel­fare.

“It was dif­fer­ent back then,” Kreh says. “We never got a nickel. They paid our rent, de­liv­ered coal to our house and dis­trib­uted food to us. I’ll never for­get walk­ing down North Bentz Street with sacks of food la­beled ‘re­lief.’ Peo­ple looked at you funny, and not in a good way. We were so poor we couldn’tafford to buy a mos­quito un­der­pants.”

As an ado­les­cent, Kreh fell into a rut of delin­quency. He says join­ing the Boy Scouts at age 12 changed his life. “I was get­ting into fist­fights and run­ning with the wrong crowd,” he re­calls. “Noth­ing hor­ri­ble, but petty van­dal­ism and stuff like that. I couldn’tafford the Boy Scouts be­cause there were uni­forms and ac­tiv­i­ties to pay for. But we worked some­thing out where I’d wash dishes at meet­ings and cam­pouts, and they’d let me be a Scout. It gave me a firm ba­sis in morals and dis­ci­pline.”

Kreh worked his way through high school be­cause his mother told him that if he wanted to go, he had to buy his own school clothes and food. He sup­ported him­self and the fam­ily by hunt­ing, trap­ping and fish­ing.

“When I was a kid, a lo­cal store was of­fer­ing 10 cents a pound for dressed cat­fish,” Kreh says. “Well, the Mono­cacy River was filled with them. There were mus­sels in the river that made great bait. We’d hook them up and toss them in. It was like rolling a wine bot­tle through a jail cell. The cat­fish went nuts. I also hunted foxes and trapped muskrats for pelt money.”

Asa kid, Kreh ex­celled at sports. His friends called him Lefty be­cause he drib­bled a bas­ket­ball with his left hand. The nick­name stuck. Years later, Kreh tore his left bi­cep, which forced him to do things with his right hand, arm and shoul­der, in­clud­ing cast­ing.

Kreh grad­u­ated from high school in 1942. Less than a week later, he re­ceived draft or­ders from the Army. In­stalled in the 69th In­fantry Divi­sion, he fought at the Bat­tle of the Bulge and was among the men who met ad­vanc­ing Rus­sians at the Elbe River. “War was hor­rific,” he says. “You even­tu­ally just got used to see­ing dead bod­ies — hu­mans and an­i­mals — just strewn ev­ery­where. The de­struc­tion was un­be­liev­able. I had one fella walk­ing next to me get shot in the chest. The im­pact took his head clean off.”

Kreh also re­mem­bers the U.S. Air Force drop­ping canned pan­cakes and hot maple syrup for the troops. “I rammed those pan­cakes into my mouth as fast as I could chew them,” he says.

Kreh re­turned to the States in 1945, be­liev­ing he’d be shipped off to Ja­pan, but the Ja­panese sur­ren­dered. “I re­mem­ber walk­ing through Fred­er­ick one day when horns started honk­ing, and peo­ple were hug­ging and cheer­ing,” he says. “Right then Iknew the war had ended.”

He found a civil­ian po­si­tion at Fort Det­rick, Mary-

land, where the mil­i­tary was brew­ing su­per-germs for bi­o­log­i­cal war­fare. “I was the 14th per­son hired for the pro­gram, and they paid me 79 cents an hour,” Kreh says. “We grew 1,800 gal­lons of an­thrax each week and then con­cen­trated it into a thick mud for the sci­en­tists. It was shift work, so I could keep on fish­ing and hunt­ing in my off hours.”

One morn­ing, Kreh woke up feel­ing ill and re­al­ized he’d been ex­posed. “My arm turned all black, and I was sick as hell and in the hos­pi­tal for weeks,” Kreh says. “I even­tu­ally beat it, though, and they de­vel­oped a stronger strain from the cul­tures in my blood.” He jokes there is a strain of an­thrax named af­ter him. “They call it BVK-1, af­ter my ini­tials.”

Kreh of­ten says the best catch he ever made was his wife. They met when he was early in his ca­reer at Fort Det­rick. He was go­ing to see a movie with a cou­ple of bud­dies at Fred­er­ick’s Tivoli Theatre (known to­day as the Wein­berg Cen­ter). When the men met the usher, Kreh couldn’t get in be­cause he had been given a child’s ticket. “I stormed up to the win­dow,” he says, “but when I got there, I saw a beau­ti­ful blonde with a great fig­ure. I for­got about that ticket pretty quick. Af­ter the show I walked her home, and then we talked for an hour or more.”

Her name was Eve­lyn Mask. “Six months later, we were en­gaged, and a year later we were mar­ried,” Kreh says, then winks. “And nine months af­ter that, our daugh­ter, Vicky, was born. Back then you didn’t get any nookie if you weren’t mar­ried, so we got to work get­ting mar­ried pretty quick.”

Their son, Larry, came three years later. “Eve­lyn,” Kreh says, “was the best thing that ever hap­pened to me.”

A Nat­u­ral

By the late 1940s, Kreh had a rep­u­ta­tion for be­ing one of the best bass fish­er­men in Mary­land. A lo­cal writer and an­gler named Joe Brooks, who would be­come Kreh’s men­tor, no­ticed and called him for a fish­ing date. “I took him just down­stream of Harpers Ferry, West Vir­ginia, for small­mouth bass, and he starts string­ing up this bam­boo fly rod,” Kreh says. Brooks, who went on to be­come quite a fig­ure in the sport, caught a small­mouth on ev­ery other cast. “I saw that and thought to my­self, Good God, I’ve got to have me some of this.”

The next day Kreh drove to Bal­ti­more and bought his first fly-rod out­fit from Tochter­man’s Fish­ing Tackle. “They sold me a 9-weight South Bend fiber­glass rod with a Pflueger Medal­ist reel and a Cort­land GAF fly line,” he says. “I was hooked right from the get-go.”

Kreh is re­call­ing that day while we’re sit­ting in a diner, or­der­ing lunch. He pauses when the waitress ap­pears. “I’ll have a ham­burger steak and French fries, both well-done,” he tells her. “I don’t want to see no blood coming out of that ham­burger steak, hon. Burn it.” He turns to me and says, “I don’t eat noth­ing with four col-

ors. I like plain food with no sea­son­ing. Well­done and noth­ing fancy. I take a jar of peanut but­ter and a few cans of corned beef with me on fish­ing trips be­cause you never know what sort of crazy stuff they’ll have to eat.”

Some­times, Kreh says, fly-fish­ing fans rec­og­nize him in places like that diner. But it doesn’t hap­pen of­ten. “I kind of like my anonymity in the reg­u­lar world,” he says. “Plus, I don’t think it’s ever worth mak­ing a big deal of your­self. In fact, I have a dif­fi­cult time get­ting along with peo­ple that do.”

Kreh is a man of the peo­ple, some­one who never for­gets his roots. “For some­one who’s caught nearly 130 species of fish on a fly rod, and who is prob­a­bly one of the best fly cast­ers on the planet, Lefty re­mains one of the most hum­ble, sin­cere peo­ple I’ve ever met,” says Ed Ja­worowski, a writer, pho­tog­ra­pher and renowned caster. “He never shows off his own skills at the ex­pense of show­ing up some­one else. His in­tegrity is prob­a­bly the big­gest gift he’s given to the sport of fly-fish­ing.”

In the 1950s, Kreh be­gan fish­ing with Henry Decker, man­ag­ing ed­i­tor of The Fred­er­ick News-post, who asked Kreh to write an out­doors col­umn. Readers loved it, even if Kreh didn’t at first. “This will sur­prise a lot of folks, but I hated English in high school,” Kreh says. “I told Decker that and let him know I didn’t have a col­lege de­gree.”

Decker said he’d help with the writ­ing. By the mid-’50s, Kreh was writ­ing sev­eral col­umns a week for mag­a­zines and news­pa­pers around the coun­try. One thing that set him apart was his pho­tog­ra­phy. He fig­ured out that if he could write the ar­ti­cle and in­clude the pho­tog­ra­phy, he could make more money. “They used to have us write the story, and then they’d have to hire an il­lus­tra­tor for the art­work,” he says. “That’s the way it worked back then. I’d bring my cam­eras along and take all the pho­to­graphs for the story. It meant I got paid more and was more de­sir­able to mag­a­zine and news­pa­per edi­tors.”

And Kreh didn’t stop there. “I even had a boat painted two colors — red one side and yel­low on the other,” he says. “When some­one caught a fish, I’d get in the wa­ter and take a pic­ture from one side of the boat and then move to the other and have them put on th­ese slip-on rain slick­ers. Then I’d take an­other pic­ture. That way I could sell two dif­fer­ent photos with two sep­a­rate ar­ti­cles. The guy who painted the boat thought I was nuts.”

Thanks to his bud­ding fan base, Kreh be­gan to give fly-cast­ing clin­ics at fish­ing clubs around the coun­try. “They paid my air­fare and

mo­tel to come give a demon­stra­tion, and in­evitably a cou­ple of guys would ask me to go fish­ing with them,” Kreh says. “I’d take my camera along with me and then write a mag­a­zine or news­pa­per col­umn about it. I did that all around the coun­try and up into Canada, and even­tu­ally the world.”

He racked up a catch count on the fly rod on ev­ery con­ti­nent ex­cept Antarc­tica. “Ain’t noth­ing to catch on Antarc­tica but pen­guins,” Kreh says.

Com­mon Touch

Kreh has of­ten said that not only his fish­ing skills, but also his abil­ity to func­tion on about five hours of sleep con­trib­uted to his suc­cess. He was able to work full time at Fort Det­rick while giv­ing fish­ing demos, trav­el­ing to places such as New Guinea (where he caught the hard-fight­ing Ni­ug­ini bass) and writ­ing, all with­out feel­ing tired. “I dis­cov­ered at one point that I could take a quick power nap in the mid­dle of the day and get right back to it,” Kreh says.

His friend Tom Brokaw, the for­mer NBC Nightly News an­chor, says Kreh will fall asleep in the bot­tom of the boat for 20-minute spells. “He’s only out for 20 min­utes or so, but when Lefty breaks for a nap, ev­ery­one stops what they’re do­ing,” Brokaw says. “It’s just a part of fish­ing with him and is one of the many quirks that make Lefty, Lefty.”

We fin­ish lunch and re­turn to his house. Kreh is a lit­tle frus­trated be­cause he has been hav­ing com­puter prob­lems. Hav­ing once worked at an Ap­ple Store, I looked at his com­puter and fixed the prob­lem. “You ain’t do­ing this for noth­ing,” Kreh says.

“I’ll give you a cast­ing les­son ev­ery now and again, and you can help me with the com­puter.” Two days later I re­ceived a typed thank-you note on Kreh’s sig­na­ture sta­tionery. That was about seven years ago, and we’ve been friends since.

Kreh loves to men­tor and teach, and he is gen­er­ous with his time. At fly-fish­ing shows he talks with ev­ery per­son he meets as if he has known the guy for­ever. He re­ceives hun­dreds of emails a day, and he’ll al­ways take a phone call from a fan. He loves his fans. “If you walk up to him at a show he’ll stop for a pic­ture and talk with you for a few min­utes,” says Capt. Sarah Gard­ner, a North Carolina fly-fish­ing guide and Kreh pro­tégé. “It doesn’t matter who you are; he never turns any­one away. Lefty has time for ev­ery­one, al­most so much as to be a li­a­bil­ity to him­self.”

For­mer Bal­ti­more Sun out­doors writer

Candy Thom­son says Kreh’s broad ap­peal stems from the fact that he is, at his core, a “meat-and-pota­toes fish­er­man,” hap­pier fish­ing for Potomac River small­mouth with pop­pers than rub­bing el­bows with the rich and fa­mous. “His pub­lic knows he’s gen­uine and love him for it,” says Thom­son, now the pub­lic in­for­ma­tion of­fi­cer for the Mary­land Nat­u­ral Re­sources Police. “And he loves them back.”

He can also spot a fake. “If you’ve got a gen­uine in­ter­est in learn­ing, Lefty will work with you,” says long­time friend and fly-ty­ing in­no­va­tor Bob Popovics. “But if you’re just try­ing to get to know him for the sake of your own ego, he’ll spot it within sec­onds and move on.”

Popovics says Kreh sup­ported him at a time when fly-fish­ing purists were re­ject­ing his in­no­va­tive epoxy flies, in­clud­ing his fa­mous Surf Candy pat­tern. “Peo­ple were say­ing that they were lures, not flies,” Popovics re­calls. “Lefty stood up for what I’d cre­ated and vouched for how well the Surf Candy could catch fish. That meant a lot to me.

“It’s dif­fi­cult to speak about Lefty and not sound as if you’re just com­pletely gush­ing,” he adds. “There will never be an­other Lefty; he’s com­pletely ir­re­place­able.”

Kreh says that show­ing off and do­ing cast­ing tricks — some­thing he did a lot of in the ’40s and ’50s — never did much for him. He pre­ferred teach­ing. “I can teach any­one to fly-cast that I ain’t mar­ried to,” Kreh says with a grunt. “A good in­struc­tor never dis­plays his knowl­edge; he shares it with oth­ers. I’ll never for­get when I worked with the golfer Jack Nick­laus. He learned so quickly, al­ready hav­ing an idea about strokes and body move­ment. By the end of that les­son he was grin­ning like a Hal­loween pump­kin.”

Brokaw says that one par­tic­u­lar teach­ing mo­ment is among his fa­vorite sto­ries about Kreh. “I re­mem­ber a trip with Lefty in the north­ern Ba­hamas,” Brokaw says. “The guides were show­boat­ing and try­ing to im­press Lefty with their cast­ing. I look over at him and say, ‘Looks pretty good; he’s strong,’ to which Lefty re­sponds, ‘He’s strong, but dumb.’ The guide turns around and asks Lefty what he said.” Brokaw re­calls Kreh say­ing, “‘You heard me. I said you’re strong, but you’re dumb.’ Lefty in­structs the guide to turn his back­cast a few de­grees. The guide did what Lefty said and in­stantly added an­other 30 feet to his cast.” Kreh also fished with Fidel Cas­tro, in 1959, at the an­nual Hemingway In­ter­na­tional Bill­fish Tour­na­ment. “I fished with Cas­tro for one day and aboard Hemingway’s Pi­lar for two days,” Kreh says. “I didn’t talk to Cas­tro much be­cause I didn’t speak Span­ish, and I only spoke briefly to Hemingway. I spent most of my time with Hemingway’s mate, Gre­go­rio Fuentes, learn­ing how to rig baits and catch marlin. Fuentes was Hemingway’s in­spi­ra­tion for the old man in The Old Man and the Sea. Most folks think I am crazy when they find out I didn’t take more time to get to know Hemingway, but we did even­tu­ally talk for a while. I re­mem­ber ask­ing him what makes good writ­ing.” Kreh says Hemingway looked at him and said, “It can’t be edited.”

Kreh adds, “As a writer, that stuck with me for a long time.”

Kreh isn’t im­pressed with sta­tus or so­cial stand­ing. “Ti­tles don’t mean noth­ing to me,” Kreh says. “It’s the fish­ing and com­pany that mat­ters.” He has also fished with four U.S. pres­i­dents, sausage mag­nate Jimmy Dean, an­gling le­gends Flip Pal­lot and Stu Apte, Major League Base­ball short­stop Hum­berto “Chico” Fernandez, ac­tor Michael Keaton and Patag­o­nia founder Yvon Chouinard.

“Meet­ing peo­ple while fish­ing landed me some of my best friends,” he says. “I don’t know if I told you this, but I’m Tom Brokaw’s grand­son’s hon­orary god­fa­ther.”

Brokaw con­sid­ers Kreh part of his fam­ily.

“My daugh­ter and Lefty hit it off im­me­di­ately,” Brokaw says. “I love him; my wife loves him. … He’s just a part of us.”

An­other an­gling buddy who sticks out in Kreh’s mem­ory is base­ball star Ted Wil­liams. “He thought he was hot shit when I first met him — he was a rude and ornery guy,” Kreh re­calls. “Tougher than an au­to­mo­bile tire. He in­vited me to go fish­ing, and I met him in

Is­lam­orada, Florida, one day. He showed off his cast, which had a ton of wasted move­ment, so I picked up the rod and cast it the same dis­tance but with hardly any ef­fort. From that mo­ment Ted’s at­ti­tude changed, and we be­came best friends.”

In­no­va­tor

Kreh came to know so many fa­mous fish­ing en­thu­si­asts be­cause of an op­por­tu­nity that he jumped on in 1964. Pi­o­neer­ing fly fish­er­man Brooks had asked him to take a job run­ning the Met­ro­pol­i­tan Mi­ami Fish­ing Tour­na­ment, one of the largest tour­na­ments in the world at the time. “Run­ning that tour­na­ment was like be­ing the mayor of fish­ing in all of South Florida,” Kreh says. “My kids were 12 and 14 at the time, and it was a big deal for them and Eve­lyn to pick up and move with me. Ac­cept­ing that job and mov­ing to Florida was one of the best de­ci­sions Ev and I ever made.”

At the time, South Florida was an in­cu­ba­tor for many of the saltwater fly-fish­ing tech­niques and light-tackle de­vel­op­ments that are com­mon­place to­day. “There were only 12 guides in the Keys back then, and we were learn­ing new stuff all the time,” Kreh re­calls. “Many of the saltwater knots and flies we use to­day came out of South Florida in the late ’60s and early ’70s. Flies, reels, rods, you name it. If it’s used in saltwater fish­ing to­day there’s a good chance it came out of South Florida back then.”

One of the flies Kreh used in Florida was a pat­tern he crafted to catch striped bass in Ch­e­sa­peake Bay. “There were th­ese crabpro­cess­ing plants in Cr­is­field, Mary­land, and back in the ’50s they’d dump the left­overs in the wa­ter at night,” he says. “Well, I’m here to tell you it drove the stripers nuts. But they wouldn’t take a fly. Plus, the flies we were us­ing got fouled up all the time.”

Kreh came up with a new fly that not only didn’t tan­gle, but also caught stripers. Lefty’s De­ceiver turned out to be wildly ef­fec­tive for striped bass and is still im­i­tated and used for a va­ri­ety of species to­day. In 1991 the

U.S. Postal Ser­vice hon­ored the fly with a stamp. “The De­ceiver is a great fly, but what I re­mem­ber most is Lefty’s Pop­ping Bug pat­terns,” says Bob Clouser, a fly-ty­ing mas­ter and close friend of Kreh’s. “That Lefty’s Bug was great on small­mouth on the Susque­hanna. Kreh’s early fly-ty­ing con­tri­bu­tions were just as im­por­tant as that De­ceiver.”

Clouser, of course, in­vented the most suc­cess­ful saltwater fly-fish­ing pat­tern of all time: the Clouser Deep Min­now. “I gave a few to Lefty to use, and he looked at me and said, ‘Are they fin­ished?’ ” he re­calls. “Lefty was per­plexed by how sim­ple they were. He fished a red-and-white pat­tern and came back flab­ber­gasted by how many fish they caught. When I asked him what I should name it, Lefty said, ‘Well, it swims deep, looks like a min­now and your last name is Clouser. Clouser Deep Min­now is what you should call it.’ The rest is his­tory.”

Clouser says he can’t imag­ine there will ever be an­other Lefty in the sport. “He’s given so much to all of us,” he says. “I wish I could fig­ure out a way to keep him around for­ever.”

Kreh’s tackle room, in his base­ment, has walls cov­ered with hun­dreds of spin­ning and fly reels. There are boxes of fly tackle and a mul­ti­tude of other fish­ing gear. “Have you ever heard of a Ti­bor reel?” Kreh asks, pick­ing a shiny brass reel off the wall. “Me and my friend Ted Ju­rac­sik worked on this to­gether. It’s a great saltwater fly reel.”

Kreh takes a fly rod down from the ceil­ing rack. “See th­ese fer­rules, how the rod goes to­gether? This is an old Fen­wick rod,” he says. “I worked on it with a friend of mine.”

Kreh con­tin­ues around the room, be­ing care­ful not to take full credit for any­thing in it. From Bob Hewes’ first flats boat to flies to fish­ing knots and fly rods, there isn’t much in the way of gear or tech­niques that Kreh hasn’t helped de­sign or im­prove. “I’m an in­suf­fer­able tin­kerer,” he says. “I’m al­ways try­ing to make things work bet­ter. Even my liv­ing room lamp’s pull cord is rigged with a rub­ber hose so the static from walk­ing across the room doesn’t shock me.”

Chal­leng­ing Times

When it comes to writ­ing, Kreh is proud of the work he’s done, in­clud­ing dur­ing the years he worked for Florida Sports­man. “I was re­ally proud of the mag­a­zine; there was noth­ing like it at the time,” he says. “Then I was at the St. Peters­burg Times. In 1972, The Bal­ti­more Sun called me and wanted me to be their out­door ed­i­tor. I was pretty happy at the time, and I loved Florida, so I made damned sure I wasn’t mak­ing a mis­take go­ing back up to Mary­land. I in­ter­viewed with them and es­sen­tially dic­tated my own terms. They ac­cepted with­out so much as hic­cup­ping.”

While Kreh was with the Sun his book, mag­a­zine and tele­vi­sion work ac­cel­er­ated. To­day he has about 30 books un­der his belt. Many are con­sid­ered the bi­bles of their re­spec­tive sub­jects. He re­tired from the Sun in 1992. “I loved my time there, but when I left it was a huge weight off my shoul­ders,” Kreh says. “Then I fo­cused on fish­ing, trav­el­ing, giv­ing demos and prod­uct de­vel­op­ment full time.”

In Kreh’s liv­ing room a signed pic­ture of President Ge­orge H.W. Bush fish­ing hangs just be­low a large tar­pon mount. There’s also a pic­ture of Eve­lyn. That’s the one clos­est to Kreh’s heart. “She was my best friend,” he says of his wife, who suf­fered a stroke in 2009 and died in 2011. “I never knew any­one who had a marriage as good as ours.”

Her death dev­as­tated him. “I spent a lot of time ly­ing around feel­ing sorry for my­self,” Kreh says. “For about three months af­ter she died I didn’t do much of any­thing. Even­tu­ally I snapped out of it and got back to what I loved do­ing.”

He buried him­self in his work, main­tain­ing a travel sched­ule at age 86 that would wear out peo­ple half his age. “I’d be in Dal­las, Texas, one day, Canada two days later and giv­ing cast­ing demos in New Jersey a day or two af­ter that,” Kreh says.

In early 2017, at age 92, Kreh suf­fered a se­ries of min­istrokes and had surgery to un­block his carotid artery. “The doc­tors dis­cov­ered my heart is only pump­ing 35 per­cent of what it should and told me to take it easy and travel less,” he says. “I ain’t much on that, but I never imag­ined be­ing around so long in the first place.”

By late sum­mer 2017, doc­tors had told him to stay at home and fur­ther limit his ac­tiv­i­ties. “Well, I can’t travel or do in­struct­ing, so I’ve got to find a way to be happy here at home,” he says. “I’ve got some pro­jects to do on the com­puter, and I’ll be happy keep­ing busy right here.”

In late Oc­to­ber, Kreh semiof­fi­cially an­nounced his re­tire­ment via e-mail to the fly­fish­ing com­mu­nity. He wrote: “The sched­ule I lived for decades is no longer valid, and I will spend most of my time at home. As we get older, we learn to ad­just to what we can and can­not do. I have a num­ber of in­ter­est­ing com­puter pro­jects and will be busier than a Syr­ian brick­layer.”

In Novem­ber, hospice care was brought into Kreh’s home. His daugh­ter, Vic­to­ria, says he’s com­fort­able and happy in the house. “He gets tired easy and is on oxy­gen but man­ages to spend some time on the com­puter, like he loves to do,” she says. “And he’s had lots of vis­i­tors. I’m pass­ing mes­sages to him from e-mails, and he loves get­ting them. Dad’s his hap­pi­est when he reads some­thing about a per­son he helped be a bet­ter caster or catch a new species of fish.”

Kreh’s friend­ships have touched many peo­ple. “Meet­ing Lefty is one of the best things that ever hap­pened to me in my life,” Brokaw says. “He’s a true liv­ing leg­end. There will be a hole that can never be filled when he is gone.”

For me, in my in­signif­i­cant lit­tle part of Lefty’s world, I can never re­pay him for his gen­eros­ity in help­ing me be­come a bet­ter writer, a more ac­com­plished an­gler and, most im­por­tant, a bet­ter per­son.

Kreh with a mess of bluegills taken in 1950 from Is­rael Creek in Fred­er­ick, Mary­land.

This big tar­pon was fooled by a fly thrown by Kreh in the pi­o­neer­ing days of saltwater fly-fish­ing.

If those reels could talk, Kreh’s base­ment would be achat­ter.

Lefty’s De­ceiver proved to be an ef­fec­tive pat­tern on a num­ber of species, in­clud­ing striped bass. A beloved fig­ure, Kreh re­flected on his life this fall at his home in Cock­eysville, Mary­land.

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