Remembering Lefty Kreh

by Dan Neuland

“Half a dozen fly patterns will catch 90 percent of the fish 90 percent of the time”
-quote often repeated by Lefty Kreh.

The first time I met Lefty was at the 2008 Tie Fest held on Kent Island, many years before it was renamed in his honor in 2013. The Tie Fest was a much smaller venue back then. Lefty was doing tying demonstrations and crowds gathered around to hear his tips and tricks for fly tying. Later that day, the crowds followed Lefty outside for a casting demo. On the drive over, I stopped at Anglers Sport Center in Annapolis and bought a book written by Lefty. He signed it for me that day and I was thrilled. That was the beginning of several nice things he did for me.

Our paths crossed several more times over the years at Mason-Dixon Outdoor Writer’s Conferences and Brotherhood of the Jungle Cock campfires, but I got to know Lefty better through his emails. I would share stories and photos with Lefty of my son, Nathaniel, and I fishing and hunting on the Monocacy River and other adventures. The Monocacy is the river that Lefty grew up fishing, hunting and trapping. He always responded with comments and stories of his early days and he would send me some of those vintage photos of his.

In 2010, Lefty arranged a float trip with me on the Potomac River. He wanted to test some rods for TFO and he wanted me to photograph him on the rock where Joe Brooks introduced him to fly casting. Lefty told me all about that day with Brooks. Lefty was guiding Brooks, but Lefty was using spin tackle. It was a windy day and he offered Brooks the spinning rod when he saw Brooks had brought only fly gear. Brooks politely refused the use of the spin tackle.

They floated down the Potomac River from Harper’s Ferry, West Virginia on their way downriver to Brunswick, MD and stopped to eat lunch on this rock. Brooks was catching bass after bass on a Black Ghost streamer. This was new to Lefty and he had to try it. Brooks gave Lefty his first fly casting lesson on that rock.

The next day Lefty and Joe went to Tochterman’s in Baltimore and Lefty purchased his first fly rod (9 weight – 9 ft. fiberglass South Bend rod and Pflueger Medalist reel and GAF-9 weight line). That reel is now in the American Fly Fishing Museum in Manchester, Vermont. Lefty also gave me a roll casting lesson that day on the rock. Lefty was 86 at that time.

On the day before I took him fishing, I floated the route of the river to make sure the flow was adequate to get through and not have to make Lefty get in and out of the raft, he was 86 at that time. The next day, I fished with Lefty and before we launched, I showed Lefty my small black popper I tied, a pattern on which I have caught hundreds of smallies. Lefty looked at the fly and made critical comments, I said, “well, it catches fish.” “Don’t expect any sympathy from me,” he said.

Unfortunately for Lefty, he couldn’t catch fish that day! He was casting bigger saltwater flies and a big yellow popper he designed. I didn’t dare cast a fly that day, because I was thinking that if I started catching fish, he might get angry and embarrassed after being critical of my fly. I also did not want to outfish Lefty! The day before I had caught plenty of fish!

It was a memorable day for sure, and Lefty was able to test a few rods and I took the photos of him that he wanted. The following week I received a package with a thank you letter and two autographed books. Later, he gave me a stripping basket of his (with his name on it) that I could use on my raft, something he said I needed. He understandably didn’t like his line getting wrapped around the front of my raft. Interesting that no one who has fished with me on my raft ever complained about their fly line getting caught, but then no ever casted as much line as Lefty did and so effortlessly as well.

The “Lefty Kreh Day” held on June 21st, 2014 in Middletown Community Park was probably even more memorable than spending a day fishing with Lefty. That day, I met Lefty at the Barbara Fritchie restaurant for breakfast before driving him to the park. I was his assistant that day and gladly helped him in any way I could. It was a great day for Lefty and our club. All those who attended were able to see Lefty as we want to remember him, full of energy and sharp as ever, even at 89 years old. Sadly, Lefty’s health began to deteriorate when he reached his 90’s, yet he was still doing casting demonstrations at the annual “Tie Fest” events up until 2017.

Besides being a lifetime member of PVFF, he was also a founding member of Bonefish & Tarpon Unlimited, a Charter member of Saltwater Flyrodders of America, Senior Advisor to Trout Unlimited and to the Fly Fishers International, to name just a few of the organizations he belonged to.

Over his lifetime he wrote thousands of articles for magazines and newspapers and authored 32 books. His famous “Lefty’s Deceiver” fly pattern was developed in the late 1950s and the United States Postal Service used it for one of their Commemorative Postage Stamps in 1991.

Interesting note – Lefty had a strain of Anthrax named after him “BVK-1” after he was infected with Anthrax while working for Fort Detrick.