I first heard the name Lefty Kreh not long after I started fly fishing. When I got the bug (and a box full of imitation bugs), I scoured the internet to find resources to help me learn the knowledge and skills it takes to be a good angler. I found Lefty’s casting videos, books, and learned about his “four principles of fly casting.” I found out that he’d been the sport’s foremost ambassador, a pioneer of saltwater fly fishing, and an innovator whose “Lefty’s Deceiver” streamer pattern had been immortalized on a commemorative stamp. But it wasn’t until a few months later, talking to the owner of a local fly shop, that I discovered that the world’s most famous fly fisher was a Maryland native, born and bred in Frederick.
When the journalist Tom Brokaw coined the phrase “the greatest generation” — describing Americans who were born in the early years of the 20th-century, grew up during the Great Depression, and fought in or worked to help win World War II — he could have had Lefty in mind. Bernard “Lefty” Kreh was born in Frederick in 1925. His father taught him to fish, but died when Lefty was only six years old. To help provide for his three younger siblings Lefty fished in the Monocacy River and hunted in the woods around Frederick, bringing home food and selling the catfish he’d caught. After graduating high school in 1942 he was drafted and fought in Europe during the final years of the war, participating in the Battle of the Bulge.
After returning to Frederick at the end of the war he worked as a civilian at what was then called Camp Detrick, where his job allowed him ample time to fish and earn extra money as an outdoor writer and a guide. While bass fishing on the Potomac in 1947, the famous outdoor writer and fly fisher Joe Brooks introduced Lefty to fly fishing. The rest, as they say, is history.
Lefty guided presidents, wrote over 30 books and many articles, founded conservation organizations and was an advisor to many others. He was a conservationist, photographer, television personality, educator, writer, and editor. Lefty was also a lifetime member of Potomac Valley Fly Fishers, and some of our fellow club members knew and fished with Lefty. Talk to any of them about him, and the admiration and affection is unmistakable.
A group of members, led by PVFF President Andy Mekelburg, has founded the Friends of Lefty Kreh with the goal of building a statue to commemorate Lefty and honor his association with Frederick.
Over the next few months, issues of this newsletter will have features on various aspects of the project including: the sculptor Tobias Mendez, the planned educational efforts, and some of the celebrities and fly anglers involved in making this happen. We hope you’ll want to read to learn more about Lefty and his legacy, and donate to honor the life of this legendary local sportsman. To donate and learn more, visit: www.friendsofleftykreh.com
By Seth Denbo