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Lefty Kreh Reminisces

by Marshall Cutchin
War veteran, exhibition shooter and fly caster, columnist and book author, lecturer and inventor, Lefty's name almost defines 'authoritative' for many fly fishers. But few have insight into the origins of Lefty's knowledge about saltwater fly fishing or about the growth of the school of thought that led to so many key innovations in the 1960s and 70s. In a recent conversation we had with Lefty, he offered his perspective on the real history: the people and the places where it all got started.

“I BELIEVE THAT between the early 1960s and early 1970s the light tackle club members and the Met Tournament in South Florida were responsible for more improvements and innovations in light tackle and saltwater fly fishing than at any other period in this sport.

Lefty's Deceiver

A Lefty's Deceiver, as tied by Lefty himself.

I was so lucky to be in the right place at the right time. As manager of the MET (there were no major tournaments in South Florida in the mid-60s — and none in the Keys), I would guess that less than 80 or 90 guides worked the Keys at that time. And maybe there weren’t that many. I was responsible, for example, for convincing Bob Montgomery, who was coming out of the Navy, to start the first skiff guide business in Key West and helped him get a boat, gear and tackle as well as clients. I was fortunate to fish with many of the early pioneer and innovative fishing guides who were legends — Cecile Keith and his dad, Jack Brothers, Jimmy Albright, many others, and the guide whom most of us who have known many Keys guides over the decades consider maybe the greatest of them all — George Hommell. Every one of them shared their knowledge with me because I never told anyone in South Florida where they took me fishing. I learned so much from these great guides/friends.

When I arrived in Miami in 1964 anglers were catching some fish on fly rods — but I can honestly say that almost no one was a good fly caster or understood the process. Flip Pallot, Norm Duncan, Chico Fernandez, John Emery and a host of others would show up at my home at the village Kendale and we would work on fly casting in the cul de sac in front of my house.

These guys and others were innovators and we shared information. I was also lucky as manager of the MET to fish on several occasions with Web Robinson and many times with Lefty Regan, who developed the modern fish teasing techniques. Lee Cuddy, a true fly rod pioneer, used to fly me with him to Key West for the day — we would get on the Cal Sal, Lefty Regan’s old boat, and go to the Luckenback, theDunbar and another nearby wreck I have forgotten the name of. You really didn’t have to know the exact location of each of these wrecks. Lefty was the only one who knew both of them and how to reach them using RPMs and a compass and without a Loran or other device. When you got with a few hundreds yards of each of these wrecks there were hundreds of fish — cobia, permit, amberjack, snappers, cudas, etc. — on the surface and more of them below. We often hand fed blue runners to amberjack and cobia for fun. Joe Brooks was my mentor and a fishing friend. Homer Rhodes had an old houseboat on the Barron River in Chokoloskee and often he would take me on a pitch black night up mysterious rivers. One morning after such a night where we had caught a number of big snook on flies, he asked me where would I like to fish today and I said “Where we fished last night.” Homer was a very quiet man of few words. He answered, “We can’t.” I asked him why not and he answered, “Because I can’t find it in the daytime.

I remember in 1966 I was in the Marquesas with my son, Larry, who was 14 at the time and our 30 HP Johnson broke down. We were there 2 1/2 days before a decrepit old lobster boat came by and a nice Cuban fishermen towed us in to Key West. Knowing we might have motor trouble I had taken with us more than enough food and water. The last time I fished the Marquesas was about 5 years ago and I counted 14 boats working that small place. In the mid-1960s if you arrived inside the Marquesas just at dawn it looked like picket fences where the dorsals of sleeping permit and tarpon dotted the quiet lagoon.”

MidCurrent Fly Fishing
 
Marshall Cutchin is the publisher of MidCurrent.
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