Mel Krieger Honored in San Francisco

September 29, 2009 By: Marshall Cutchin

The legacy of Mel Krieger was celebrated and honored Thursday evening, September 24th, 2009 at a dinner in San Francisco hosted by The American Museum of Fly Fishing. Mel had been honored by the Museum as its Heritage Award Winner in 2003. Mel died from brain cancer at the age of 80 in October of 2008.
The dinner was held at the MarketBar Restaurant at The Embarcadero, where both a silent auction and, after dinner, a live auction were held to benefit the Museum in Mel’s name. AMFF Executive Director Cathi Comar was the host for the evening, and among the speakers was Fanny Krieger, who thanked everyone and talked about Mel’s many contributions to the sport of fly fishing. Reports from people at the dinner said there was more than ample evidence of love for Mel, as people in the Bay Area and beyond had a chance to honor one of the most revered and important teachers of fly fishing and fly casting the world has ever known.
We got a copy of Jeffrey Pill’s remarks at the tribute and thought they were worth sharing with MidCurrent readers. Jeff — the producer of some of the best DVDs on fly fishing ever made and a long-time friend of Kreiger’s — was kind enough to let us publish his tribute in its entirety. Especially if you’d never met Mel in person, it is well worth reading.

Tribute to Mel Krieger
By Jeffrey M. Pill
AMFF – San Francisco, 24 September 2009
I met Mel 23 years ago at a conclave, though I had “seen” him before. That was just a few weeks earlier at a beginners fly fishing school when I first picked up a fly rod and where, as part of the “curriculum,” we were shown Mel’s “Essence of Fly Casting” video. At the time I had already been working in television for 18 years and immediately recognized that Mel was one of those few people who truly “come through the lens,” meaning he’s almost able to reach out from the screen, grab each viewer by the throat and insist, “watch and listen to me. . . I have something important to show you that will help.” And he did … and still does.
Anyway, when I did meet him I told him that he definitely had that “through the lens” talent, but also mentioned what I thought was an omission in the video about what gear you needed for fly fishing. Rather than taking offense . . . or becoming defensive . . . as some in the fly fishing industry might do. . . and I won’t name names . . . Mel told me I was absolutely correct and he wished he would have put in what I suggested. I was impressed and that day we began a friendship of almost a quarter century.
In fact, when I moved to San Francisco in the early 90’s, Fanny and Mel welcomed me into their extended family. I was invited to their Thanksgivings, to their New Year’s Eve gatherings and it was in their home where my friendships began with many luminaries in the sport, including Charles Jardine, Val Atkinson, Ben Blackwell and many people in the Golden Gate Angling and Casting Club. And that was because the Krieger home was always the headquarters and home-away-from-home for fly fishers from around the world during shows like San Mateo and San Raphael and anytime you happened to be town. I feel blessed because even when I didn’t live in San Francisco but was coming to town, I would always be invited to stay at the Krieger’s, and I did . . . and many others did as well. And there were always parties, great food and wine, good scotch — Fanny and Mel were the consummate hosts.
Now, to describe Mel briefly is not easy, but I’m going to try. Mel was passionate, curious, honest and innovative.
His passion was unbridled. When he believed something, such as the importance of teaching good casting well, he was ferocious. I know of an instance when at a meeting of the Casting Board of Governors of the Federation of Fly Fishers, he accused another Governor, who was not agreeing with Mel about something, of everything from being stupid, to having parents who were never married, to being unpatriotic. Later, Mel sought the man out, apologized profusely and truly felt regret at what he had accused the man of. This Governor later told me he never took offense at what Mel had said … hey, he knew Mel … he understood Mel’s passion and was just happy that someone felt such emotional attachment to what he believed was in the best interest of teaching fly casting well.
Mel was curious, and always looking for better ways to teach and better ways to explain. From sound effects (shusssh…and then a tongue “dock” on the roof of the mouth), to inventing characters like Joe Schmopkapop, to the now infamous “Down-Up” — all to get his points across clearly and entertainingly.
Oh, and some “late” news. Just a few hours ago, I was talking to Bruce Richards, formerly of Scientific Angler who’s still involved with the Casting Governors, and he told me there is a new toast that Casters everywhere are giving, and celebrating whenever a toast is made, and that “toast” is “Whomp,” (in memory of you-know-who who used the term to denote a casting stroke and the stop). After the toast, glasses are clinked and drinks are drunk. So Mel will live on, even if not everyone knows or remembers where the “Whomp” originated.
Getting back to Mel’s constant curiosity, just a couple years ago he was still trying to understand what was going on with tailing loops. As he recently told Brant Oswald, someone who worked for Mel and Fanny years ago, “Maybe we’ve been wrong about saying that the source of tailing loops is applying too much power too early in the forward stroke.” Rather, Mel had deduced tailing loops are caused by not just loading too early but also by unloading too early, that is slowing a strong, fast forward stroke before the stroke was actually completed. He tested and concluded that if you do load early, but keep that stroke moving stronger all the way until the stop, you’d be okay. Mel could have rested on his laurels and never questioned principles he taught for more than forty years, but that wasn’t Mel.
Mel was definitely honest. He would tell you when he thought you did or said something stupid, or when a politician did or said something unfair, or, and this is the most telling aspect of honesty, when HE said something inappropriate, like to that casting governor. I think it can be said that Mel was a good example of what Hemingway once declared was a necessary element of being a good writer. In Mel’s case it was an element of not only being a good writer, but also of living his life. The quote, ” To be successful, you have to develop a built-in Bullshit Detector.” Of course, I do think Mel’s finely tuned and carefully calibrated detector often worked overtime, that is, when it wasn’t overheating.
And last, Mel was an innovator. Well, actually ‘instigator’ is a better word. I have watched Mel make outrageous statements at dinner parties, at forums, at gatherings of people sitting around with a single malt scotch in hand, to stimulate “discussion.” He would make a statement and then just sit back and watch the fireworks. Such statements as, “Women should not be allowed on certain streams,” or “Everyone in the country should be guaranteed an income.” After such pronouncements, you can imagine what ensued — from the most bizarre screaming matches, to people getting up and storming out . . . to worse.
I will end with what I once accused Mel of, and what I myself have been accused of, and this is maybe why we felt a kinship. I said, “Mel, you’re not a trouble-maker, but there are times you do enjoy making trouble.”
I miss his friendship, I miss his smiling face . . . and the sparkle in his eyes when he was having fun . . . and the passion in his face when he was fighting for what he believed . . . and I miss hearing him chastise people for wearing baseball caps when fishing — for not wearing a hat like he wore. “Are you going to play baseball or are you going fishing?” Mel would exhort. And I miss his quick humor. Like when I mentioned the great Sam Levenson line about how easy it is to become known as a very wise person. “It’s simple,” said Levenson. “All you need to do is: when a stupid thought comes into your head, don’t say it.”
Mel said that that advice was easy for him to follow. “Why,” I said, “because you never say stupid thoughts.”
“No,” said Mel, “because I never have stupid thoughts.”
But, most of all, I miss the phone ringing and when I pick it up, hearing, (I clear my throat, just as Mel would always clear his throat, say… “uh”), ‘Hey, partner, what’s going on.'”