Lefty Kreh Remembered

October 17, 2023 By: Spencer Durrant

Photo: Beau Beasley

This is a special story for the MidCurrent News section from Beau Beasley, author and director of the Virginia and Texas Fly Fishing Festivals. 

On Saturday, October 14, 2023, more than a hundred people stood shoulder to shoulder in a cold, steady rain to honor a fly-fishing legend. The throng had gathered in Baker Park in Frederick, Maryland, to remember Lefty Kreh (1925-2018), one of Maryland’s favorite sons and among the best-known and most lauded fly anglers who has ever lived. Clutching umbrellas, Lefty’s friends and devoted fans listened to glowing tributes of the man from members of his family, longtime friend Lily Renzetti of Renzetti Inc (who spoke on behalf of the larger fly-fishing community), Frederick Mayor Michael O’Connor, and Maryland State Senator Ronald Young. The gloomy weather could not dampen the spirits of the crowd, many of whom hugged and reminisced, sharing stories from a life well lived.

It would have been hard to predict the meteoric rise in Bernard “Lefty” Kreh’s fortunes on the basis of his humble beginnings: His father, who died when Lefty was just seven years old, had taught his son to hunt and fish–and after his death the young Kreh turned to Maryland’s woods and streams to bring home the game and fish that would help feed his widowed mother and siblings. After graduating from Frederick High School in 1942, Lefty went into the US Army, fighting in the Battle of the Bulge–among the deadliest battles in American history–and helping to liberate a concentration camp. 

After the war Kreh returned to Maryland, working at Fort Detrick for the next 18 years. While there, he and a couple of coworkers were contaminated by anthrax, which Kreh alone survived. Researchers took anthrax samples from Kreh’s infected finger; what he didn’t know was that the strain of anthrax known as BVK-1 was actually named after him.

Though most knew him for his consummate casting ability, Lefty Kreh was also a longtime journalist and author whose writing career began at The Frederick News-Post, The Baltimore Sun, and The Miami Times, and culminated in countless articles for nearly every outdoor magazine and journal and more than 30 books on the quiet sport of fly fishing. 

After Lefty Kreh passed away in 2018, those who knew him best–who had so thoroughly enjoyed his homespun charm, keen witticisms, and sense of humor–recognized that a bright light had gone out of the world. In 2021, the Potomac Valley Fly Fishers Club established Friends of Lefty Kreh (FOLK), a nonprofit organization that promotes Kreh’s beloved sport through fly-fishing clinics, conservation programs, and academic scholarships for those who hope to launch their own careers in outdoor writing and photography. 

Led by President Andy Mekelburg, it was FOLK that hired sculptor Antonio Tobias Mendez to create a sculpture of Kreh; indeed, the crowd had gathered that day for the sculpture’s unveiling and dedication in Baker Park’s Culler Lake. That’s right: The lifelike sculpture of Kreh, featuring Lefty wearing his signature hat and a pair of hip boots and casting a fly rod, is actually in the water–just exactly where he would want to be. 

Among those on hand at the dedication was casting instructor, prolific author, and Kreh protege and friend Ed Jaworowski, who reflected on his longtime fishing partner: “Lefty was the kind of guy who made everyone feel comfortable. He didn’t give two hoots what your title was. He was just as comfortable with a blue-collar guy as he was with a surgeon or a senator. In fact, I think he preferred the blue-collar guy–because Lefty never forgot where he came from.” 

Others in attendance included close friend Heather Templeton, whom Kreh taught to fly fish and who made the pilgrimage to the dedication with her family all the way from South Carolina. Members of the conservation community–including Potomac Valley Fly Fishers, Trout Unlimited, Fly Fishers International, Project Healing Waters Fly Fishing, and Dr. Aaron Adams, Director of Science and Conservation for the Bonefish & Tarpon Trust–also showed up to remember Kreh and his longtime support of the causes dearest to their hearts. 

During his remarkable life, Lefty Kreh fished with celebrities like Ernest Hemingway and American presidents Jimmy Carter and George H. W. Bush. And yet Kreh managed to make everyone he fished with feel every bit as important to him as anyone else. He was committed to spreading the gospel of the quiet sport of fly fishing to every person he could reach. How fitting it is, then, that outdoor lovers can join Lefty Kreh near the very spot he was born, at a quiet, beautiful community lake, open to all, for generations to come.

Donations of support can still be made to Friends of Lefty Kreh.  

Beau Beasley is the Director of the Virginia and Texas Fly Fishing Festivals. His latest book Project Healing Waters: Veteran’s Stories of Recovery In Their Own Words will be published in November.