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Lefty: Fly Fishing’s Moonshot Pilot

by Marshall Cutchin
Lefty Kreh Tribute

photo courtesy of Lefty Kreh

Fly fishing lost a legend on March 14. It also lost one its most amiable and effective spokesmen.

In the decades after authoring his first book on tips and tricks for fly fishers, becoming the outdoors editor of the Baltimore Sun and the director of Miami’s Metropolitan Fishing Tournament, and beginning to teach his freewheeling style of extended-arm casting, Lefty Kreh became almost synonymous with fly fishing.  He was author or co-author of at least 30 books, many of which were illustrated with selections from his voluminous photo library.  Lefty leaves an enduring legacy as relentless documentarian and Explainer In Chief—a role he brought in person to hundreds of outdoors shows and clinics, beginning with a job as demonstration shooter for Remington Arms and most recently at an AFFTA/ICAST show in Florida, where he made a point to touch base with all those friends he had made in eight decades of fishing.

Between those bookends, Lefty was an indefatigable teacher.  His generosity and advice touched everyone from the sport’s experts to an uncountable number of people who  would never have discovered the sport without such a dedicated ambassador. Perhaps a spinoff from his experience in guiding Joe Brooks, who became his early mentor and friend, Lefty was a self-described life-long learner and gave encouragement and advice to hundreds of up-and-coming writers, guides, casting instructors, gear designers and fly tiers.

Lefty's Deceiver Stamp

In 1991 the U.S. Postal Service honored Kreh’s “Lefty’s Deceiver” with a postage stamp.

In 1985, when I was 25 and a novice Key West flats guide, I listened skeptically as Lefty confided: “Look, you have to be able to do a little bit of everything to make it in this sport.” Of course he was right.

A dozen years later Lefty sent me a signed copy of his seminal book Saltwater Fly Fishing, which was the first authoritative guide on the subject. A hand-tied Deceiver (which he authored as a striped bass fly but which eventually became famous enough as an all-around fly pattern to land on a postage stamp) was taped beneath his signature. The note said: “To the best fishing guide in the Florida Keys.” I question the accuracy of Lefty’s praise, but there was no doubting the effect: it left me wanting to do better. And that’s where Lefty’s legacy took root, whether he was recognizing the contribution of a twelve-year-old angler to the science of knot-tying or convincing a young wife that she could fish as well as her husband. Somehow Lefty could speak a few words, at the right moment, to someone who needed or deserved encouragement, and that person magically became a better, more enthusiastic fly fisher.

There will and should be many remembrances of Lefty’s non-fishing accomplishments—as a young provider for his impoverished family, as forward artillery observer in the Battle of the Bulge, as an early voice in the struggle to protect rivers from dewatering and pollution. But when we talk about generational changes in fly fishing, and particularly about the irreplaceable and irrepressible personalities who helped ensure the emergence of fly fishing as a popular sport and expanded its influence, Lefty Kreh will be at the top of any list.

He was, in a way, fly fishing’s moonshot pilot. He was the guy who showed up at the right place at the right time with the right combination of confidence and uncanny skill, but who never took his role for granted. Many of us benefited from his time on earth.

MidCurrent Fly Fishing
Marshall Cutchin is the editor and publisher of MidCurrent.
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  • Fine words Marshall, damn fine words.

  • Joseph Sakaduski

    well said brother…I was lucky to have traveled and fished the world for many years as his assistant, I still cant believe he’s gone,

  • Jeffrey Carmichael

    Marshall…very well said! I once watched Curt Gowdy catching trout on a clear stream in Wyoming and then found an article by Lefty…41 years later, fly fishing is a huge chunk of my life. The last couple of years I watched Bucaneers and Bones with Tom Brokaw…watched as everyone big or small…stood in awe of Lefty! Too bad these classic gents can’t live forever…but we are truly blessed to have had him lead the passion of fly fishing!

  • Dana Cole

    Lefty was right. Fly fishing is good for you. And he was very good for fly fishing. I was blessed to have taken a lesson from Lefty down in the Keys many, many, many years ago when I was a teenager. As I recall, it was an Orvis deal. Affable, soft & genteel, with some messy stuff thrown in from time to time, he reaffirmed what the sport had meant to me to that point.
    Highlight of my memory of that initial encounter was when, reinforcing his message that once a rod is loaded, just stop it from moving at it will do its job, he punched the forward cast and laid the rod on the beach – I can still see that line getting out well into the ocean.
    Dana Cole

    • Dana, how many of us have a corner of our brain where one of Lefty’s tips resides? Quite a few, I’d guess. Thanks for your comment.

  • BH206L3

    Well said, I got to spend an evening with him at a Thames River Chapter of TU banquet back in 1985, the 7’9″ Orvis 2 wt rods was all the rage, we all bought them and we all had problems with leader turn over. I asked him about it, and not missing a beat, well you have to go to a 0.15 butt and the whole leader should be as long as the rod, Its a very very good fishing rod! With some mods I made over the years, it’s how I leader up a 2 wt and yeah it became a much loved and favored fish rod. On the streams I fish, in late summer going into fall, low clear, and very small flies. He casts a giant shadow on the sport.

  • Beau Beasley

    This is one of the best tributes to Lefty I have ever read, and I think he’d be very, very pleased with it. Well done Marshal, well done.

  • Thomas Breda

    He made the mysteries of fly fishing simple to pull the curtain on.

  • Dave Hall

    Marshall, after reading the NYT piece, I thought I really want to hear what Marshall has to say next Wednesday. You delivered my friend. Just a true legend, he was…

  • john Blewitt

    I saw lofty a long long time ago, when he was fishing the River Wye in Derbyshire England. It was a pleasure to watch him fishing.

  • Bob Krumm

    I remember Lefty as a man who remembered people’s names. I also remember his being able to tell five jokes to every one I came up with. He gave me advice on how to present slide shows that turned out to be invaluable. I remember his casting instruction when he said, “If you have a good back cast, you can throw the rod down and still get 60 feet.”

  • Walter A Rihl II

    I had the opportunity to meet Lefty Kreh at a TU banquet in White River Jct., VT 20 some years ago. He was happy to discuss with me his casting techniques and without a rod, and with just an explanation, and a little coaching, he completely changed the way I cast a line. Best fly fishing teacher I ever met. Wish I could have had the chance to fish with him too. He will be missed!