Remembering Lefty Kreh (1925-2018)

The fly-fishing world was saddened last week by the news of the passing of legendary angler, Bernard “Lefty” Kreh. Lefty died on Wednesday, March 14th at his home in Cockeysville, Maryland, north of Baltimore. He was 93. I did not know Lefty personally but had the great pleasure and honor of meeting him at a Trout Unlimited event in Calgary in October of 1985.

Lefty was in Alberta to film a video on the Bow River with Barry White, a well-known fly-fishing guide from the area. They had been delayed getting back from the river that evening and were a bit late arriving at the TU function. Like everyone else there, I waited anxiously for the famous angler to appear. It wasn’t long before Lefty walked into the room and spoke of his day’s fishing on the Bow. I had recently started guiding and listened intently for any tips he might have to offer on fishing the river. Hearing what Lefty had to say about the techniques he used to catch trout that day was extremely helpful, particularly for a rookie guide, like me. Afterward, I stood in line to have a book signed, and was able to speak with him. Lefty was very kind and gracious, and I’ll never forget that about him.

John Scott Black (left), Lefty Kreh (center), and me

John Scott Black (left), Lefty Kreh (center), and me
October, 1985
(Lefty had jokingly put on John’s hat for this photo)

Conclave Presentation

The next time I saw Lefty in person was in the mid-1990s when I attended one of his presentations at a Federation of Fly Fisher’s Conclave in Montana. If I remember correctly, the title of his talk was 101 Fly-Fishing Tips, with Lefty Kreh. The room was filled to capacity. I did not count the number of tips Lefty shared with the crowd, and I don’t think he finished half of what may have been on his list. Yet, no one was disappointed. You see, along with being a great instructor and teacher, Lefty was also known for his sense of humor. At about tip #2 or 3, he started entertaining the crowd with jokes, anecdotes, and humorous stories about himself and fly-fishing. The hour-long presentation flew by, in what seemed like minutes. To this day, it’s one of the most enjoyable presentations I have ever listened to on the topic of fly-fishing.

Lefty's Deceiver

Lefty’s Deceiver

Achievements & More

Lefty Kreh was an instructor, educator, and ambassador of one of the greatest outdoor activities one can participate in – the sport of fly-fishing. It would be impossible to list all of his accomplishments, awards, and achievements here. The following are but a few of these.

Lefty was an outdoors writer and columnist for several newspapers over the years, including the Miami Herald and Baltimore Sun. His articles and photographs on fishing appeared in all the major outdoor publications and periodicals of the time, and he authored more than 40 books. He was highly sought after as a guest speaker at fly-fishing shows, clubs, and exhibitions. Lefty was one of the pioneers of saltwater fly-fishing and developed what is perhaps the best-known saltwater fly pattern in the world – Lefty’s Deceiver. In 1991, the U.S. Postal Service honored his Deceiver fly pattern with a postage stamp. Lefty produced numerous fly-casting instructional videos and appeared regularly on a number of television programs, including Walker’s Cay ChroniclesBuccaneers and Bones. He also worked with rod companies, including Temple Fork Outfitters, designing fly rods and reels.

Lefty’s Deceiver – U.S. Postage Stamp (1991)

Lefty’s Deceiver – U.S. Postage Stamp (1991)

Celebrities & Celebrating Lefty

Lefty fished all over the world and spent time on the water with many famous people. He fished with President Jimmy Carter and George H.W. Bush. He also fished with Fidel Castro, Ernest Hemingway, Ted Williams, Jack Nicklaus, and Tom Brokaw. Lefty was a member of three fishing halls of fame, and in 2012 the state of Maryland paid tribute to him by naming a seven-mile trail along a trout stream in Gunpowder Falls State Park, northwest of Baltimore, the Lefty Kreh Fishing Trail.

In the book, All The Best, Celebrating Lefty Kreh, by Flip Pallot (2008), Lefty is described as “the undisputed father of modern American fly-fishing.” John Randolph, the former editor of Fly Fisherman magazine, wrote the Forward in the book, saying: “Lefty Kreh’s effect on the sport of fishing has been enormous during his lifetime. I consider him to be the best, and the most influential, sport fisherman in the last half of the twentieth century.”

Lefty Kreh was to fly-fishing what Arnold Palmer was to golf, what Ted Williams was to baseball, and what Gordie Howe was to hockey.

“Knowledge is to be shared, not displayed.” – Lefty Kreh

“Knowledge is to be shared, not displayed.” – Lefty Kreh

Final Thoughts

Upon hearing of Lefty’s death, I remembered the video he made on the Bow River in 1985. I have an original copy of the VHS tape and found it tucked away in a box stored in my basement, along with a collection of other vintage fly-fishing videos. I still have a VHS player in working condition and hooked it up to a television. The video played perfectly, and it was great to be able to watch Lefty fishing on the Bow River one more time.

I read something online recently where Lefty Kreh was described as “… the big jewel in the crown of fly-fishing and there is only one of him.” Although the crown does not sparkle as brightly as it did a week ago, the legacy Lefty leaves behind will continue to shine upon all anglers, today, tomorrow, and for years to come.

Fly Fishing Alberta’s Bow River with Lefty Kreh

Fly Fishing Alberta’s Bow River with Lefty Kreh
(click image to view & read front and back panels)

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  1. robert garnier March 23, 2018 at 11:23 am #

    Vic : Nice tribute to Lefty. Great and accurate comparisons: Palmer; Williams; Howe. I’ve met some people/anglers who knew him: all positive comments about him. Neat you had a bit of contact. I have some of his books as probably a lot of anglers do. He kind of was a ground breaker in many areas of the sport but in my mind really helped fly fishing move into the saltwater /flats world…along with some others. Nice piece/tribute.

    • Vic Bergman March 23, 2018 at 2:11 pm #

      Hi Robert,

      You’re right, Lefty Kreh was a groundbreaker and a “mover and shaker,” especially when it comes to saltwater fly-fishing. I only met Lefty the one time in ’85, but he left an impression on me that has lasted to this day. I’m sure Lefty had a lasting impression on everyone who met him, and every one of these people likely has their own story to tell. There must be thousands of interesting stories out there. Thanks for your comments.

      BTW, I enjoyed your post today of your trip to New Zealand. Great recap and photos!

  2. Kurt Lindberg March 22, 2018 at 6:16 am #

    Great words about a legend of our sport; thanks for sharing that! Lefty had made such an impact on flyfishing in North America and likely beyond and will be missed. Thanks again Vic!

    • Vic Bergman March 22, 2018 at 9:05 am #

      Hi Kurt,

      Lefty will certainly be missed by a lot of people around the world. He was a true legend. Thanks for commenting.

  3. David Richardson March 20, 2018 at 8:25 pm #

    Vic: Excellent tribute to Lefty. A few years ago I was bonefishing in Mexico. This was my first attempt at saltwater fishing, standing on the pier in the wind. Lefty came up behind me and said, “David, we have to talk.” He spent a half hour helping me. I was not his best student but what a wonderful memory.

    • Vic Bergman March 21, 2018 at 10:03 am #

      Hi David,

      What a great story. You could not have asked for a better instructor. Getting a private casting lesson from Lefty while you were on a bonefishing trip would have been pretty special. Thanks for sharing!

  4. Bob Vanderwater March 20, 2018 at 2:19 pm #

    Thanks Vic for your thoughts, we have indeed lost a very special piece of the fly fishing community!

    • Vic Bergman March 20, 2018 at 2:40 pm #

      Hi Bob,

      You’re right, Lefty will be missed by the fly-fishing community. He was one of a kind. Thanks for commenting.

  5. Bob Costa March 20, 2018 at 2:01 pm #

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts on this Vic, since I hadn’t heard. You’ve covered it well. A really big loss for sure. Would have loved to have known him.

    • Vic Bergman March 20, 2018 at 2:34 pm #

      Hi Bob,

      I would have loved to have known Lefty too. I only met him the one time but have never forgotten it. I remember everything like it happened yesterday. Everyone was pretty excited about Lefty being there that evening. I was a fan of his before, and even more so afterward. Barry White was there as well … wearing his big-brimmed hat with flies stuck in the fleece band, and all. Thanks for visiting today!

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