SOUZA: Lefty Kreh is a fly fishing legend

Lefty Kreh is probably the most famous fly fisherman in the United States, and most likely the world.

He has fished in locations all over the globe, targeting common and exotic species of fish. While he is most famous for using a fly rod, he’s also proficient at using spinning and plugging gear, as well.

He is the author of many books, including the classic “Fly Fishing in Saltwater.” This book was the guide for thousands of freshwater fly anglers to venture into the ocean to try to catch bonefish, Lefty’s favorite, and other species like tarpon, permit, redfish, snook and stripers.

Lefty’s journey began in 1947, when he guided a then-unknown outdoors writer named Joe Brooks. Brooks showed up with an Orvis bamboo fly rod.

Up to this point, Lefty was aware of fly fishing but had never seen anyone do it in person. Lefty was a little worried about the wind and offered Brooks a casting rig, but Joe declined. Lefty could outfish most people he guided on his home river — the upper Potomac, above Washington, D.C. — but Joe kept up with him using the fly rod.

Lefty was so impressed with the fly rod that on the following day, he drove to Baltimore to meet Joe and the two went shopping for a fly rig. Joe picked out a Medalist fly reel, a Pflueger fly rod and GLF line, the equivalent of today’s 9-weight line.

To this day, Lefty still has his first fly rig. Joe gave Lefty the basics of fly rod casting and sent him off to learn the rest on his own.

After the basic lesson, Lefty figured it out and then began to expand on casting a fly line. In those days, a fly angler used the hands of the clock to guide casting. For example, if you were standing with clock face to your right, the 9 o’clock position has the rod in front of you, parallel to the ground, and the 1 o’clock position has the rod up and pointing just behind you. To cast, you’d lift the rod to the 1 o’clock position and let the line drift back. At that point, you’d bring the rod down to the 9 o’clock position and let the line roll forward. When fly fishing for trout in a stream, this was all you needed, and that’s how most people cast in those days.

Lefty expanded the casting stroke, and the efficiency and distance of his casting improved. In doing this, he helped himself, and many anglers after him, to cast fly lines long distances.

Lefty later read a book by Jock Scott and found that he had also used this long-stroke method for salmon fishing, but it was Lefty who got this information out to the general fishing public through hundreds of stories in magazines, plus a casting instructional video he did years ago. What the video did was show exactly how to cast like Lefty. Many anglers watched the video, practiced what Lefty was teaching and in no time were able to cast an entire 90-foot fly line.

While long-casting is not practical all the time, the skill is very important. If you are fishing on a windy day, this long-casting technique helps you get the line out when other anglers have to change over to spinning or casting rigs. It’s also good for casting to spooky fish, like bonefish, that will take off the moment they know you’re fishing in their neighborhood. If you can stand back a way, then you have a shot at this greyhound of the flats.

Lefty honed his casting and fishing techniques, and began writing about fly fishing and other aspects of the sport. Since that chance meeting, Lefty, with the help of Joe Brooks, ended up at The Miami Herald as an outdoors writer. While at The Herald, he also learned how to take photos that he used to go along with his columns and magazine pieces. In this capacity, he met major writers from all over the world who were traveling to Florida and the Keys to fish. He fished with them in southern Florida and the Keys.

From these connections, he’s been able to travel the world, fishing in spots that most anglers just dream about and will never have a shot at seeing unless they hit the lottery.

Lefty also makes his own flies. In an effort to find a fly with materials that did not foul around the hook during the cast, he designed the Deceiver.

The Deceiver is a basic baitfish-shaped fly that can be built small enough for brook trout or big enough for sailfish. The size and color depends on what species you’re targeting. This is also one of the most copied flies. I wish I had a dime for every Deceiver that had one or two different materials on it and was named for some other angler.

To give you an idea of how important and famous this fly is to the fishing community, in 1991 Lefty had the honor of having his most famous fly, The Deceiver, printed on a postage stamp.

This just barely scratches the surface about Lefty Kreh. He’s forgotten more than most of us will ever know about the sport. Recently, I had an opportunity to sit with him and ask him a few questions while he was taking a break from giving fly casting lessons at the Bear Den Fly Fishing Co. in Taunton. I videotaped the interview, and if you’d like to see what Lefty had to say, please go The Herald News website and click on the video link.

Lefty’s is now in his late 80s and told me he has failed miserably at retirement. He’s the ultimate fishing gypsy, still looking for new fishing holes. At this point of his life, he’s still on the road and fishing whenever he can.

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