I met Lefty Kreh back in the mid-80s on a hosted trip to Turneff Island in Belize to learn more about bonefish and fly fishing in saltwater. Flip Pallot and Mark Sosin joined us in a week of the absolute worst bonefishing trip ever — but one that I’ll never forget. I met Flip first – as Lefty suggested Flip as a guide on my first trip to Florida in the early ‘80s. Like all who met Lefty, he was and has been a friend since.
A career change and my entry into the fishing business in 1995 meant that I would see much more of Lefty and, like all of us, I clung to every piece of fishing advice that he so generously dispensed. He honored me with acclaim for TFO’s entry into rods that were “affordable” – as he lived a frugal life and he believed affordability would allow more folks to enjoy the sport.
Our friendship grew along with our opportunities to spend time together at various fly-fishing events around the country. Lefty’s personality, people skills, humility and candor began to impress me even more than his casting skills. His interest in TFO’s affordable concept also grew, and ultimately, I decided to write him a letter and beg him to join us and help design our rods. That was in late 2002. Unfortunately, he suffered a “minor” stroke just before Thanksgiving, so I delayed my pitch. Then between Christmas and New Year’s Day, he suffered his first heart attack. Not wanting to add to his stress so again, I delayed.
I got a report in mid-January where Lefty performed at the Denver ISE show that he was in fine form. He even shared with everyone the story of both the stroke and heart attack. So I sent the letter. He replied with a phone call “I can’t say yes, but I’m not ready to say no. Can we talk about this for a while?” What was essentially an interview with Lefty lasted almost a month and consisted of much more than rod design and concept discussions. Life stories, family, relationships and business philosophy dominated the many conversations we had. Not one mention of money was made. Ultimately, he called me in late February and confirmed that he made the decision to leave his rod company of 20 years and would enjoy helping us with rod design. The press release was written February 25, 2003 – the day before his 78th birthday – and TFO’s business world changed dramatically.
By that point, we had established a good consumer following – although many dealers and certain rod companies threw stones at us for being Korean made and “too cheap.” I even had advice, or a threat, from one dealer that we needed to raise our price, that the rods are too good for their price. Even more upsetting were the complaints levied against Lefty for working with a cheap rod importer. Our exclusive Korean factory was (and still is) owned by a brilliant engineer who both Lefty and even Gary Loomis claimed is one of the best they’ve ever worked with.
With the benefit of hindsight, splitting design from engineering proved to be very beneficial. Lefty could see transition issues in a rod by analyzing loop and shock wave issues in the fly line. He could quite accurately predict where within the blank such issues exist – and how much line weight or fly resistance caused them to appear. To this day, I’ve never seen another with such an intuitive understanding of rod dynamics.
His first trip to Dallas was in March of 2003 and involved three days of evaluating every rod we had while we took detailed notes on action, performance, power and finish out. Changes and modifications were made while he took over the design of our prototype TICR series that, after six different 8-weight prototypes, we were able to introduce the family at IFTD in September.
Lefty proved to be more than the “pied piper” with consumers following him as he would call and ask, “Do you know Ed Jaworowski … then Nick Curcione, then Bob Clouser, Jake Jordan and Flip Pallot? They might be interested in working with us and each has excellent insight into rod design.” Through the 15 years and one month Lefty worked with us, we prototyped over 2,000 rods and he gladly accepted final responsibility for every one we’ve introduced. We became a true family, with epic sales meetings, dinners, stories and jokes – all because of Lefty.
Our incredible family of Advisory Staff members – four of whom are inductees into the IGFA Hall of Fame – have ideas and solutions to enhance rod performance and fishing enjoyment. Lefty always enjoyed the group discussions whether small or all inclusive. From talking knots with Cliff Pace and Larry Dahlberg to rod design with Flip Pallot and Gary Loomis to casting with Ed Jaworowski, he learned, taught and made us all better people. Ed, as one of his closest friends, convinced him to join us on an epic three-year production of The Complete Cast DVD set and watching its evolution remains as one of my life’s highlights.
He loved women and always seemed to pick one out of the crowd when on stage while claiming he could “teach any woman he wasn’t going with or married to” how to fly cast unlike “hardheaded guys who don’t listen well.” Lefty even coached a Catholic girls’ basketball team for a while after his return from WWII. He always claimed, however, that his greatest catch was Evelyn – his wife and best friend for 65 years. Ev Kreh passed away November 25, 2011 after several years of declining health that caused Lefty to limit the length of his travels as he didn’t want to be away from her for more than two nights. With her passing, he came to Dallas the following weekend for an event with our major dealer, and we met a couple with a lodge on Ascension Bay that offered great permit fishing. We booked for the spring of 2012 and I caught my first (and only) two permit the same day with Lefty as my boat partner. After that, we always kept a couple of trips planned and enjoyed many until his health and lack of stamina began to slow him down.
Over the past few years, I came to realize that Lefty was much more than one of the best fly casters, teachers and rod designers in the world. His humility, people skills, passion and insights proved to be incredibly valuable to me as well as all who were fortunate enough to know him well. I regret that I never begged him to write the Lessons on Life book. I was blessed to work with him for the past 15 years and I pledge that his teachings on life will eternally remain part of our corporate ethic as his rod design influence will continue to exist in every TFO rod we make. May he rest in peace.