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Lefty shows his classic low-elbow-on-a-shelf form in this painting by Monica Acee. Photo courtesy of Monica Acee/www.monicaacee.com

Recollections of Lefty and Reflections on his Legacy

I’ll never forget the first time I saw Lefty Kreh. It was nearly 30 years ago. I had just started to fly fish and was mingling with a local glad-hander at a fly-fishing show near Charlottesville, Va.

A weathered looking fellow walked in wearing a pair of khakis, a chamois shirt and a sheepish grin. And in mid-sentence, the local celebrity I was chatting up shot out of his chair toward Lefty like a spring creek brown after a hopper.

Though somewhat startled, Lefty handled the social ambush with a firm handshake and a pat on the back.

I was a relatively young adult, but I learned two things that winter afternoon. People are drawn to Lefty, and there’s a good reason why. He makes everyone, no matter where they are on the social pecking order, feel like a rock star, even though he’s the rock star.

I’m sure others have similar stories that have been shared since Bernard Victor Kreh passed away last week at the age of 93. He is nationally known for his books, lectures, videos and the ability to teach us to throw a fly farther and more accurately than we thought possible. But to those at Temple Fork Outfitters, he is considered one of the initial bedrocks of a proud company.

Lefty joined TFO 15 years ago. As the company’s first advisor, he had a significant say in every single-handed fly rod TFO produced since February of 2003, from the Signature Series to the Axiom II, which was released this fall.

But Lefty was more to TFO than a mere gatekeeper for affordable, quality fly rods. He believed in TFO’s mission and its people. He was the type guy who would rather promote others than himself. He asked there be no funeral. Cremation was more his style. And those close to him made sure those wishes were carried out, along with the request that he spend his last hours wearing his favorite TFO hat and shirt.

How’s that for loyalty?

Below are memories and anecdotes about Lefty from well-known folks in the fly fishing community. Feel free to add your own thoughts in the comments section.

 TFO Chairman Rick Pope on Lefty’s legacy:

“Fly casting is the easy answer. …Affordability would be neck and neck with fly casting. He’s a guy that wore $14 Sears Chinos. As has often been quoted, by the time you spent more than $150 on a rod, it’s often going to outperform the caster. Barrier to entry. He was not flashy. He was a frugal guy. It was a way that he saw to get more people in the sport, which all circles back to our mission statement.”

 TFO advisor Rob Fordyce

“I knew who Lefty was. I had read a lot of his books as a young person, by young I mean 8, 9 years old. Unbeknownst to me, he had written a book, Fly Fishing in Salt Water, which I had. My parents had given this book of Lefty’s to Flip (Pallot). Flip sent it off to Lefty and he wrote a nice note inside the book and actually glued a fly in there and made sure when he sent the book back, to list his phone number, to call him. Lefty Kreh, I mean here is this little kid, who is just eat up with fly fishing, Lefty Kreh was Babe Ruth, the Babe Ruth of fly fishing, so the thought that he … I was scared to even call him. My dad told me that if he put his number in there, he wanted me to call him. And I did, Lefty spent probably 20, 30 minutes on the phone with me. We met later, through Flip, and we became good friends and have been good friends our whole lives.

“The reason I told that story is it fits what I’m going to say about Lefty and the fishing industry. Lefty, to me, was probably the most iconic ambassador of fly fishing. There’s obvious things. He wrote books and did classes all over the world and taught tens of thousands of people how to fly cast. More importantly, Lefty, as a man, when he went somewhere everyone knew who he was, everyone wanted to talk to Lefty. He took the time to talk to these people not with a handshake or a hug, but he took time to hear their story. What was their background? And if that doesn’t say something. … There’s not a lot of people like that on this earth. Lefty, as a whole, was the greatest ambassador for those reasons as much as any of the other things he did.”

  Ross Purnell, editor, Fly Fisherman Magazine

“Lefty Kreh changed fly fishing more than any other person because he was the greatest teacher we’ve ever known. Yes, he knew more about casting, knots, fly-tying, and tackle than the rest of us, but his humble and outgoing personality was his greatest contribution to our sport. Because of that, he became a mentor to an entire generation of guides, writers and instructors. Whether they realize it or not, literally everyone who fly fishes has learned directly or indirectly from Lefty. He’s changed all of us . . . for the better.”

 Vaughn Cochran, artist and president/owner of Blackfly Outfitter/Lodge/Restaurant

“I recognized what a powerful personality he was many years ago and I wanted to paint him for lots of reasons. Never one to go along with the crowd, I decided to paint Lefty in a ‘Pop Art’ style. I completed the series of nine paintings that were featured in a one-man show at the IGFA gallery several years ago. Every time I saw Lefty at a fishing show he would always say, ‘If you think I look like that, you need glasses.’ We had conversations about all sorts of subjects, but our favorite was all the different portraits I did of him over the years. One of my favorites was the portrait I did of him when we decided to name the rooms at the Blackfly Lodge in the Bahamas after famous fishing personalities. Of course, his name came up first so I came up with this painting. Around the top of the painting is one of Lefty’s more famous quotes, ‘Throwing a crab to a permit is like rolling a wine bottle into a jail cell.’’’

Another painting of Lefty, this one by Vaughn Cochran. Photo courtesy of Vaughn Cochran.

 Lori-Ann Murphy, President of Reel Women Fishing Adventures, former cast member of Buccaneers and Bones

“Lefty has recently written a letter to his fly-fishing friends. It strikes me so funny because he even explains in this letter his (health) condition so everyone can understand what is going on with him! It’s like he is showing us his cast or explaining why he invented a pulley system for his mail from the mailbox. Who does this? Special characters who want to share their life findings. And we thank them! We thank you Lefty! Thank you for taking the time to share you with us.”

 John Randolph, former publisher Fly Fisherman Magazine, as told to FFM.

“Famed British fly-fishing writer John Goddard, whom Lefty called the best trout fisherman he ever saw, told me once of a Lefty encounter on the River Kennett. There was a large brown trout there that no one could catch. It lay in a particularly difficult spot to which it was virtually impossible to present the fly without drag. Goddard pointed out the trout to Lefty, who was his guest on the club water. Goddard explained: ‘Bloody hell, he caught that trout on his first cast! No one else could have made that fly presentation, only Lefty.’’’

Flip Pallot, TFO advisor, as told to Fly Fisherman Magazine

“My house in Homestead, Florida, was totally destroyed (after Hurricane Andrew). There was not a tree left standing, and most homes were reduced to rubble. Miraculously, after a day or two, with Diane and me living in the bed of a pickup truck, Lefty materialized through mountains of debris. We hugged . . . and cried . . . . and Lefty handed me a paper sack. In it was $25,000 that Lefty and his wife Ev had stashed away for an emergency. ‘You and Diane may need this,’ he said. ‘Ev and I will not. Don’t worry about paying it back, we really don’t need it.’ I had thought to have the measure of Lefty. I was short. As it turned out, we had no need for the money either, but Lefty was there for me all the same.”

TFO advisor Blane Chocklett

“Lefty’s been everything to me as far as a lot of things in my career. He’s introduced me to tons of people. He got me hooked up with TFO. Back in the late ‘90s, he got me hooked up with Umpqua with my first patterns. He’s always had a place, definitely, in my career. I owe him a lot.”

TFO advisor Wanda Taylor on her favorite Lefty quote:

“I can teach any woman to fly fish as long as I’m not married to her.”

 TFO advisor Bob Clouser

“I have known and fished with Lefty for over 50 years and his honesty, integrity and loyalty was with him all his life.”