At some point, one’s life memories and friends become so cherished that they can cause you to dream in color. Such has been my relationship with Chris and his two “Brothers”.
Sometime back around 2005, three Gunnery Sergeant Marines ended up in Quantico, VA after multiple tours of duty. One of the three, Alex Colonna, had (and still has) a cute blonde wife (Chrissy) who met and endeared herself to Lefty Kreh at a regional consumer fly fishing show. Alex, Chris and the “third Brother”, Paul Norman, were in various stages of learning to fly fish and Chrissy boldly asked Lefty if she could buy a casting lesson for Alex’s USMC retirement gift. Lefty kindly declined, but offered to have Alex and his brothers come to his house. Paul was deployed and couldn’t join them. Chris tagged along with Alex and they were treated to a full afternoon with Lefty at his home in Frederick, MD.
The boys didn’t realize Lefty was a WWII veteran who fought through the Battle of the Bulge … and Lefty didn’t fully realize that they were both active duty Marines with a passion for fly fishing. About six months after that fateful meeting, Paul Norman was medevaced back from a tour in Iraq and they all became great friends of Lefty’s. The bond formed was so strong in the initial meeting that Lefty gave Chris one of our prototype 389-4 Finesse rods that had Lefty’s signature electric-pen engraved on the reel seat. Grateful, humbled and a bit confused, Chris emailed me to find out exactly what he had received from Lefty.
It turned out that Chris had a pre-approved prototype that we action tweaked and not a rod I would suggest he fish. I reply “It will make a great wall hanger-memento so I’ll send you one of the production models”. Chris replied “things are tight until next payday … and I don’t know when I can afford it”. “Chris, if you impressed Lefty to the degree that he gave you that rod – I’m doing the same thing”. We became great friends.
But let’s go back to Chris’ beginnings where he was born in Goldsboro, NC near Camp Lejeune, a major USMC military base. Although Chris’ biological father was active Air Force, he separated from Chris’ mom while Chris was young and many of his formative years were with his biological grandfather, Elmer – a USMC veteran of WWII’s Pacific theater. Both he, and Chris’ dad, Cecil, who adopted him when he was young, were excellent shots and avid anglers so as we say, “the acorn didn’t fall far from the tree” given their early influence with Chris.
After high school, Chris joined the Marines, graduated first in his Scout Sniper school training and after active duty tours, primarily in Europe, he ended up as an instructor back at the Infantry School at Camp Lejeune– and continued to fish for bass with gear until meeting Paul Norman. Paul introduced Chris to fly fishing. In spite of the claim that Paul was not a very good instructor … Chris freely admitted that he was not a very good student either! Chris, Alex and Paul became what I’ve called the “Fly Fishing Band of Brothers”. Another great example of how fly fishing, casting and fly tying makes friendships even stronger.
On one of my early trips to the Project Healing Waters (PHWFF) Two Fly event in Syria, VA, Chris and his brothers offered to both deliver me to the event and to help in any way they could. PHWFF founder and retired Navy Captain Ed Nicholson’s response to my suggestion that they would like to attend was “Navy guys love Marines! Bring them along”! Another set of friends entered Chris’ life and he so moved by the good work of PHWFF that he recently assumed the Program Lead position for the PHWFF Camp Lejeune Program near his home.
Of all the great times I’ve had with Chris, one of the most memorable was spending three days in Florida with my longtime friend and television host of The Seahunter where we filmed Chris’ first tarpon, first shark and first blackfin tuna out of Key West with Captain Mike Weinhofer of Compass Rose Charters – the blackfin highlights are here and definitely worth a watch:
Chris’ all-time favorite specie is false albacore which arrive out of the gulf stream to the shallows off NC when the bait balls start coming out of the many estuaries on the way to the Atlantic. Weighing from 15 to as much as 25 pounds and cruising at 40 MPH while attacking bait in water as shallow as 20 feet makes for an incredible fight on fly tackle. His most memorable catch was a near 100 pound tarpon with me and Rob Fordyce (another television event) in 2015. We had chased tarpon all day and finally decided that a certain Flamingo Park flat could produce a chance at redfish. Within minutes of picking up an 8 weight and storing the 10 weight, the tarpon showed up less than 50 feet from the bow … a quick back cast, hookup and great fight brought the magnificent fish to Rob’s hand. I must admit it was one of my more memorable catches to watch as well.
Chris lives with his beautiful fly fishing wife Kellie and three of their five children in Hubert, NC. Saltwater fly fishing opportunities abound and they have only a short drive to the Shenandoah Mountains for trout. We’re honored to have him as a member of the TFO Ambassador family.