Every once in a long while, some one comes along who changes everything, at least in their part of the world. Jimi Hendrix comes to mind; the history of guitar music can be divided into ‘before Jimi’ and ‘after Jimi’ because of his profound effect. The same can be said for Elvis, who’s so well known that only his first name is sufficient. The same holds true for Lefty, too.
Lefty Kreh changed the landscape of angling. He changed the way we think about casting and fishing. He challenged and changed pre-established notions about salt water fly fishing, expanding the sport and created a new frontier of angling possibilities. His ‘Deceiver’ fly goes in the record books as one of the most versatile and effective flies ever. But most of all, he changed us.
Lefty was a master showman, but had a unique way of connecting with people on a personal level. He took a genuine interest in each, passing along his quick wit in equal measures with his wisdom. He made an impact- a difference, making even an acquaintance feel more like an old friend. He inspired us. He foster-fathered a generation of anglers many of whom have gone on to teach others, sharing not only his principles of casting, but also his philosophies of life. Following his lead, we strive to share knowledge, rather than displaying it to impress others.
“I can teach any woman to cast, as long as she’s not my wife!” Lefty often said at shows or events where crowds would gather at the casting pond. A crowd grew around him wherever he went. Kids also held a special place in his heart- he earned the fishing merit badge as a boy scout and awarded the fly fishing merit badge to proud scouts many years later. Even though he fished with and taught celebrities, presidents and dignitaries, Lefty never lost his connection to his angling roots or his self image of a young boy wandering the streams around his home, providing additional food for his family. He found purpose, but also joy in the sport after his father died, leaving a young widow with several young kids to feed.
On March 14, 2018, fly fishing lost its elder statesman. I talked to him a short time before he died. He was at peace, surrounded by family and ready to rejoin his wife, Ev, who died years previously. “I’ve been blessed to love the same woman all my life,” he’d often said. As we talked that last time, he knew his time was short, and at a loss for words, I started to say something conciliatory.
“Don’t you dare,” he stopped me short. “I’ve lived a blessed life. I have a wonderful family and friends.”
He lived his life with integrity and honor, and he died that way. Lefty Kreh did for fly fishing what Michael Jordan did for basketball. He left a lasting mark, not only in our memories but also in how the game is played. The seeds he planted in so many of us ensures that his legacy of kindness, generosity of spirit and passion lives on and that his wit and wisdom will be shared with future generations of anglers even yet unborn.
Jason Randall is an outdoor writer and educator- one of many whose life has been changed by Lefty Kreh.