So I’m pretty thrilled to share that I got the awesome opportunity to interview fly fishing legend Bernard “Lefty” Kreh a couple weeks ago for the Thomasville Townie. I learned more in that 40 minute phone interview about salt water fly fishing than I could have learned in 10 years, with some writing and life lessons thrown in for good measure. I shared a small amount of that interview in an article I wrote for the Townie, which hit stands around Thomasville on Friday. I am sharing it with you today to encourage you to make the trip to Thomasville next weekend (November 21-23) for the Plantation Wildlife Arts Festival. Between the Preview Party, Bird Dog Bash, the Wildlife Conversations (two with Lefty himself), and the Art Festival itself, there is truly something for everyone who has an eye for art and the outdoors. Check www.pwaf.org for tickets, volunteer opportunities, and the full schedule.
As if to foreshadow this interview, I caught many glimpses of Lefty’s work while in Montana in September.
His postage stamps and hand-tied flies were also prominent in the International Fly Fishing Museum in Livingston, Montana.
Lefty Kreh will be at #pwaf2014 on Saturday, November 22 at 3PM and Sunday, November 23, at 2:30PM. Lefty will also host daily casting demonstrations at the Festival at 11AM Saturday and 12:30PM Sunday.
If you do make it to the festival, be sure to snap some pictures and hashtag them with #pwaf2014. We would love to see them!
Without further ado, I introduce you to Lefty Kreh.
Beginning my interview with Bernard “Lefty” Kreh, despite his fly fishing celebrity status, begins like a conversation with an old friend. Immediately warm and friendly, Lefty jumps right in and tells me about all the redfish he caught on a recent trip to Louisiana: “God was good to us. Some of the most pleasant days I’ve had.”
At 89, Lefty Kreh is still one of the busiest people you’ll meet. Between now and the Plantation Wildlife Arts Festival, he will be giving casting clinics in the keys, has a magazine column to write, plus hundreds of emails to answer. He’ll be sneaking in some fishing on the side, too, I imagine. Lefty grew up in Maryland near the Chesapeake Bay and began fishing for sustenance to help feed his family. However, he didn’t learn to fly fish until he came back from World War II in 1947. He was 21. Hooked immediately (pun intended), he proceeded to rack up seventy years of fly fishing experience and expertise, which he’ll share with Plantation Wildlife Arts Festival goers. Lefty has multiple television and documentary appearances under his belt, and is a celebrated photographer. He is the author of countless articles, columns and books, including what is now fondly referred to as the saltwater fly fishing Bible, Fly Fishing in Salt Water. When I ask why saltwater fly fishing is his drug of choice, he quickly responds, “Nobody ever had a heart attack catching a trout!”
Lefty loves to fish for Bonefish. “You’re moving all the time, whether wading or in a boat. It’s quiet and serene, but you can enjoy it with someone else, too. If you do something wrong, it’s okay. You use light tackle, you don’t have to fight one for half an hour, and it involves doing something quickly and accurately. I’ve caught over 120 [varieties of] fish on the fly rod, and I’d rather catch a bonefish than any other kind.” His favorite place to fish for Bonefish is in Las Roques, a small group of rocky islands off the coast of northeastern Venezuela. Despite the difficulty in accessing this special fishing hole, Lefty assures me that it’s worth the effort. “It’s a bit hostile down there right now. The government is about as friendly as an alarm clock. But big fish are coming in from deep water and there are very few people there fishing for them.”
As a new fly fisher(wo)man myself, I ask Lefty what his best piece of advice for me would be. “Learn to cast! If you can’t shoot, you can’t hunt.” He clarifies his advice further: “In freshwater fishing you can get away with a poor cast, but in salt water, everything is getting eaten by something bigger, so each fish is ready to disappear at a moment’s notice. You may have five to eight seconds to make an accurate cast before the fish is gone. Learning to cast properly is your most important tool in fly fishing.”
After more fish tales and advice, Lefty really starts to roll. He tells me about his kryptonite, the Golden Dorado. Lefty made several trips into the Amazon to fish for the Dorado, but inclement weather and other circumstances got between him and the elusive fish. “It’s the only fish I ever wanted to catch and couldn’t.” Lefty advises me that only three flies are truly necessary when saltwater fly fishing: a well-done poppin’ bug, a well-designed clouser minnow, and a Lefty’s deceiver (his own design, naturally). These three would enable one to fish inshore, offshore, and catch most of the fish one would be after most of the time. The clouser was designed by his good friend Bob Clouser, who lives 45 minutes north of Lefty and is a good fishing buddy. “It’s great for redfish, by the way,” Lefty adds.
And speaking of fishing buddies, Lefty names his son Larry, and Tom Brokaw as his two very best fishing partners. “Tom is one of the nicest people I’ve ever met.” They first met when Brokaw interviewed Lefty for his book, The Greatest Generation, and the two formed an immediate bond. A true hero even without his fishing credits, Lefty was in the Battle of the Bulge, fought in the trenches throughout the war and was there for the liberation of several concentration camps. Lefty eventually became godfather to Brokaw’s son.
Bringing up politics and war starts Lefty down another path. He is less than thrilled with politicians in general. “You can quote me on this! My personal opinion of most but not all politicians is that they’re like bananas. When they first get into office, they’re green. Then they’re yellow, then they turn rotten!” This leads into a lively story that involves Fidel Castro and Ernest Hemingway. About two weeks after the Cuban revolution, Castro hired Joe Brooks, the most famous fly fisherman and outdoor writer of that time, to bring along Lefty to fish all over Cuba and come back to the States to write about it. The trip included the 14th Annual Hemingway Marlin Tournament. “Hemingway was there,” Lefty says. But Lefty spent the first three days observing Castro himself fishing. “I thought he was a very nice guy. I really liked him. I’ve been there seven or eight times over the years, and everyone there is just so nice.” Lefty spent the next couple of days on Hemingway’s boat, which conjures up images of seaside cocktails and fellow writers trading stories and fish tales. However, Lefty said he was far more interested in Hemingway’s first mate, who Hemingway himself declared the best bill fisherman he knew. Lefty stuck to him like a fly in a fish’s mouth and gleaned all the information he could.
Eventually, Lefty and Ernest (Lefty and Hemingway were on a first name basis) got to discussing hunting, more fishing, and their third common love: writing. Lefty knew Hemingway had “sold a lot of books,” so he asked him: “Ernest, how do you tell good writing?” Hemingway paused for a moment before responding with what Lefty describes as the best answer he has ever heard. “It can’t be edited.”
Lefty not only writes, but he speaks and hosts clinics for fly fisherman all over the world. He will be speaking at the Plantation Wildlife Arts Festival right here in Thomasville and swears by this philosophy: “Never display your knowledge, you only share it.” Ever humble and eager to teach, Lefty shares his knowledge with humor and quick wit. He will be sharing his fish tales and fly casting demonstrations, along with tips for outdoor photography with point-and-shoot cameras, iPhones and iPads with PWAF attendees. However, Lefty did have a couple points of advice for ourTownie readers to improve their outdoor photography: 1) when taking of pictures of people, say “Talk to me,” instead of “Cheese.” You’ll get genuine smiles, reactions, and near candid images with true personalities shining through; 2) use an inexpensive polarized filter placed in front of your camera lens (even iPhones!) to eliminate glare and make colors brighter and truer. Both are excellent tips for beginner or avid photographers!