Bernard Victor “Lefty” Kreh, the iconic persona of American fly fishing, passed away at his Cockeysville, Md. home on March 14, 2018 after battling congestive heart failure and declining health in recent months. He was 93.
A statement from Lefty’s family was posted on Facebook by numerous fly fishing personalities and angling organizations including Temple Fork Outfitters, the Rick Pope owned and Dallas-based fly rod manufacturer that Kreh represented for many years.
I am sorry to relay sad information to all of you.
Bernard Victor Kreh (“Lefty”) passed away today in the presence of his family. He passed without pain. He told us multiple times during the worsening of his illness how lucky he was to have had so many friends. During these last few weeks he was so sick and without energy that he was unable to respond to any emails, the many phone messages left for him. I can say this was a great comfort to him.
There will be a celebration of his life in the upcoming weeks. We will update you when plans are made.
Lefty would want us to celebrate life and not mourn him.
Tight lines, best wishes,
The Kreh Family”
Born Feb. 26, 1925 in Frederick, Md., Kreh reportedly learned to fish from his father Theodore prior to a tragic accident that claimed the elder Kreh’s life when Lefty was eight. In the years that followed, Kreh continued to hunt and fish, bringing home food for his mother Helen and his siblings.
According to King Montgomery in an In-Fisherman piece on the angling legend, Kreh earned his famous nickname by using both hands almost equally while playing basketball as he grew up.
Following his high school years, Kreh reportedly served in the U.S. Army during the final years of World War II in Europe where he fought in the infamous Battle of the Bulge and helped liberate a Jewish concentration camp. During his military service, Kreh won several commendations.
In the years that followed, Kreh began to guide anglers to the smallmouth bass riches on the upper Potomac River, eventually guiding the famous angler and outdoors writer Joe Brooks. During that oft described 1947 outing, Brooks out fished Kreh using a fly rod, sealing the trajectory for Kreh’s life and career. Friends until Brooks’ death in 1972, Kreh has always referred to Brooks as the mentor for his career.
As his multifaceted career grew, Kreh became a nationally recognized expert in fly fishing, fly casting, fly tying, photography, and outdoor writing. In terms of the latter, Kreh would author more than two dozen books and countless newspaper and magazine stories while serving as an outdoors writer and columnist for several newspapers including The Baltimore Sun, The St. Petersburg Times, and The Miami Herald
Lefty also once served as Associate Editor of the popular OSG magazine Florida Sportsman. In fact, a fine tribute to Kreh from Florida Sportsman staff notes that the lead story in the magazine’s premier issue (summer of 1969) was Kreh’s “New Secrets for Snook!”
His career would also include a stint as the director of the Miami Metropolitan Fishing Tournament, a place where he met lifelong friend and fellow fly fishing legend Flip Pallot among others.
In addition to his expertise with a fly rod and authoring stories for most major outdoors publications in the country, Kreh became a much in demand spokesman and/or consultant for numerous businesses and organizations including L.L. Bean, Bass Pro Shops, Scientific Anglers, and most recently, Temple Fork Outfitters, where he championed the idea of high quality yet affordable fly rods.
Kreh also became something of a TV star over the past couple of decades, appearing on a number of shows over the years. Most recently, Kreh was a starring angler for Outdoor Channel’s saltwater fly fishing series Buccaneers & Bones, appearing alongside such notable figures as newsman Tom Brokaw, noted author Tom McGuane, rock and roll legend Huey Lewis, and actor Michael Keaton among others. (Editor’s Note: Here’s a link to a My Outdoor TV episode where Brokaw pays tribute to Kreh.)
Kreh was highly regarded as a fly tier, becoming good friends with fellow fly fishing and fly-tying icon Bob Clouser, both men sharing a passion for the smallmouth bass in rivers and streams along the Eastern Seaboard.
While Pennsylvania’s Clouser is best known for coming up with the well-known Clouser Minnow, Kreh is equally well known for his famed Lefty’s Deceiver. Catching everything from small bluegills to feisty trout and smallmouth bass on up to huge saltwater species, those two flies are generally regarded as two of the most important flies in modern history.
In fact, the Clouser Minnow and the Lefty’s Deceiver land on virtually any list of “must have” flies for numerous species across North America and even around the world, both catching dozens of different fish species each year.
In some circles, what Kreh was most highly regarded for was his ability to teach efficient and effective fly casting to the masses, something that he never seemed to tire of doing, even in recent years. To that end, he produced a number of books on the subject, starred in several instructional DVDs, and taught countless classes and seminars ranging from small fly fishing clubs to the casting pool at the annual ICAST/IFTD show in Orlando.
Iconic fly tier and fly fisher Bob Clouser (left), OSG senior digital editor Lynn Burkhead (center), and the legendary Lefty Kreh (right) pause during the 2015 ICAST/IFTD Show in Orlando, Fla. (Jeff Phillips photo)
With arguably the sport’s most notable and historic resume, Kreh has been honored with numerous awards down through the years. Those accolades have reportedly included the “Lifetime Achievement Award” by the American Sportfishing Association, the “Lifetime Contribution Award” by the North American Fly Tackle Trade Association, and being named “Angler of the Year” by Fly Rod and Reel magazine in 1997. Kreh was also inducted into the International Game Fish Association Hall of Fame along with the Freshwater Fishing Hall of Fame.
All of this – including being known virtually worldwide by a single nickname, Lefty – helps to explain the massive legacy that Kreh leaves behind on the sport of fly fishing specifically and fishing in general. As such, it’s little wonder that Kreh’s obituary appeared in the New York Times not long after news of his passing began to break.
As the fly fishing industry watched social media updates on Kreh’s deteriorating health in recent weeks, tributes have begun pouring in, including a stirring piece in the April/May 2018 issue of Fly Fisherman magazine. (Editor’s Note: If you haven’t already read Flip Pallot’s fine tribute to his friend of more than five decades, spend a few moments doing so – it’s well worth the time and effort.)
You might also want to consider these words by former Fly Fisherman editor John Randolph, as quoted in King Montgomery’s In-Fisherman story:
“Lefty Kreh’s effect on the sport of fishing has been enormous during his lifetime,” noted Randolph. “I consider him to be the best, and the most influential, sport fisherman in the last half of the twentieth century.”
(Editor’s Note: Randolph penned his own moving tribute to his late colleague, friend, and angling partner Kreh.)
Or consider Montgomery’s own words: “I am proud to call Lefty my friend, mentor, and frequent fishing partner for these past several decades. It’s really easy being around this true legend, because Lefty is a homey, down-to-earth, real guy. He’s embarrassed to be called a legend, but it’s true, and it is quite a lofty status considering his humble beginnings.”
As the fly fishing world mourns and comes to grips with losing its iconic legend, something that myself and others have often said seems particularly true - Lefty Kreh isn’t on the Mount Rushmore of the sport, he is the Mount Rushmore of fly fishing.
Perhaps the most fitting tribute of all comes from Pallot, who begins his most recent piece in Fly Fisherman with a simple and yet amazingly profound statement about Kreh:
“We all need a Lefty…” he wrote.
Indeed, we do. Lefty, thanks for all that you did for fly fishing and angling. We may not see your likes again anytime soon…if ever.
Editor’s Note: For those interested in making some sort of memorial donation in Kreh’s honor, the family has posted the following on social media: “In lieu of flowers, the family requests that memorial contributions be made to: Greater Baltimore Medical Center / Gilchrist hospice in honor of Lefty Kreh to Mail to: GBMC Philanthropy, 6701 North Charles Street, Baltimore, MD 21204; or online (Under “Designation” choose “Other.” Then in the next field, type: “Lefty Kreh Memorial”); or call: 443-849-3303.