For several years we took in the Federation of Fly-Fishers annual convention and trade show when it was held in Livingston, Montana.
You never knew what you might see, such as the petite lady of fly-fishing, Joan Wulff, demonstrating casting, making a quick and casual-looking cast with a fly-rod, sending the line out twice as far as I’ve ever done.
Another memorable sight was Lefty Kreh, one of the most revered people in fly-fishing, walking across the trade show floor with about a dozen rods in his arms, getting ready to do a fly-casting class.
Lefty (his given name is Bernard Victor Kreh) was born in Maryland and grew up fishing, hunting and trapping to help support his family. He got his nickname because he was ambidextrous and used both hands equally when playing basketball.
After finishing high school he enlisted in the U.S. Army and served in Europe in the last year of WWII, seeing action at the Battle of the Bulge, and had five battle stars by the end of the war.
In 1947, Lefty was guiding bass fishermen on the upper Potomac River and one day guided fly-fishing’s biggest celebrity of the time, Joe Brooks. Using fly equipment, Brooks out-fished Lefty, who was still using plug-casting gear. Lefty got hooked on fly-fishing and became one of the masters of the sport, especially at the techniques of casting.
Over the years, he’s done about everything to do with fishing, even participating in a fishing tournament in Cuba, spending a day fishing with Ernest Hemingway and then Fidel Castro (before the U.S. government cut ties with Cuba).
He’s been a prolific writer for newspapers and magazines and wrote over 30 books. He’s won just about every honor possible from various organizations such as Trout Unlimited, Federation of Fly Fishers, and International Game Fish Association.
In spite of reaching his 90s, Lefty has maintained an exhausting schedule of fishing, teaching, writing, and creating film and videos. He’s truly been the “Energizer Bunny” of fly-fishing.
Unfortunately, even those fabled batteries will eventually lose their energy, and so is Lefty Kreh.
Lefty sent a message to the Gulf Coast Council of Fly Fishers International, with a request they share it through the fly-fishing community. He writes, “I was 92 in January and had a carotid artery operation. During testing the hospital determined my heart was only pumping 35% and must limit my physical activities. The industry was extremely helpful and last season was able to attend the shows, clinics, etc.
“Several weeks ago I realized I was developing another problem, which is normal for someone nearly 93. It turns out I have congested [congestive] heart failure…In summary I have to give up travel and presentations as in the past.”
Lefty writes about his struggle with congestive heart failure, with weight gain, fluid retention and adjusting medications. He continues, “This means the schedule I lived for decades is no longer valid and will spend most of my time at home. As we get older we learn to adjust to what we can and cannot do. I have a number of interesting computer home projects on the computer and busier than a Syrian bricklayer. I’m not frustrated and I’m content. My problem is I don’t have a lot of stamina and have to work around that. If Mark’s (Dr. Mark Lamos) medical system works I should be busy and around for a year or two.
Lefty explains he wants others to spread the word about his health, explaining he doesn’t have energy to answer emails or talk on the phone. “This is not meant to be unfriendly is learning to adjuster my situation.” (sic)
He concludes, “In summary I’m busy and content but I want you to know I am so appreciative you’ve shared your lives with me.”
Lefty Kreh, a true representative of that “Greatest Generation,” has had an amazing career and is facing the inevitable with grace and humility.
I hope he’s able to find the energy to occasionally go fishing.
Paul Vang’s book, “Sweeter than Candy, A Hunter’s Journal” is available at Books & Books, Cavanaugh’s County Celtic, The Bookstore in Dillon, or online at http://writingoutdoors.com.