From the March/April 2009 issue of Sporting Classics.
A few weeks back, the mail brought a review copy of an autobiography to my desk. The book was My Life Was This Big and Other Fishing Tales, written by Lefty Kreh with assistance from Chris Millard. Published by Skyhorse Publishing, the book is as delightful as its title is fortuitous, and reading it set me to thinking about my longtime interest in Lefty Kreh and his truly impressive achievements, literary and otherwise.
Lefty Kreh is an American original, and he’s achieved a richly deserved place in the annals of angling literature even though he’s anything but a giant of letters. Although I don’t know it for a fact, I suspect anything Kreh writes requires a fair amount of copyediting. His education ceased at the high school level and in the pages of this book, he admits he isn’t much of a reader. In fact, he verifies just how little he reads when he cites Robert Ruark as a writer he really likes. No argument there—I personally consider Ruark as America’s greatest sporting scribe—but unfortunately, one of the three titles Kreh mentions was written by Fred Selous rather than Ruark, and a second one was a collection of Ruark stories that Michael McIntosh edited and compiled as a book.
I’ve heard Lefty Kreh speak several times as well, and he butchers the English language while committing grammatical gaffes that would have brought on a red-eyed hissy from my sixth-grade teacher.
These things might detract from the image and impact of the average writer, but where Kreh is concerned, they simply don’t matter. He is at heart, whether appearing in print or in person, a teacher, and he has an uncanny knack for making things simple, understandable and entertaining in person and in print.
Kreh’s My Life is a pure delight to read, filled with the sort of anecdotes, humor and quick wit anyone who knows him would expect. You can’t talk to Kreh without listening to two or three jokes from what is apparently an inexhaustible storehouse of funny tales. It’s all just the latest in an impressive outpouring of literature from as friendly and gregarious an individual as the world of angling has ever known.
More than two decades ago I wrote a profile of Lefty Kreh for the Federation of Fly Fishers’ magazine. The article was entitled “Fly-Fishing’s Ambassador of Good Will,” and over a long, highly successful career that’s precisely the role he’s played. He’s been shrewd enough and talented enough, along the way, to make a good living while having fun.
And believe me, Lefty Kreh has fun. He loves fishing and has always been passionate about it, but his zest for life far transcends angling. He once told me he had no doubt whatsoever that he “would die ticked off, because I’ve got a bunch of ideas I haven’t had a chance to try.”
Kreh has long been recognized as an innovative and skilled photographer, he’s a raconteur par excellence, an inventor and a genuinely good guy. Over the course of his career, which includes a lengthy stint writing on the outdoors for the Baltimore Morning Sun, articles and columns for magazines, and seminars without number, Lefty has also produced a number of books. Some have been “best sellers” in the outdoor field, and without exception they provide the practical, sensible, first-hand knowledge that is the essence of the man.
None of the books is particularly rare, but collectively they form an impressive life of literary work. They are, in chronological order of original publication, Tips & Tricks of Spinning Fresh and Salt Water (1969), Spinning (1972), Practical Fishing Knots (co-authored with Mark Sosin, 1972), Fly Fishing with Lefty Kreh (1974), Fly Fishing in Salt Water (1974), Fly Fishing the Flats (1983), Fishing the Flats (1988), L. L. Bean Guide to Outdoor Photography (1988), Tips and Tricks of Fly Fishing (1988), Advanced Fly Fishing Technique (1992), Saltwater Fly Patterns (1995), Presenting the Fly (1999), L. L. Bean Saltwater Fly-Fishing Handbook (2001), 101 Fly-Fishing Tips (2000), Fly Fishing the Inshore Waters (2002), Saltwater fly-Casting Techniques (2002), Modern Fly-Casting Methods (2003), Lefty’s Favorite Fly-Fishing Waters (2005), Basic Fly Fishing (2006), Lefty Kreh’s Presenting the Fly (2006), Fishing Knots (2007), Lefty’s Longer Fly Casting (2007), and Lefty Kreh’s Solving Fly-Casting Problems (2007).
This extensive listing of books does not include the 21 volumes in Lefty’s Little Library of Fly Fishing published by Odysseus Editions of Birmingham in the 1990s. In addition to overseeing the entire series, Kreh wrote many of the books and contributed to others. Those which he wrote include The Professionals’ Favorite Flies (two volumes), Lefty’s Favorite Fly Fishing Waters, Advanced Fly Casting, Fly Fishing Knots and Connections, Fly Fishing Techniques and Tactics, Lefty’s Little Tips, Modern Fly Casting Methods, Fly Fishing for Bass, Fly Fishing for Bonefish, Permit & Tarpon, and Fly Fishing for Trout—Special Techniques.
Lefty Kreh also figures prominently as one of seven contributors to the three-volume American Masters Fly Fishing Symposium, with volumes covering skills, tackle and travel, fish and the life.
I would add that this listing does not include the scores of books to which Lefty has contributed chapters, sections, introductions and the like.
Years ago Nick Lyons, another prolific contributor to the literature of fly fishing, described Lefty Kreh as being “enormously engaging.” That’s equally true when applied to his seminars, the man in person or his books. A genial, genteel man of fly-fishing goodwill and great wisdom, he has made lasting contributions to the sport, and his new autobiography affords a wonderful glimpse into how those came about. +++
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