Lessons from Lefty Kreh, a Fly-Fishing Legend

• Fishing at night—Put nail knots in the middle of the line to indicate casts of predetermined lengths so you can drop the fly where you want it to fall. (This technique also works well to show beginners how much line they need out to load the rod.)

• Fixing a tailing loop—Finish the cast with your hand forward. I was at a casting seminar in Florida once with Flip Pallot, and a guy sat down at my table. ‘I’ve had a tailing loop for thirty years. You got rid of it in three minutes.’ He was so grateful, he offered to do the surgical procedure to remove my acid reflux free of charge (the grateful angler was a doctor). When I started teaching casting, I realized that if I was going to correct poor casting technique, I’d need to understand how bad casts are made. Many of the great casting instructors don’t know how to make bad casts, so it’s hard for them to correct bad habits. They’re theorizing about what makes a bad cast.

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An angler casting for smallmouth bass in the Boundary Waters of Minnesota. Photo from “Why I Fly Fish” by Chris Santella © Stewart, Tabori & Chang, 2013

“I’ve caught more than one hundred species on the fly rod,” Lefty continued. “Some fish—smallmouth bass, bonefish, peacock bass—have a special appeal for me. But my greatest satisfaction is putting someone at the front of the boat—an angler who has never caught the species in question, be it a tarpon, trout, or bonefish—and coaching them on how to catch that fish. It’s like having the thrill of catching your first one again. This gives me much more pleasure than catching one myself.

Likewise, I get great satisfaction in sharing what knowledge I’ve gained over time to help someone with their cast. Many people are taught to cast using just their wrist and arm—the old “ten and two” method. I don’t think this is practical. You wouldn’t throw a Frisbee or a spear or a ball that way. You use your body. With just a few small suggestions, I can help most people cast better in a matter of minutes.”

Given his sixty-five years as an angler and his pioneering work on the flats with bonefish and tarpon, it may seem remarkable that Lefty Kreh has never won a fly-fishing tournament. There’s a reason—he never competed in one. “If you compete with your fellow anglers, you become their competitor,” Lefty advised. “If you help them, you become their friend.”

—Excerpt from “Why I Fly Fish,” by Chris Santella © Stewart, Tabori & Chang, 2013.

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