Without a shadow of a doubt my vote for the two nicest people goes to: The late Richard Stuart Walker 1918-1985, Britain's top angling writer/ photographer and also angling's best known personality in his day. The other is Bernard Kreh, born in 1925. who is acknowledged as America's top angler, outdoor writer and a top class photographer. Today Kreh is probably the world's best. Both men made a major impact on the sport of angling with new ideas covering various aspects of the sport from rod building, fly tying and the catching of big fish. Remember Walkers record carp of 44lbs from Redmire Pool on September 13th 1952? Both personalities have written several excellent books about our sport. How I would loved to have got Walker and Kreh together then record the conversation between these two great men as they talked about all things piscatorial.
During the spring of the year 2000 I was invited by Brandon White to be his guest for a couple of weeks fishing. Brandon is one of the new breed of young anglers fly fishing or using light tackle techniques for the striped bass in Chesapeake Bay. The idea was to fish the Susquehanna flats at the north end of Chesapeake Bay, these being opened up to sports fishing for just 28 days during April. I would spend a few days in Florida fishing the Indian River and Mosquito Lagoon for redfish and sea trout. Then fly north to Maryland.
Arriving in Florida I called Brandon who told me "No fishing! The rivers are flooded, the Susquehanna flats are all shot out. The guides have cancelled all their trips. Give me a call in two or three days time". My next call received the same message as before. On the advice of Brandon, we postponed the trip until the autumn.
In September I flew out of Manchester bound for Newark, New Jersey; then a flight to up-State New York where I spent a couple of weeks fishing for carp, pike, muskie, trout and smallmouth bass. In early October I booked a flight to Baltimore, Maryland. Brandon was waiting at the airport gate. After the usual introductions he collected my bags and we headed off to Kent Island on Chesapeake Bay. Home for the next couple of weeks to fish for stripers and visit with angling writers Bernard Kreh and Boyd Pfeiffer.
After a few days spent sight seeing, partying and fishing, which included catching stripers and blue-fish on fly and light tackle jigs, I was then ready to visit with Bernard Kreh, America's master angler, known to millions world wide simply as Lefty.
It was a cool grey day when I knocked on the door of his house in Hunt Valley. Lefty appeared zipping up his pants. "Martin come in you caught me on the loo, you're early! I certainly enjoyed reading your book". He laughed warmingly as we shook hands and I looked into his sparkling bright eyes. For a 75 year old he was certainly a live wire, full of chat, jokes and laughter. As we sat talking we discussed all things piscatorial. I was in seventh heaven.
Occasionally one gets the chance to be in the company of a great person. This was true today. During my memorable visit Lefty showed and demonstrated for me his line testing machine. He talked about and showed me the fishing rods he had painted white so they could be photographed better against a dark background for his fly casting book published in the 1970's. Fly casting was discussed in great detail. The great man even corrected my casting faults on a nearby pond. Every cast Lefty made was a ninety footer. He is certainly the master of his trade. They don't come any better. I was amazed how easy he made casting look. Back in his house we talked in great detail about photography and travel. He also found time to demonstrate tying a winning fly for the bonefish in the Bahamas.
Visiting Lefty's basement I was amazed how neat and tidy it was. Boxes were all labelled with their contents and filed in a very organised fashion. Fly lines were neatly stacked on shelves in order of line weight etc. Bulk spools of nylon displayed on wooden pegs in order of the breaking strains. Neatly laid out on one wall are all types of fly and spinning reels, clearly labelled with line size or breaking strain, including his first ever reel, a Pflueger Medalist with part of the casing cutaway so Lefty could apply pressure to the spool when playing a big fish. In a nearby rack was an armoury of rods covering every type of fishing. Along another wall stood several cabinets full of tackle, all laid out neat and tidy. At one end of the basement were displayed dozens of tools, jigs and bits of equipment designed for testing all the types of tackle that have a job to perform in angling. In another part of the basement were housed his studio lights and backdrops. We moved on to his darkroom which was very professional. It was immaculate, everything neatly stowed. Slides, negatives, printing paper etc. were all labelled and filed. Lefty wasn't only a great angler but also a master photographer but life wasn't always good for this nice guy as you will read.
Lefty started life in Frederick Maryland in 1925. At the age of six his father passed away leaving his mum, Helen, to bring up four young children. Lefty was the older of two other brothers, Richard and Ted, and a sister Eileen. This was in the days before social security and all the benefits available today. Life was very hard in the early 1930's. One of Lefty's jobs was to collect food from the welfare. He hated this so much he would seek out all the back alleys on his way home so his friends didn't know where he had been. In those days this youngster spent all his spare time hunting and fishing which no doubt put food on the table. He would set trap lines for catfish then sell them at ten cents a pound. Those extra funds went towards Lefty's clothing, school lunches and no doubt a few more fish hooks, line and bullets.
One certainly has to admire this youngster who wasn't born with a silver spoon in his mouth. He was a worker and hunter who, after graduating from high school, joined the army. Then some months before D-day, June 6th, Lefty was posted to England for further training in the art of warfare. Then he, along with thousands of other Allied troops went across to France for D-day. Then on to the Battle of the Bulge at the Ardennes in Belgium, major World War 2 battle that lasted for several weeks during December 1944 and the following January. Despite some havoc caused by atrocious weather conditions with snow drifts up to four feet and the Germans infiltrating the American lines dressed as GI's, the Americans soon broke this last desperate offensive by the Germans who failed in their attempt to push the Americans back.
Lefty collected five battle stars and a purple heart. Following on from this major battle, Lefty and his platoon fought their way through Europe to Germany's river Elbe at Torgau where his platoon met up with some Russians arriving from the east. Finally, with the war in Europe over, he was returned to the States for some well earned leave. Then a posting to the Pacific for the battle against the Japanese! Thankfully, the Manhattan project created, for better or for worse the Atom bomb. This was dropped on the cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in August 1945 ending the war against the Japanese. No doubt saving many thousands of Allied lives. Lefty was now back in civilian life, it was time to look for work.
Near his home town of Frederick was the Army's Biological Warfare Laboratory at Fort Dietrick. During the war it was staffed by hundreds of servicemen and women. With the war over, most of them were discharged. Hundreds of jobs become available. Lefty applied and was accepted. He started off working shift patterns, then after some months he asked for the evening or night shift. Being a senior supervisor this was granted. Now he could hunt and fish during the daylight hours.
At this period in life Lefty was guiding on the Potomac river and one of his clients was six foot two inch Joe Brooks, fly fisher and writer. As Lefty carried his thirteen foot canoe down the bank to the river he noticed Joe fixing up a fly rod. "Sir" said Lefty "I have a light spinning rod for you to use" Joe answered "Do you mind if I fly fish? Then if I don't catch, I will switch over to your tackle" Naturally Joe, being Lefty's guest was told to carry on. As Lefty told me "Joe was a quietly spoken gentleman who courted respect. He also caught many more fish than I did, which didn't really happen to a guide on his own river! I remember quite clearly, Joe fished a red ant pattern, taking fish after fish by casting to the rings of rising fish. I was amazed! I said to Joe, I've got to have some of this fly fishing!". The next day, Joe Brooks took Lefty off to Baltimore where he purchased a fly rod kit which included Pflueger reel. He still has that reel. It was the start of a long friendship with one of America's greats. In fact it was Joe Brooks, through his writings in the 1950's, that got this English angler into fly fishing for bonefish!
It was about this time that Lefty met his future wife Evelyn. Unlike most guys, this wasn't a planned meeting with a pretty girl. Our Lefty didn't ask for a date or plan the meeting with the young movie theatre usher. It was, as he told me, a meeting arranged by the lady. "Occasionally I would leave the fields, rivers, streams and fly tying bench for a night out with my friends. Sometimes we would go off to the movie theatre for an evening out. During one of these theatre visits I was refused permission to enter the theatre, I had been given the wrong ticket. In those days girls didn't ask for dates so theatre usher Evelyn had to find another way to get me to notice her so she gave me a child's ticket. It worked! You see Evelyn was a good looking blond girl. That night I walked her home. In 1947 we were married and we are still happily married to this day".
Having got married Lefty took on more guiding work, trapped mink, started exhibition shooting for the Remington Arms company and tied flies for Orvis. One of his clients was the editor of the Frederick News-Post who offered him a job of writing an outdoors column, which he quickly accepted. Very soon the local sportsmen started to rely on his column for their information. Kreh the writer was born.
In those days the outdoor writer would have his work illustrated by an artist. Many of Lefty's clients were photographers with National Geographic. They often gave him lessons in photography. Now Lefty, being Lefty, become a quick learner and soon picked up many photographic skills. He then needed a camera. He didn't purchase the usual Rolleiflex type with its twelve shots on a roll of film, he decided on a 35 mm camera, with its thirty six shots. It was very unusual in those days for photographers to choose 35 mm cameras. This made him very popular with newspaper and magazine editors. They didn't have to get an artist to accompany him on his outdoor trips.
Come the 1950's Lefty was teaching photography, writing regular columns and shooting photographs for twelve newspapers including the top magazines of the day, Field and Stream and Outdoor Life. He was given the contract to write LL Bean's 'Guide To Outdoor Photography'. Life was certainly moving at a fast pace for this very likeable guy.
Joe Brooks and Lefty spent some time sorting out the fishing in Chesapeake Bay, the worlds largest estuary, containing some huge fish. Lefty designed the Deceiver, a fly pattern that has been used with great success in both fresh and saltwater. Today the Deceiver and Clouser minnow are probably the two best known saltwater fly patterns ever devised. In fact Lefty's fly, the Deceiver was chosen to be displayed on a United States postage stamp in 1991.
In 1961 Lefty and Evelyn moved home to Florida. No more winters with snow, frost and cold foggy weather. Joe Brooks, director of the Miami Metropolitan Fishing Tournament - known as the MET - with over two hundred and fifty thousand competitors had tempted Lefty to join his show. Upon Joe's retirement, Lefty became the director. During his stay in Florida he was invited to write for The Miami Herald. As he told me. "During one of the demonstrations there were one or two older guys who wanted to know if this guy from up north, trout country, could cast far enough for the ocean fish. As you know Martin, in the those days the hotel key was fixed to a chunk of wood. I tied the key to the end of the fly line, then cast the lot across the casting pool! On another occasion I cast a fly line without the rod and I was then accepted as one of them".
It was also a time of tremendous change and development in saltwater fly fishing. Such gems as the Albright knot, Duncan Loop and the Stu Apte tarpon flies to name three. At the same time, Miami was the centre where all the fast movers in ocean fly fishing were getting together, Mark Sosin, Stu Apte, Jimmy Albright, Flip Pallot and others. Listening to Lefty talk about those days made me think of a similar situation that happened over on the West coast of America in 1898 where a group of anglers gathered to form the Tuna Club at Avalon on Catalina Island off San Diego under the leadership of Dr Charles Holder. In 1998 The Tuna Club celebrated its Centennial. This English broadcaster considered it a special honour to be invited as one of the guests.
Back in Florida, Lefty was proving a very popular speaker and demonstrator at clubs, fishing shows and seminars. After ten great years in the sunshine state Lefty and Evelyn packed their bags and headed back to Maryland. The Baltimore Sun had head-hunted Lefty (not a word used in those days) they had made an offer Lefty couldn't refuse. He started off writing three columns a week for the Baltimore Sun. He was also in great demand as a speaker at shows and seminars all over the United States. Apart from fishing he was writing books and features for several magazines, shooting lots of photographs and organising many casting and fishing clinics. Life was certainly hectic for this most loveable of guys who has come a long way from the days of catching catfish at ten cents a pound.
He told me "One of the good things about being booked for speaking engagements are I get to fish all over the World and not just the United States. I have fished South America, Canada, Australia, Africa, England and many other exotic locations". During the past fifty years Lefty has given us several books. His latest published work is 'Presenting the Fly' published by The Lyons Press. I feel it's his best book ever. In fact, it was my choice for top fishing book title in 1999 on BBC Radio Lancashire. Another excellent book is 'Fly Fishing In Saltwater' I have all the editions. The third and fully revised edition should be on the bookshelf of all saltwater fly fishers. Another great set of books are 'Lefty's Little Library Of Fly Fishing' sadly not available in the United Kingdom. I have eight of the titles. Hopefully I will be able to collect them all during coming visits to the United States. When not fishing I spend a lot of time in secondhand book shops. Lefty with Mark Sosin gave us 'Fishing The Flats' and 'Practical Fishing Knots'. Other books by Lefty have covered casting and fly tying. You can even catch up with Lefty on his web page titled Lefty's World - www.lefty.net
During my visit we went off to local restaurant for lunch. Brandon, Lefty and myself all asked for the bill. As our friendly and very attractive waitress handed Lefty the bill, no doubt because he was the best looking guy, my hand shot out and grabbed that account. No way was I going to let the master pay for lunch. The time spent in the company of Bernard 'Lefty' Kreh was a privilege. I will treasure the memory for the rest of my days. Lefty has given us all so much and is still going out most days helping others. Thank you Lefty for your time knowledge and expertise and helping make me a better fly fisher.
Before leaving Lefty's home he gave me the following Casting Principals to share with you, the reader. Regardless of your fly casting techniques, all casters are governed by the following four principles
(1) You must first move the line end before you make a back cast or forward cast. This causes the rod to bend or load. It is also advisable to lift all line from the surface before making a back cast.
(2) Once the line end is moving, the only way to load the rod is to move your casting hand at an ever-increasing speed and then bring it to a sudden stop. This sudden stop is often called the power stroke. Applying power often spoils a cast - It should be called a 'speed up and stop' stroke. The faster you speed up and stop the rod tip, the faster the line will travel. The size of the loop is solely determined by the distance the rod moves in the final moment of the cast during speed up and stop.
(3) The line will go in the direction the rod speeds up and stops. If on the back cast, the rod tip stops at any angle the line will go straight at that angle. If the rod tip stops going down and back, a sag is produced in the line which must be removed before you can make a forward cast. With almost all forward casts, the rod should be stopped so that the line travels to or slightly climbing above the surface.
(4) The longer the distance the rod travels on the back and forward casting strokes, the less effort is required to make the cast. The shorter the rod moves during the casting stroke, the harder you must work to put the same load in the rod. When you need to cast further, throw heavier flies, defeat the wind, or make a number of special casts, the rod must travel farther back and forward. Taking the rod well behind you on the back cast will allow you to make many more fishing casts that will produce more fish.
Lefty's other aids to better casting are
(5) If you're right handed, the right foot should be positioned to the rear and the left foot slightly forward. Left handers should do the reverse.
(6) When the rod stops at the end of the back cast and again at the end of the forward cast, the thumb should be positioned behind the rod handle from the target. This accomplishes two things (1A) Energy in the cast is better transmitted back and forward (2B) Accuracy improves.
(7) The elbow should never be elevated on the cast. If you walk up to a shelf and place your elbow on it without lifting it. That is the correct elevation of the elbow. Think that, during the entire cast, the elbow is determined by the angle that the rod hand stops. But the elbow should not be elevated
It's at this time of the year, as we sit snugly in front of the fire with a warming drink and a good book, that our thoughts turn to summer holidays. Outside the gale force wind shrieks and moans as it whistles around the house and rain lashes the window panes. At dusk, as we start to close the curtains to shut out the outside world, we can see miniature streams flowing across the lawn. The sky is the colour of slate grey and touching the roof tops. Pendle Hill is covered in dark grey and black coloured rain-filled clouds. Across the road a gate swings to and fro on its hinges, refusing to stay shut. The wind once more starts off in a low whistle, increasing in intensity until it's screaming like a scalded cat. Pulling the curtains shut I sit down once more sip the brown amber liquid and think of my recent trip to Chesapeake Bay and feeling the hit of a striped bass.
My current reading is 'Scotland's Classic Wild Trout Waters' written by Lesley Crawford and published by Swan Hill Press. It's the perfect book for those who plan to visit Scotland for the wild brown trout, which I find far more stimulating than the more difficult to catch salmon. Trout are designed to eat anglers flies, unlike the salmon. Having fished all over the world with a fly rod for many different species of fish, I still get great enjoyment fishing for wild brown trout. These days, give me a wild trout weighing a pound from a river rather than a five pound stocked fish from a still water. But this is purely a personal opinion. Many of my friends will fish still waters thirty or forty times a season. I probably visit Rutland twice a year.
I have visited and fished with great success many of the waters Lesley writes about. In the Borders we have the famous river Tweed (Page 85) It's known by most anglers (and rightly so) for its salmon fishing. It's one of the nicest brown trout rivers in Britain. It's a big river where you need a good strong wading staff, a buoyancy aid and chest high waders to reap the river's rich rewards. This is a river where early in the season the new Cortland Ghost tip line will prove to be an excellent bit of equipment. Treat the fish gently and return most of them to the water, perhaps keep a brace if the rules allow.
On page 119 There is a chapter titled Durness Lochs. Whenever I hear mention of these waters I think of Cape Wrath and its excellent hotel. Many times in the past, especially during April, I have shot the surrounding area for rabbits at dawn and dusk then fished for the char and trout from breakfast until tea, often stopping for a lunch of home made soup and bread. When trying for the char early in the season you need to get your nymphs down a few feet, though it's not unheard of to take char off the top. You will definitely need some warm clothing. In my book these are the finest still waters I have had the privilege to fish in the British Isles. They are not easy waters to fish but the rewards can be great. It's possible to get a brace of brown trout weighing four pounds apiece fishing dry flies. If you're planning to fish Scotland this year then get Lesley Crawford's book 'Scotland's Classic Wild Brown Trout Waters' Published by Swan Hill Press Price £24-95. It's a good a starting point in your holiday plans.
A Great Book On Fishing
If like me you're a Hemingway fan, this book 'Hemingway on Fishing' is for you. It's certainly given me a tremendous amount of reading pleasure. I have been a fan of Hemingway all my life. He was and still is a literary giant world wide. In 1954 Ernest was named Nobel Prize winner for Literature. Certainly a well deserved award. It's interesting to note, the day following Hemingway's untimely death on July 2nd 1961, statements were issued by the Vatican, Kremlin and the White House at the passing away of this Nobel prize winner. Remember, this was in the days of the cold war. I cannot remember this happening to any other writer. He was, and is certainly still, held in high esteem world-wide
'Hemingway on Fishing' is a collection of stories and excerpts on fishing written over many years and put together in a beautiful book of 242 pages. What I liked about this book was the large amount of material that I hadn't read before. Chapters 1 and 2 are from Big Two-Hearted river. Other chapters are from Green Hills of Africa, The Garden of Eden and The Old Man and The Sea, certainly one of his best ever books which was eventually made into a magnificent motion picture. Also featured are several articles from Esquire and other magazines and books There are thirty or so black and white pictures including one of three year old Ernest fishing at Walloon Lake. His first son, Jack, has written a very interesting and informative forward to 'Hemingway on Fishing'. Jack himself is also an author, His book titled 'Misadventures Of A Fly Fisherman' is an excellent read, especially if you're a Hemingway fan (I feel privileged to have Jack sign my copy). Editor Nick Lyons must be congratulated on editing this 'Hemingway on Fishing' volume published by the Lyons Press. It should be available from all good book shops: ISBN number 1-58574-144-2.
Have a good month fishing. I will be visiting Chesapeake Bay in April if you want to join me E-mail me email@example.com