The Maine Sunday Telegram

It’s safe to say when fishermen around the world meet Lefty Kreh, they don’t associate him with Maine. And by no means is Maine — well known as it is for its brook trout ponds and salmon lakes — on this famous angler’s Top 10 list for places to fish.

But there are parts of the Maine fishing experience Kreh comes to enjoy each year, and there are parts of fishing here that are dear to him, an angler who’s hooked fish in New Guinea, New Zealand, Australia, Chile and Russia.

Here’s a look at the Maine experience through the eyes of one of the world’s most famous fishermen.

“He is the grandfather of modern-day fly fishing. He has single-handedly done more for the sport of fly fishing than any person. And he’s caring and patient. He’s so eager for you to learn,” said Mac McKeever, an L.L. Bean spokesman and a Kreh fishing buddy.

At 87, Kreh, the former Baltimore Sun outdoor writer, is still deep in a career that has produced countless fishing books, a remake of the modern-day fly casting classroom and a revolution in saltwater angling. He is credited with introducing scores of fishermen to saltwater fly fishing through his books, demonstrations, world records and fishing adventures.

And he still travels the world to fish.

Recently, he flew to the Yucatan Peninsula in southern Mexico before heading to New York to do a fund-raiser with Tom Brokaw, the former NBC News anchor, which he had to squeeze in before flying to the Bahamas for a television show.

But sometime after the dog days of summer, just as the fishing starts to pick up again here, Kreh will travel to Maine to fish with his buddy. And they’ll go in search of smallies.

“My favorite fish to fish is the smallmouth bass. And I like your rivers. In the Eastern United States, nobody has the amount of river systems that are pristine and lightly fished, with so many nice smallmouth bass,” Kreh said.

He’ll come for the smallies, but Kreh is quick to tell you it’s life along the rivers and streams of rural Maine that will bring him back.

“If you’ve fished in Australia or New Zealand, Chile or Argentina, you’ll rave about the fishing, but even more I’m impressed with the people. They take care of each other but they’re independent. They don’t want a lot of governance. Maine is that way, too. The people of Maine bring me back,” Kreh said.

“When I was younger, people helped each other more; cars didn’t have locks. Maine reminds me a lot of what our country was like back then.”

He loves the way empty cars idle while owners chat in stores and how American flags line the streets of so many small towns.

And he loves streams that let fishermen cast from one tree-lined shore to the other for hours without passing a boat.

“A lot of people are very surprised he comes here,” said Scott Davis, a state fisheries biologist for 25 years and one of Kreh’s guides. “But at the same time they’re not surprised. The thing he’s seeking out when he comes here is the smallmouth bass fishing. And the quality and density here is very good.”

Kreh has fished with American presidents and Ted Williams, the Red Sox Hall of Famer. He turned down the Carter administration’s invitation three times before he could make it to Camp David to wet a line with the 39th president.

Yet the most famous of fly-casting icons looks forward to coming here unannounced to fish small, remote rivers, bump into every-day anglers and ask if he can help with their cast.

We’re lucky to have him, to play host to this humble, helpful fishing guru, said registered Maine Guide Bob Dionne.

“There are a lot of fly fishing luminaries and they’re not particularly nice people. But Lefty is definitely the exception. He’s happy to help anyone. The fact he’s fished with Ernest Hemingway and Ted Williams and on and on, it doesn’t matter,” Dionne said.

To Kreh, every river is a classroom, every angler a friend.

“Look, I’m a big guy,” said Dionne. “I took him out when he was 82 or 83 and he said, ‘Bob, you think you have strength? I’m an old guy. But it’s about technique.’ Lefty is the kind of guy, he’s happy to give a casting lesson to anyone.”

McKeever has seen him do it. When they docked at a boat launch in Yarmouth after striper fishing and the fishermen there recognized Kreh, it wasn’t long before they were all lining the dock, working on casting, learning from the master.

Kreh said he will return to fish here next year, and as long as he is able. And for the fly fishermen lucky enough to happen upon him, the chance meeting will mean more than a moment with a legend, it probably will produce the offer of a lesson.

“Sure he’s probably the most famous fly fisherman in the world, and he understands the power in his reputation and his ability to promote fisheries,” said Dionne. “But he’s a sweetheart. He appreciates the rural nature in Maine. I look forward to his visits. I’ll drop everything to see him.”

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