Lefty Kreh still draws a crowd

Posted Feb. 22, 2012, at 3:57 p.m.

RALEIGH, N.C. — In a casting pond surrounded by a low fence hung with warning signs — “Be Careful with Back Cast” and “No Hero Casts, No Pond Hogs” — Bernard Lefty Kreh is giving a lesson in fly-casting technique. Gently turning his student with one hand on her shoulder and the other around her rod hand, he coaxes her to lengthen her delivery.

“North Carolina is a great place to be from,” the teacher says.

“North Carolina is a great place to be from,” the student repeats, slowing her cast as she falls into the rhythm of the sentence.

At 87, Kreh might be a little older than your usual rock star, but he still attracts a devoted following. Many among the more than 2,000 attendees of The Fly Fishing Show, held Saturday and Sunday at the North Carolina State Fairgrounds, came to soak up knowledge from the renowned author, photographer and guide.

The show, created more than 20 years ago and still run by Pennsylvania native Chuck Furimsky, featured 60 vendor booths, film exhibitions, seminars and demonstrations in the two casting ponds that dominated the large exhibition hall. This was the traveling event’s second visit to Raleigh after several years in Charlotte.

In the demonstration, Kreh played his audience as craftily as he worked his line. “I can teach any woman to fly fish that I’m not married to,” he claimed.

His current student, Nancy Boyce, a recent graduate of N.C. State, called her lesson “a little humbling, but definitely a fun experience.”

“I could feel when I was doing it wrong. When he said I was turning my wrist, I could feel it,” Boyce said, who is learning to fly fish for her new job with an outdoor sporting equipment company.

Gary Borger, another of Furimsky’s celebrity experts, stressed the importance of passing on the sport to the young. Borger, a former professor in Wisconsin who has been fly fishing for 56 of his 67 years, started teaching his son, Jason, to fish when he was 2 years old.

“The future of anything is one generation away,” Borger said. Jason grew up to act as the fly fishing stunt double for Brad Pitt in the 1992 film “A River Runs Through It.”

After finishing his demonstration and signing autographs for several fans, Kreh — who is indeed left-handed, but usually casts righty after injuring his left arm years ago flipping a mattress — took a moment to talk about his long and hectic life in the sport. Since his wife of 66 years, Evelyn, passed away on Thanksgiving Day, he says he has tried to keep especially busy. His most recent project was another season of the TV show “Buccaneers and Bones” with Michael Keaton, Liam Neeson and his friend Tom Brokaw.

Although he has fished with two presidents and other “high muckety-mucks” in a career that has taken him all over the world, Kreh has also spent his share of quieter time in North Carolina, including trout fishing in the mountains.

“For 14 years, I used to fish in Black Mountain or High Hampton. I’d fish with the hillbillies over around Waynesville and that area. I liked the way they made their cornbread in a frying pan,” Kreh said.

Although the show moved to Raleigh because Furimsky said fly fishers here outnumber fly fishers in Charlotte, Kreh had some news for Triangle fishermen. “[North Carolina's] best fishing is either west of here or east of here. Your best fishing is saltwater fishing, which I do a lot. The Outer Banks is some of the best fly fishing on the entire Atlantic coast.”

While he expects his most recent book, his 31st, to be his last, don’t expect him to quit the fly fishing world. His schedule is already booked solid through June, with shows and upcoming trips to Mexico, Maine and the Amazon.

Said Kreh, “I’ve been doing this about 60 years, and I’m going to keep doing it until they put me in the ground.”

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