...is the word that continually comes to mind to describe Lefty Kreh, who I had the privilege to see on Saturday at the Fly Fishing Clinic for the Bristol Public Library, held just outside of Bristol, Tennessee.
The event was coordinated by Bob Brien, whom I met this past January while fishing the Islamorada Sailfly Championship. He and my friend Craig have fished together a number of times in Bermuda and other locales.
The other presenters were Flip Pallot and Doug Hannon. It's always fun to see Flip in action, and this time, he gave a presentation on fighting fish properly, and explained away a number of misconceptions about techniques that most people grow up learning on the water. It was very informative as usual, and I picked up a couple of tips on fighting big fish that I hope will prove valuable down the line. I even got half a laugh out of Flip when during the presentation a member of the audience asked "What do you do when you're fighting a fish and it jumps?" and I shouted, "Hope the other person in your boat has a camera."
Speaking of cameras, I had mine with me. If we were speaking of camera batteries, I couldn't say the same.
Anyhow, the third presenter, Doug Hannon, who turned out to be ESPN's Bass Professor (I don't watch much bass fishing on TV), was someone I was not familiar with going into the event. But I quickly learned that title is very apropos. The research and information that Doug has done, and would share with us about fish, their behavior, and their environment, was incredible.
When Lefty Kreh and Flip Pallot sit front row and ask more questions than anyone else in the audience, I think that speaks volumes to the level of respect and the quality of information that Doug shares.
At one point, Mr. Brien sat down next to me during Doug's presentation, and I remarked that I thought it was incredible. He responded, "This is akin to watching Bill Gates and Steve Jobs sit and swap stories and information about computers." It was the perfect analogy. When Bob later signaled to Doug that he'd need to begin wrapping up, I don't think there was anyone more disappointed under the tent than Flip.
But for me, the real highlight was what came next; Lefty Kreh's fly-casting clinic.
And I can't restate it enough. Remarkable. 84 years old, hobbled by a bad hip from what I understand to be a recent fall, he maneuvers on his crutches to a chair in an open field, where he sits and proceeds to make casting look completely magical and effortless.
Distance? He can effortlessly shoot the entire line from his chair.
Accuracy? He'll tell you who in the crowd he'll hit, or drop the line in front of, or who he'll curve it around and where it will land after that.
And all of his lessons are simple and clear to understand.
But what struck me most about Lefty was his passion for the sport, and his willingness to nurture whatever similar passion lay within each and every person he came in contact with. He autographed anything anyone put in front of him, and he signed every book with a personal note, and careful penmanship. I bought a book that he wrote on knot tying that he inscribed: "To Jeffrey, I hope some of these knots help you land some great fish. All the best, Lefty Kreh", and also his memoir, that Flip actually penned, called "All the best" as Lefty signs all of his correspondence, which he autographed. "To Jeffrey, I hope you have as much fun out of life as I do. All the best, Lefty Kreh."
When I was 10, I had the chance to be a Bat Boy for the Chicago White Sox. I got to go to the lockerroom pre-game, spend the game in the dugout, and take bats off the field during the bottom halves of each inning. But despite the "experience of a lifetime" for a 10 year old little leaguer, it was always tarnished for me because the one autograph I wanted, and the one player that I really wanted to meet basically did everything in his power to avoid coming in contact with any fan or reporter.
Not Lefty. He was quick witted and had a joke or a laugh for everyone he came in contact with. If someone came up to him with a fly box, he'd take the time to look at every pattern shown to him and offer a kind word, or soft suggestions as to how the could be improved. He never pushed anyone away, be he never left anyone waiting too long before they received some of his attention, either.
In essence, Lefty's manner makes whomever he was talking to feel like the most important person in the room. It was truly something special to see and had the greatest impact on me of anything I saw during that day.
I know that I often will be come disinterested when someone is talking to me. I'll lose concentration, or start working on something else. Maybe I was barely there at the start of the conversation and did anything I could to end it as quickly as possible.
I realize now that the only thing I gained in that moment was alleviating what I perceived to be a small personal annoyance. But how have I disrespected the person who was speaking to me? How will that affect their willingness to interact with others? What might I have missed out on by not taking to time to listen to what was being said to me, and have I eroded that person's willingness to talk with me in the future? What might I miss going forward?
However, If I directed my full attention, even for a few moments, to the person in front of me, all of those questions could be answered positively. In addition, we'll both gain more in the long run. A great return on a minimal investment.
So while I'm glad I made the trek up to the clinic, and I know I left casting a bit better than when I arrived, I think the true reward was what I learned by watching Lefty, and hopefully I left that field a better person as well.