“I’m 91, and I’ve spent my life in the outdoors since I was 6. … I caught a lot of fish. But at the end of the day it’s the people you remember.”
The speaker was the legendary Lefty Kreh about two years before his death, as he and I were covering an outing of Project Healing Waters Fly Fishing, a program for wounded veterans. It was a fitting site for my last conversation with this friend, mentor and veteran of the Battle of the Bulge.
Three events in the last two weeks, plus the Memorial Day observance, brought this conversation of three years ago to mind.
Heroes On The Water at Centennial Lake
Heroes On The Water is an alternative therapeutic program dedicated to the physical and emotional rehabilitation of active military service personnel, veterans and first responders. Its mission is “To help warriors to relax, rehabilitate and reintegrate through kayak fishing and the outdoors.”
It’s a national program with 61 mostly autonomous, all volunteer chapters including a chapter based in Hampstead. Allied programs have developed in Canada and several other countries.
HOW statistics reveal nearly 53,000 persons have participated in these programs since 2007 supported by nearly 32,000 volunteers. The chapters supply all kayaks and necessary equipment including tackle for the free all-day events and even supply donated drinks and an abundant shore lunch.
I stopped by Centennial Lake in Howard County on May 23 to see if the program was still operating as well as the two I covered in previous years. I wasn’t disappointed. This was a requested “unit event” organized by chapter head Jim “Coop” Cooper and Captain Jacob Curtis, commander of the 780 Military Intelligence (Cyber) Brigade at Fort Meade.
The 37 participants included service members and a few family members. At one point 28 of the 30 kayaks provided, including tandems, were on the water. It was a rare day of good weather, and, despite cloudy water, the success rates for bass and other species was good, fishing mostly with Ned rigs, Wacky Worm rigs and Beetle Spins.
Since this was a weekday event, Coop had to scramble for volunteers, and nearly two dozen members of kayak clubs and fishing clubs responded. A number I spoke with took off from work to support the program. Speaking from experience, this is usually a 12-hour commitment in addition to travel time. Also speaking from experience, and again hearing comments from participants, it’s well worth it.
With only a tiny paid national staff, Heroes on the Water is not as well known as some veterans group, but it’s worth looking into and supporting. See heroesonthewater.org or contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
Tochterman’s Grand Opening of the Lefty Kreh Fly Shop
On May 19 I stopped by Tochterman’s Fishing Tackle to help celebrate the grand opening of their Lefty Kreh Tackle Shop, a three-room, nearly 1,000-square foot annex above their main shop on Eastern Avenue in Baltimore.
The fly shop is packed with the latest and best quality fly fishing tackle available. If an item isn’t here, you probably don’t need it.
Naming the shop after Lefty, arguably still the most renowned fly fisherman in the world, is entirely appropriate. Kreh graduated from a local legend in his native Frederick to international recognition after his move to Florida before returning to Maryland in 1973 for an 18-year stint as outdoor editor of the Baltimore Sun and author a slew of books and CDs and hundreds of magazine articles and columns.
Kreh bought his first fly outfit from Tommy Tochterman, son of the founder of this 103-plus-year-old, family-owned tackle shop and father of Tony Tochterman, the current proprietor.
At a time when most folks would talk of retiring Tony keeps improving Tochterman’s. He spoke of how people come into the shop and tell of coming there as children with their fathers. Tony didn’t use the words “tradition” or “legacy,” but that was the idea, and that’s why the store is a national and international destination shop.
Touring and buying fishing tackle at Tochterman’s has gone beyond a bucket list item for many fishermen to approaching a pilgrimage event.
Book signings were part of the day. Dan Rodricks of The Baltimore Sun was autographing his latest book, “Fathers Day Creek: Fly Fishing, Fatherhood and the Last Best Place on Earth” (with a forward by Lefty Kreh), and Joe Bruce had his latest how-to tome, “Shallow Water Tips & Techniques, Rigging for Success.”
These two books represent the range of fishing books. Bruce’s volume covers technical approaches of rigging and presentations to catch fish, with dozens of tips from hook sharpening and modification to fly tying to rigging plastic lures.
Rodricks’ book is more of a philosophical reflection on wider issues of why one fishes, the values of family, friends and wild places and guidance for living.
Both are valuable. Bruce’s book is available at jobruce.net. Rodricks’ is available at Amazon.com. Tochterman’s is located at 1925 Eastern Avenue in Baltimore.
Fishing with Kids
A few days ago I watched two fathers each with a young child taking the kids fishing for bluegills with bait. Both children were too young to cast and really couldn’t handle the rod well after each father cast for his child and then handed over the rod. But both the young girl and even younger boy were able to hook fish, and with parental help reel them in.
I was filled with admiration, and a bit of envy. There was no yelling or fault-finding. It was an enjoyable experience for all — including this observer.