By: Dick Cameron (owner/operator)
At 53 years of age I have now kicked around this industry, on and off, since the mid 90’s. My winding road has crossed paths with many of our sports notables over the years either on the water, at the shows or in and out of fly shops. Most of these encounters have been brief, friendly exchanges that I recall but I am sure left little, if any, impression on my heroes.
I really just met Lefty at the Tailwaters annual Christmas party in December. Kaye and I were able to hang with him during his very full day of casting lessons and book signings and later shared a dinner table with him, Rick Pope and the great crew at Tailwaters. During this memorable day and night it was very obvious to me that the godfather of modern fly casting was a very genuinely nice man. He seemed to have a sincere interest in everyone he had conversations with and was quick to pick up on the excitement level that David Leake and crew have generated around The Palometa Club.
Lefty had very recently lost his wife of over 60 years and he shared some of that experience with Kaye over dinner. It was clear that a relationship was in the making. There was a mixture of our desire to learn more about the man, as well as his curiosity as to figure out what TPC is all about, and who are these people were that he had never heard of in an industry where he knows EVERYBODY.
When David contacted us in December to inform us that Lefty wanted to pay us a visit in early April I was stunned. I felt so honored that we were going to have this icon grace our facility and fish with our fabulous guides, but the idea of it also made me very nervous. When the weeks before their group arrived turned into days, my anxiety intensified to the point of straightening the same piece of art work hanging on the wall 20 times. Compounding all of this was that the group included Rick Pope of Temple Fork Outfitters and Jeffery Cardenas! Jeffery is a friend but a who’s who in this little fraternity none the less. Kaye didn’t share in this with me (thank goodness).
Fast forward, what really came to pass throughout the course of their stay here left me feeling stupid for being so balled up and very sad to see them all go. The way that Lefty settled in and made himself so available to offer anything he could do to help was just simply a fantastic thing to be a part of. From casting lessons to knot clinics he would dive right in. He signed numerous hats and tee shirts for both guides and guest whenever he was asked. He was also very generous with his depth of knowledge and skill with photography. Explanations that are so clear as well as complimentary is a gift that Lefty freely gives without the slightest hesitation.
The highlight, for me, came on the last day of their stay. Lefty had fished his way through the other guests he wanted to spend a day on the water with, so I had the good fortune of being able to jump in the boat with him due to space made available by two clients leaving a day early. I was hoping to see a nice Ascension Bay permit in the hands of this most deserving man, but that was not to be. Lefty had a few chances almost as soon as we stopped the boat and started fishing. He turned a pair of big 15 to 20 pound fish but at the end of the short chase on the fly they did what most permit do, flip you the fin and swim away.
What happened instead was far more valuable, for me anyway. To sit and listen to stories from the great depression to the Battle of the Bulge and of post war America as well as the birth of modern fly fishing. To learn more about a man whose integrity is beyond reproach, who so deeply loved his wife and family, and who has made business decisions based on the character of the participants was far more meaningful and long-lasting for me than another photo of a man and a fish. We laughed a lot and talked about how many friends and acquaintances we shared yet he and I had never met. I learned (in theory) how to shoot aspirin with a BB gun, about casting in the wind and a pile of one liners to add to my already advanced collection.
Lefty is 87. He has been everywhere and done everything the sport of fly fishing has to offer (or that he has wanted to do). To make the decision to endure the journey from Maryland to Punta Allen and spend a week with us is an amazing compliment all on its own. The high praise and accolade he heaped on the guides and staff gave Kaye and I true confirmation that we are in the right place and on the right track. I don’t know how many more trips like this Lefty will make in the future. I hope its 1000 and I hope another is here with us.
Lefty and the group have been gone for just 2 days now and I am still trying to digest all that I was able to devour over the weeks’ time. One thing I certainly want to make clear is that this was a special time with a special man. If Lefty is ever at an event or fly shop or show near you, go! Meet him and thank him for what he has done not just for our sport but, as being a member of “The greatest generation”, what he did for our country.
– Dick Cameron