Reel Time: Innovators – The architects of modern saltwater fly tackle

No two people are more knowledgeable about the origins of modern saltwater fly tackle than Lefty Kreh (passed in 2018) and Flip Pallot. I was fortunate a few years ago to interview these two living legends about the early days of saltwater fly fishing, and the development of the tackle we enjoy today.

The modern saltwater fly angler has a problem, just like his predecessor in the early days of the sport. Back in the late ’50s and early ’60s, when competitive anglers were discovering the remarkable variety of saltwater species from Miami to Key West, their problem was finding dependable tackle. Today’s anglers, on the other hand, are hard-pressed to keep up with all the innovations in tackle. There are literally hundreds of rods, reels, lines, and gadgets available. Exotic rod labeling systems denote rod stiffness and flex. Fly reels feature advanced sealed drag systems with space-age materials and are filled with computer designed fly lines which are available in mind-bending quantities. In short, saltwater anglers today have to figure out what to use, anglers in the ’60s had to find something to use.

Less than fifty years ago, there was essentially no specialized equipment available to the pioneers in the field. The innovations that we enjoy today are the results of their determination and love of the sport, combined with a healthy dose of competitive spirit.      Flip Pallot grew up fishing the waters of South Florida from Miami, to the Florida Keys. He witnessed first hand the fabulous angling opportunities and experienced the advancement of fly tackle beginning in the late ’50s.

Lefty Kreh came to Miami in October of 1964 to run the Metropolitan South Florida Fishing Tournament (MET). He helped the local pioneers realize the potential of fly fishing in saltwater while contributing to their awareness of casting to angling success. Both men lived, fished, and experimented with the anglers who fostered the innovations that have led to our modern tackle.

Reel Time Flip and Lefty
Lefty Kreh & Flip Pallot were best friends and are fly fishing legends. – Rusty Chinnis | Sun

Kreh and Pallot both agreed that the MET was the driving force behind most of the advancements. The MET was the brainstorm of the Miami Beach Rod & Reel Club. The tournament was established in 1935 to promote local angling opportunities and would send pictures of prize-winning anglers to papers throughout the nation in the hopes of convincing people to move to south Florida. The MET was the only public record keeping body in its day.

Several fishing clubs, including the Tropical Anglers, the Miami Sport Fishing Club, and the Miami Beach Rod & Reel Club, were composed of blue and white collar workers who competed every 6 months in three divisions: spin, plug, and fly. There were no cash prizes at the time, but winners received press and appeared on television. Most of the techniques and tackle developed in the “Hey Days,” from 1960-70, were the result of competition between these anglers. Florida Keys guides like George Hommell, Stu Apte, Jimmy Albright, Cecil Keith, and Jack Brothers, advanced their methods of locating and catching saltwater game fish using the ideas and innovations provided by the light tackle clubs, their competitions, and clinics.

Many of the local club members including Pallot, Norman Duncan, Norm Jansik, John Emory, and Chico Fernandez would come to Lefty’s house and practice casting in the street. The first rod the anglers used was a resin impregnated bamboo rod from Orvis called a “G2AF Shooting Star.” The first fiberglass rod they used (as a fly rod blank) was developed by Henry Orr, and was known as the “Spinmaster.”

Lee Cuddy was one of the most influential innovators of saltwater fly rods during the ’60s and ’70s. Kreh, Pallot and other fly anglers would frequent his rod component store, J. Lee Cuddy’s, on Coral Way in Miami. Cuddy supplied the anglers the raw materials (blanks, reel seats, guides and cork) they used to build rods. Kreh, Pallot, John Emory (who worked at the store), and other local competitive anglers in the area, would constantly build and experiment with rod designs.

Since there were no pre-made rods available, anglers had wrapping machines and would build their own rods from blanks made by US Fiberglass. Kreh and Pallot remember how they would take a blank, wrap the guides, glue the individual cork rings, turn and sand them on lathes, and head to the street to try them out. It was a common practice to make a few casts, find the rod too whippy, or a guide that trapped line, and immediately break them apart and rebuild them. By constantly experimenting with different guides, blanks, and other components, they essentially advanced the technology of rod building. Many of the spin and plug casting rods they built gave them ideas that they incorporated into fly rods. Companies like Shakespeare and Fenwick were aware of these pioneering anglers, who competed for twelve months of the year and had representatives like Ben Hardesty work closely with them, making the new innovations in rod design available to the angling public.

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