On Friday, February 1, at The Fly Fishing Show in Atlanta, Georgia, legendary, Charlottesville-based fishing guide and fly designer, Chuck Kraft, was inducted into the Fly Fishing Museum of the Southern Appalachians Hall of Fame, joining an impressive cast of other influential fly anglers, including Lefty “Bernard” Kreh, Joe Brooks, and Dave Whitlock.
Born in Clifton Forge, Virginia, Kraft credits his lifelong passion for the outdoors to being “raised in a hunting and fishing family.” As a kid, he honed his skills on the Jackson River, located just a full-day’s bike ride from his home. By the age of five, Kraft had taken to fly fishing.
In 1958, Kraft moved to Charlottesville. Seven years later, in 1965, he took over the Outdoor Sport Shop on Barracks Road in Charlottesville and operated it for five years before closing in 1970.
Kraft made what he calls a natural transition into professionally guiding fishing trips in 1985, after earning a reputation as a master angler. He quickly established a presence on the James, Shenandoah, and New Rivers, as well as on several trout fisheries, like the Jackson River of his upbringing. For several seasons, he also spent the winter in Chile, guiding clients to South American brown trout. Throughout his guiding career, Kraft averaged 150 guide trips per year, and guided world-renowned anglers such as Lefty Kreh, Flip Pallot, and Bob Clouser, the latter of which called Kraft “one of the best smallmouth guides in the country.” Kraft’s versatility, attention to detail, and ability to consistently keep clients on fish made him one of the most revered guides in the country.
Colby Trow, who is currently co-owner, along with his twin brother, Brian, of Mossy Creek Fly Fishing in Harrisonburg, became a follower of Kraft’s at a very young age after seeing some of Kraft’s presentations on fishing for big smallmouth bass. “I wanted to fish with the guy so badly I begged my parents to get me a trip with him,” said Trow. “My mom had to book him over a year in advance so my brother and I could fish with him on our 13th birthday.”
Today, the Trows use Chuck’s philosophy and success as a model for their own fishing and business. “Chuck floated, fished, and observed his fisheries in greater detail than most guides I know today,” said Trow. “He tinkered with lure and fly designs to trigger big fish into eating, and kept all of this information secret to protect his way of guiding and ensure his clientele the best possible experience every time. He was the most successful independent guide in the mid-Atlantic region, and we hope that all of our guides will one day reach his legendary status.”
Kraft’s attention to detail and need to succeed on the water produced the work that he is perhaps best known for—his impressive lineup of unique fly designs.
Early in his career, Kraft first received national attention via a 1971 article in Field and Stream, which highlighted his first fly design. Developed on the Jackson River and officially released and dubbed the CK Nymph in 1961, the article nicknamed the fly “the wonder nymph,” and attested to its effectiveness on trout everywhere.
The CK Nymph is one of Kraft’s rare patterns utilizing more than one natural material, for it was after a client of his who worked in the furniture business introduced him to a material called ultra-suede that Kraft’s unique style of tying fully emerged. The incredibly durable material, which doesn’t harden or lose its shape over time, allowed Kraft to perfect several patterns that he’d been developing for decades, including the CK Baitfish (2009), Clawdad (1992), Crittermite (2014), and several others.
Kraft’s Kreelex pattern, also released in 1992, is also tied with an incredibly durable and effective synthetic material that had yet to be used in fly tying called Kreinik Flash. The Kreelex is a flashy minnow pattern that is perhaps his most widely-fished pattern, filling fly bins in shops around the world.
In the conservation realm, Kraft has also been influential in having slot limits for smallmouth bass changed to increase the quality of the fishery in the James and New Rivers.
After retiring officially in 2010, in 2012, Kraft was presented the Fly Fishers of Virginia’s Nat Bugwyn Lifetime Achievement Award for his lifetime of innovation. And in 2016, he was recognized as Fly Tyer of the Year at the Virginia Fly Fishing and Wine Festival.
Though perhaps best known for his lineup of deadly fly patterns, Chuck Kraft’s legacy reaches further into his massive success as a guide, his habit of observation, and his dedication to conservation, and the mentorship that such experience has allowed him to provide countless individuals who have themselves become industry leaders in the Mid-Atlantic.
*Originally published in The Rural Virginian