Young girl a fly-tying phenom
KENOVA - At an age when many girls are still into Barbie or Hello Kitty, Ellie May Dean's favorite pastime is tying trout flies.
The precocious 11-year-old spends hours every week seated at her tying bench, making fur and feathers resemble tiny aquatic insects. Her skills have earned her invitations to conduct public fly tying demonstrations and have earned her a regular gig on national television.
Her fascination with the pastime began the first time she saw it.
"I didn't know what it was, but I wanted to know how to do it," she said.
She was 6 at the time. Her parents, Deron and Lisa Dean, encouraged her to go right ahead.
"I started making up these flies with really big feathers," Ellie May recalled. "They weren't really flies, they were 'things.' A lot of times they were just single feathers wrapped onto a hook."
Not long after Ellie May started tying flies, Deron and Lisa developed the Elk Springs Resort, a fly fishing lodge, restaurant and fly shop along the Elk River in Randolph County. It was there that Ellie May learned to tie flies that might actually catch fish.
"Bill Harkness - he was one of the guides at Elk Springs - showed me how to tie a streamer pattern. After that, I started concentrating on tying real trout flies," she said.
Lisa allowed Ellie May to set up a fly tying station in the corner of the resort's short-order restaurant. She showed her flies to anglers who gathered there each day to have lunch and discuss the morning's fishing.
"People started offering to buy her flies, and they'd come back in and tell her about the fish they'd caught on them," Lisa said.
At the same time she was learning to tie flies, Ellie May also started to learn the intricacies of fly fishing. Deron recalled the day she caught her first fish on one of her own creations.
"She was maybe 8 at the time," he said. "Dave Breitmeier taught her how to tie the Black Midge Pupa pattern that's so effective on the Elk. She tied one in size 18 and gave it to me to fish. It was about 30 degrees and snowing, but I took the fly out to try it.
"It was one of those days when the fish were looking for exactly the fly I had on my line. By the time Ellie May and Dave came out to see how I was doing, I had caught 25 trout. I handed her the rod, and she cast it out and almost immediately caught one - her first trout on a fly she had tied."
Ellie May's tying started getting national attention when Curtis Fleming, the host of The Outdoor Channel's Fly Rod Chronicles, visited Elk Springs to videotape a show.
Fleming and Ellie May hit it off. He invited the youngster to tie a fly on camera, and over time created a regular "Focus on the Fly" segment for her. In one segment, Ellie May showed former Washington Redskins running back John Riggins how to tie the Elk Hair Caddis pattern.
That was a relatively large fly for her. Most of the ones she ties range from small to ridiculously small.
"I like to tie caddis- and midge-larva and pupa patterns, and ant patterns," she said. "I tie most of them from size 18 down to size 32."
She obviously has excellent eyesight; a size 32 hook is about half as big as a grain of rice. Flies tied that small don't require many materials, but they're tricky to tie.
Having parents who own a fly shop has its advantages. When Ellie May gets a little short on cash, she ties flies for the shop and gets paid for them.
"We don't pay her as much as we pay the other tiers, though," her mother teased.
Ellie May also does live fly tying demonstrations. She recently showed off her skills at the West Virginia Hunting and Fishing Show and ended up selling much of what she created.
"At one point she had a dozen Black Caddis Pupa tied and sitting on the table, and a pretty well-known local fly fisherman saw them and bought every one of them," Lisa said.
Ellie May also has gained a bit of a following from her national TV segments.
"A guy from Georgia called up and asked for her to send him a picture and some flies. She sent a dozen flies and an autographed picture," Lisa said.
Though she's still just a fifth-grader, Ellie May already knows what she would like to do someday - host an outdoors TV show of her own.
"I've hunted and fished in Colorado, Montana, New Mexico and here at home," she said. "I'd like to keep doing those things, and to make a show from them - 'Ellie May Outdoors.'"
Barbie and Hello Kitty can just go hang.
Reach John McCoy at email@example.com or 304-348-1231.