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.