Fly Fishing in Paradise

Think fly fishing isn’t your sport? One visit to Elk Springs Resort will get you hooked..

By Deborah R. Huso and Susannah Herrada


Hang around the spacious lodge verandah or the bar in Ellie May’s Ole Mill Restaurant at Elk Springs Resort in Monterville, West Virginia, and you’ll likely pass the evening trading tales. Fish tales, that is. While it’s true that anglers have a reputation for size embellishment, the day’s catch claims from fly fishers at Elk Springs Resort might actually be real.

A trout measuring more than 25 inches?

It could happen, especially in the unusually temperate water conditions of the Elk River which fosters a year-round growing season, supporting a robust trout population with some very large fish.

How It All Came to Be

Owners Daron and Lisa Dean purchased Elk River Springs Resort in 2004. Their daughter Ellie May, now with her own reputation as an outdoorswoman and angler, was just knee high to a grasshopper when the Deans acquired the property bordering the Monongahela National Forest. And just like Ellie May, the resort has grown up a bit, too. When the Deans purchased the land, located at the springhead of the Elk River, it only had a pair of rustic cabins, a simple snack bar and a basic hatchery anchored near a partially completed lodge.

But there was something magic in the air. The remote property is perched on the banks of the Elk, a limestone river that teems with sulfur flies and other seasonal insects on which trout love to feed. In fact, this particular area of West Virginia carries the reputation of being one of the top sulfur fly hatch areas in the eastern United States. The healthy population of sulfurs thrive in the slightly alkaline water originating at limestone spring formations, which create just the right temperature and pH levels to support a prolific insect population. To the rainbow and brown trout, as well as backcountry brook trout, smallmouth bass and muskie, it means one thing:  an all-you-can-eat buffet.

In just 12 years, the Deans and their growing team transformed Elk Springs from a property riddled with deferred maintenance issues to a widely recognized fly fishing resort, with 6,000 acres under management through both ownership and lease.

Fly Fishing for All

Elk Springs Resort offers activities suited to anglers of every skill level. It has pay ponds for family introductory and catch-your-own-dinner experiences, expert guides for serious beginners on the river, trusted backcountry guides for seasoned adventurers and pros to oversee aspects of the hatchery. The property recently announced the addition of sporting clay and skeet shooting on top of its newly expanded offerings for guided hunting expeditions.

The resort offers individual rooms in two lodges in addition to self-catering studio and family cabins set in pristine wilderness, perfect for single fly fishers and larger family/friend groups. It also has the capacity to host large group retreats and corporate retreats.

With a chef-driven restaurant and West Virginia’s largest fly shop providing supplies to both guests and an international online customer base, Marketing Manager Tracy McCain describes the service Elk Springs Resort provides as “a one-stop shop.”

“If you’re here to fish, we have it all,” he says.

Elk Springs Resort has been featured on Craig Morgan: All Access Outdoors on the Outdoor Channel, Fly Rod Chronicles on both the Outdoor Channel and Sportsman Channel and WCHS-TV’s “Traveling West Virginia” segment. YouTube sensation and experienced fly fishing industry professional Abbi Bagwell (#somestreamerchick) recognizes the draw of the resort.

“It’s a great place for anyone — beginners to advanced,” she says. “The fishing is just incredible. There are tons and tons of native brook trout streams to enjoy along the Elk River.” 

Bagwell adds that it’s rare to experience such luxury and comfort at a fly fishing destination.

“You go to this place which is really out in the woods and then you have fine dining and a full bar,” she says. “It is just gorgeous. It sits right on the Elk River, which is phenomenal. Everyone is West Virginia friendly.”

A New Season on the Water

Elk Springs Resort benefits from the rising tide of fly fishing popularity among young people and women of all ages. The likes of Bagwell have helped fly fishing break from its image as a difficult, male-dominated sport. 

McCain also points out that while fly fishing can be a deep-pocket, time-consuming activity, getting into the sport doesn’t have to cost you your firstborn and the house. In fact, you can get started for under $200.

Elk Springs offers rental equipment and everything from introductory half-day experiences to full backcountry excursions. McCain adds that learning the sport is easy, too, indicating one lesson will have a beginner casting and catching fish by day’s end.

McCain attributes much of the renewed interest in fly fishing to the fact that it’s a way to escape from our technologically reliant lives. He describes fly fishing as “a tranquil sport that offers a sense of freedom. Trout only go where it’s beautiful.”

Last fall, the resort invited female leaders in fly fishing to help host its first annual women-only fly fishing weekend. It was a sold-out hit. Bagwell and others hosted, along with Pamela Caldwell Dunlap the creator of wvflygirl.com and founder of Women, Wine & Waders.

“It never ceases to amaze me how ladies of the line always bond,” Dunlap says. “Even though we had women with a range of experience, the weekend was a huge success.”

Still not sure about a fishing-only weekend? Elk Springs Resort hosts more than just anglers. Visitors stay at Elk Springs Resort to visit Snowshoe Mountain’s winter wonderland of ski and snow activities. Golfers appreciate the convenience of Elk Springs Resort to Raven Golf Club (also a Snowshoe amenity). Nearby Green Bank National Radio Astronomy Observatory offers year-round tours for exploring the fascinating world of radio astronomy. For a different take on the outdoors, a meandering boardwalk winds through the bog plains of Cranberry Glades, a 750-acre area of acidic wetlands harboring a unique and exotic ecosystem. And, of course, traveling from point A to point B anywhere in this area must be experienced at least once on the Highland Scenic Highway.

So, what about little Ellie May? She has taken her own place in the rising tide of young adults, especially women, stepping into the river, making it her own. Eponym of the Elk Spring Resort’s eatery, Ellie May’s Ole Mill Restaurant, she established herself as a facile fly tyer at 11 when she started giving seminars and making appearances on national fly fishing shows. At 16, she is now an outdoorswoman who also hunts when she’s not busy with life as a full-time student.

For more information, visit www.elkspringswv.com. Elk Springs Resort is located at 228 Dry Branch Road, Monterville, WV 26282. Questions? Email elkspringswv@aol.com. Make reservations by phone only at 1-877-ELK-SPRINGS or 1-304-339-2999.

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