MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — Morgantown resident Justin Hettick is an avid bowhunter, in fact, he’s president of the West Virginia Bowhunters Association. But he’s also an avid fly fisherman and ties his own flies. The reintroduction of elk into West Virginia gave him a rare opportunity to combine his two passions into one unique keepsake.
The opportunity came when he got a text from his neighbor Chris Ryan, the assistant chief of Game Services for the West Virginia DNR. Ryan was in Cadiz, Kentucky holding a cell phone in one hand and a handful of elk hair in the other.
“Chris texted me from Kentucky and said, ‘Hey we just shaved this hair to do the TB skin test on these elk and I’ve got a handful of hair is there anything you can do with it?'” explained Justin. “Being a fly tier I said yes absolutely.”
So when Ryan returned to West Virginia he presented Hettick with a sandwich bag of hair from West Virginia #1, the first elk captured at the Land Between the Lakes National Recreation Area fort he elk reintroduction program and the first West Virginia elk in 140 years. Hettick got busy.
“Ordinarily you’d have a piece of tanned hide and you can clip the hairs off and they would all lay together and they are sort of ordered naturally,” Hettick said. “The hair I’ve got is just in a wad so I’ve had to pick the hairs out and align them. It’s really a labor of love to tie these flies.”
He managed to tie nine elk hair flies by the time he spoke to MetroNews. Ryan got a few and some other close friends received one but Hettick has plans for the stash he’s kept for himself.
“This hair is off of elk #1, the very first elk reintroduced to West Virginia, and that’s just cool as can be. I love to fly fish for native brook trout and there is nothing a native brook trout likes better than a dry fly elk hair caddis perfectly drifted down a stream,” he explained. “I thought if I can catch a brook trout in our mountains with the hair from the first elk to be here since 1875, that’s just about the coolest thing I could think of.”
The historical significance of the artifact didn’t escape Hettick and he isn’t being selfish with his nugget of gold. He’s taken one of the hand tied flies and built a display case with a card explaining the history and significance of the hair used in the fly. The display will be auctioned off at the West Virginia Bowhunters Association Banquet this spring.
“Seventy-five years from now somebody’s grandkid could have that hanging in their den and they could go out and hunt those West Virginia elk,” he said. “It’s a piece of history. There’s not going to be any more hair off of West Virginia Elk #1. I hope in 100 years people can shoot their own West Virginia elk and tie their own West Virginia elk hair flies and it won’t be anything special in 100 years.”