Jane Vachon: (603) 271-3211
December 24, 2003

Ellis Hatch Jr., Fly-tying Master, Receives Governors' Arts Award

CONCORD, N.H. -- How many people these days can craft a Muddler Minnow or put a plume on a Green Ghost Streamer? The art of tying flies is a natural extension of the elegant sport of fly-fishing, in which anglers cast flies crafted from feathers, fur and fiber, onto the water in an effort to fool one of nature's most subtle and wary creatures, the trout. The angler uses the fly to catch trout; the trout must mistake the fly for some form of food. "There is nothing like a fly, or the pleasure of casting it!" says Ellis Hatch Jr., a veteran fly-tier who recently earned the 2003 Governors' Arts Award for New Hampshire Folk Heritage. Hatch will be honored, along with six other recipients of awards from the New Hampshire State Council on the Arts, at a gala ceremony at the Concord City Auditorium on Sunday, January 11, 2004, from 3-5 p.m. Tickets are available for $15 from the Capitol Center for the Arts box office, or call (603) 225-1111.

Hatch, who has served on the state's Fish and Game Commission for more than two decades, is revered throughout the state for his fly-tying prowess. He took up fly-fishing in his twenties and soon after started tying his own flies. Once he began tying flies, Hatch found he enjoyed creating the flies almost as much as fishing. He has now been tying flies for nearly 40 years. For the past ten years, Hatch has been involved with the State Arts Council's traditional arts program, which recognizes masters of traditional arts, promotes the efforts of promising apprentices and helps keep traditional arts going so that future generations can enjoy them. As part of this program, Hatch has taken on four apprentices, passing on the techniques of fly-tying, one-on-one.

While he has created many classic flies that are purely art forms, Hatch prefers to create flies with a more practical bent. "I'm into tying flies to catch fish!" Hatch says. A classic fly-tying artist might create one fly in a day, according to Hatch. "For me, a good day's work is a hundred flies," he says. Hatch enjoys creating the old classic fly patterns, meant to be used in pond or stream; he likes knowing their history, including who tied them first. For instance, he can tell you that the Black Ghost Marabou Streamer was first tied by Herb Welch of Moose-Look-Meguntic, Maine, in 1927.

One of Hatch's favorite flies, the Muddler Minnow, was designed by Don Gapen in 1937 to catch Canadian brook trout. Lifelike creations like the Muddler are made using natural and artificial materials including turkey quill, squirrel tail, deer hair and tinsel. Another of Hatch's favorite fish-catchers is the Grey Hatching Pupa, a wisp of a fly in which the lightest touches of materials bring to life a fly that appeals to the fish like the emerging stage of an aquatic insect -- "a very effective pattern, one that should be in every fly box," says Hatch.

Hatch says he sometimes comes up with a new twist, using synthetic materials to add flash and color to the old styles. But mostly he sticks with the tried and true patterns of years past. Hatch continues to find strong interest in learning the techniques of fly-tying. "I could do an apprenticeship every winter if I had time," he says. He believes the tradition is still keen because it is the root of the popular sport of fly-fishing. "I think as long as people fish, they'll be tying flies," Hatch says. Once hooked, fly-tiers tend to stick with it, as Hatch has. As he says, "When you get the fly-tying virus, you never get over it."

Hatch teaches fly-tying clinics at the Willow Brook Fly Tyer in Rochester and is an instructor and custom fly-tier at Hunters Angling Supplies in New Boston. He currently serves as the Chair of the New Hampshire Fish and Game Commission, where he has served as the Strafford County representative for more than 20 years. Hatch was a founding member and past president of the Hackle and Tackle Club; serves as an instructor in Fish and Game's "Let's Go Fishing" program; and has received numerous citations and achievement awards for his work on conservation, fly-fishing and fly-tying.

The Governors' Arts Awards are presented every two years and recognize outstanding accomplishments in arts education, arts patronage, arts support by a town or city, cultural access leadership, distinguished arts leadership, folk heritage and a single artist's lifetime of work. Click here for more information about the N.H. State Council on the Arts, including awards and grants.

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