Hire Kelly McCoy as your fly-fishing guide on the New River and the first thing you’ll notice is that she’s a woman. Scratch that. First, you’ll notice the 320-pound pig named Petunia hanging out in McCoy’s shop, RiverGirl Fishing Company. She’s a bit of a local celebrity.
“People come here to meet the pig,” McCoy says. “For some folks, fishing is an afterthought.”
Once you’ve met Petunia though, you’ll notice the woman thing. With most any other business, you wouldn’t take note of McCoy’s gender, but she’s a fly-fishing guide and fly-fishing guides are, well, typically dudes.
“I only know of one other female instructor,” McCoy says from her shop, located in an old train depot in Todd. “It’s a bit of an old boys network, but more women are getting into the sport.”
McCoy wound up guiding almost by accident. The 38-year-old Alabama native didn’t pick up the sport until she was studying biology at Mississippi State University, where she joined a fly-fishing club.
“Mississippi is nothing but catfish farms and cotton fields, so we practiced casting on the grass in the middle of campus,” she recalls. After graduation, she worked as a fisheries biologist for the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission before moving to Todd five years ago with her partner.
“We fell in love with the area and New River, but I couldn’t find a fishery job, so I started guiding on a whim,” McCoy says. “Now it’s a mini-monster. We do boat rentals, lessons, guided trips, eco tours, and classes.”
Her background allows her to take an ecological approach to the sport. “Anyone can look online and find hatch charts for a particular river,” she says. “But if you can figure out what the bugs and animals are doing, you’ll start to understand the nuances of that water.”
Being a woman in a male-dominated sport has proved good for business too; clients have been known to seek her out because of her gender. “It’s less intimidating to learn from a woman,” McCoy muses, adding that females take to the sport naturally. “Women are typically more patient. Fly-fishing takes patience.”