Fishing, Paddling and Pot-bellied Pigs
Kelly McCoy is sharing her love of the river with the masses.By Tina Firesheets
Kelly McCoy fell in love with the New River 20 years ago. She and her partner at the time lived in Florida and began vacationing around the Boone area. Friends took them kayaking on the New River. Each time they returned, Kelly knew it was where she wanted to be. So they moved to the small town of Todd, about 11 miles from Boone.
There was a general store, bakery, post office, two churches and a train depot. Kelly decided to add a little fishing store to the mix. And that’s how RiverGirl Fishing Company came to draw more visitors to a little rural town at the south fork of the New River.
River Rat becomes RiverGirl
Kelly spent much of her childhood in lakes and rivers. She’s from a small town about 45 miles northeast of Birmingham, Alabama. Her father competed in bass fishing tournaments.
“Fishing, for a kid if you’re not catching fish, can be quite boring,” Kelly recalls. “He would tell us if we were quiet, he would take us waterskiing when he was finished fishing. So that probably instilled my love of the water.”
Her grandmother imparted a sense of love and concern for nature. She, her brother and their cousins spent a lot of time with their grandmother.
“She would take us into the creeks and teach us about how to take care of them. She would teach us about wildflowers. We just grew up in nature.”
After high school, Kelly discovered an aquaculture program at the local community college.
“I’ve always loved fish and taking care of them,” she says.
After earning a fishery degree at Mississippi State University, she worked as a marine biologist in Florida. When she began thinking about what she could do after moving to Todd, it made sense to turn to the river. In college, her nickname was “River Rat” or “River Squirrel.” RiverGirl sounded better.
Fishing, tubing and Petunia the pig
Kelly eventually added canoes, kayaks and inner tubes to her fishing business.
And a 300-pound pot-bellied pig named Petunia.
“Little did I know 16 years ago that purchasing a pig for $50 would be the best marketing tool,” Kelly says with a laugh. “A lot of folks will pull up to the front door and ask if this is the place with the pig.”
Petunia has since passed away, but there’s a new pig. Pepper is about half the size of her predecessor. Some people don’t realize she’s a different pig. And some customers, Kelly says, actually cried when they learned Petunia had died. While Petunia used to like to hang out in the shop, Pepper prefers to lounge in her own little purple tiny home that she shares with five chickens and a rabbit.
Lured by the river
Kelly’s respect for fish and their habitat comes through in her practice. She uses lures that are gentler on the fish when hooked, and they release what they catch. Some people have begged her, and even offered more money, if she would allow them to keep their fish so that they could eat them later. But Kelly remains firm. If they want to do that, they’ll have to go back without her.
Kelly, the mother of an 11-year-old son, especially enjoys teaching children how to fly fish.
“I feel like if you get the kids out here, and you instill the love of looking under rocks — there’s another world underneath those rocks,” she says. “If you teach them that at an early age, they’ll have that their whole life. They’ll go back and show their friends and show their aunts and uncles. It becomes viral, and you get everybody learning how to take care of the waterways.”
RiverGirl Fishing Company
4041 Todd Railroad Grade Rd., Todd