Tammra Neville makes no bones about how she got hooked on fishing.
“I started fishing because I wanted to join in the sport the man I was attracted to was involved in,” Neville said. “We went fishing on our first date. He asked me what I’d like to do, and I told him I’d like to see him in his element. So we went to Summersville Lake and fished along the bank.”
Two and a half years later, after angling adventures that took them as far away as Michigan’s Lake St. Clair, they’re getting married. The wedding is scheduled for March 31, and the honeymoon — not surprisingly — will include some fishing.
Turning into a hardcore angler wasn’t something Neville imagined she might do.
“The only fishing I’d ever done before was to fish off the pier in Florida with my kids while we were on vacation,” said the Charleston native. “I loved being outdoors, and I loved being on the water.”
Those vacation experiences, however, weren’t enough to hook her on the pastime. That honor fell to Scott Smith, an avid muskie angler from Hurricane. After that initial outing to Summersville Lake, Neville found herself being drawn into Smith’s rod-and-reel world.
“I’ll never forget when I first saw his lure collection,” she said with a chuckle. “He started pulling all these lures out and telling me their names. It was overwhelming. It helped me realize that there was much more to it than putting a worm on a hook.”
Neville started accompanying Smith on muskie-fishing trips.
“I had a lot of fun netting the fish Scott caught,” she recalled. “Along the way, I started getting the hang of fishing for them myself. When I saw that first muskie follow my figure-eight, I thought, ‘Yes! I can do this!’”
Anglers call muskies “the fish of 10,000 casts,” and Neville figures she must have cast at least that many times before she landed her first one, a 45-incher.
“That’s when fishing really got into my blood,” she said.
The most challenging part, she added, was acquiring the stamina and patience required to fish for what she calls “those fickle fish.”
“Muskie fishing is so much more interactive than my idea of fishing from years past,” she explained. “You’re constantly casting, so you have to learn to cast. And then you have to work the lures in a way that’s attractive to the fish. There’s a lot more to it than most people think.”
All the lessons Neville learned on the waters of the Mountain State paid off handsomely when she and Smith took their muskie-fishing trip to Lake St. Clair.
“We had spent a long day on the water, and twilight was approaching,” she recalled. “I was tired and about ready to stop, and about that time I felt a tug.”
The tug turned into a pull, and a pull turned into a fight that ended when Smith netted what Neville calls “my big, beautiful muskie.” The beast measured 46 inches from the tip of its nose to the end of its tail. Neville released the fish and had a reproduction mount made to hang on her family-room wall.
In her relatively brief tenure as an angler, Neville has shown a knack for catching surprisingly large fish. In Virginia, she landed a 22½-inch rainbow trout. While fishing for muskies on the Coal River, she hauled in a 32¾-inch, 13-pound walleye — a veritable giant in Mountain State waters.
Two of her most memorable days, she said, featured nearly non-stop action.
“Back in November, Scott and I had quite a day on the Mud River,” she said. “We saw 35 muskies and hooked maybe 18 of them. They were small, but there were lots of them. We caught so many we finally stopped taking pictures.
“Another time we went wade fishing for miles on the Greenbrier River. The surroundings were beautiful, and we caught all manner of smallmouth and rock bass.”
Neville credits Smith for not only teaching her about fishing, but about nature as well.
“I call him my guide,” she said. “Except I don’t pay him. Scott has educated me on wildlife, showing me beaver trails, showing me ospreys, otters and eagles. He’s taught me how to fish, and to run the boat and the trolling motor. As soon as we get the boat ready, he lines my lures up and gets them ready to go. He’s very giving.”
She said the time she’s spent fishing with Smith has taught her more than just how to work a swimbait.
“There’s plenty of fun to be had, and a lot of good company too,” she added. “I think ladies tend to view fishing as a man’s sport. It’s not; it’s for everyone. You’re on the water, you’re next to nature. It’s peaceful and it’s exciting. You ladies out there — if you get a chance to go fishing, go. You might just get hooked. I recommend it to my friends.”