Meet the Northerly Community - Fly Fishing the North
One of the best parts about living in quaint communities across the Northwoods is getting to know your neighbor. In an effort to learn more about our community members, we’re sharing a series called “Meet the Northerly Community” where we interview a friend, professional, or just all around awesome person that has a uniquely northern story. We hope you'll be inspired to get involved, learn more about those that share your zip code, or simply, find a similar passion.
Meet Stu Neville
angler, river steward, craft brew enthusiast, basketball fan
fly fishing guide with Hayward Fly Fishing Company
Share your “Northwoods Story”
My Northwoods story began the year I was born. Originally from the Twin Cities, I have been spending time throughout my entire life at my grandparent's house on Round Lake, located just east of Hayward. The area quickly became my favorite place, and by the time I was in junior high, I wanted to spend all of my time "up north". Growing up, I learned how to do anything that involves water and it became a big part of shaping me into who I am.
I learned how to fly fish with my dad when I was 15, and I began to enjoy it more and more through high school + college. I went to St. Olaf College in Northfield, MN and studied Environmental Studies, then worked for a large corporation on an environmental sustainability team. I hated it and decided I wanted to do what I love. Over the years, I had built a friendship with the owner of Hayward Fly Fishing Company and started guiding for them in 2013. A few years ago, I bought a house on the Namekagon River and now I fish outside my door on one of my favorite rivers in the world.
What is your first memory of fly fishing?
I was in 3rd grade on a family rafting trip on the middle fork of the Salmon River in Idaho. After the whole group had made camp for the night, I wanted to go out and explore. A family friend brought a fly rod on the trip and rigged it up for me so I could go around the bend. On my very first cast, I caught a fish. I was all by myself (not very smart), so I was holding the fish in one hand and with the other hand trying to build a little rock cage in the river. I ran back to camp to get my dad so I could show him, but when we got back to the little rock cage the fish had escaped. I swear it was there.
What is the greatest lesson you have learned on the river?
Undoubtedly - patience. As it relates to the fish and more importantly, as it relates to dealing with river conditions, weather, + people. I learn patience every time I go out to fish and often times I get more than one lesson in a day.
What is the best part of being a guide?
People often say to me, “Wow Stu, you’ve got a pretty great office here”. Even if the weather is not ideal, I get to spend every day out on some of the most beautiful rivers anywhere. I guide on the St. Croix River and the Namekagon River, which not a lot of people know are National Scenic Riverways, part of the National Park system. They are that special, that beautiful - and I am lucky enough to know them really well. I also really love teaching. So many of the people that come out with me are beginners. If every client I had was a total ace, it would get old. So much of the fun is helping my clients progress and succeed. If they have never cast a rod in their life, and they flip the fly, hit a spot, and land a fish - it is really cool. People are SO excited to be there, which is different than being in an office setting where people dread going to work. It inspires me to get out and do what I love. It also doesn’t hurt that I only guide for seven months out of the year and I get to travel the world for the rest of the year.
what is the key to being a great fishing guide?
It is important to be fishy - or knowing how to catch fish - but more important is the ability to understand people and be able to read what is going to make their day. There are a lot of people who are a good fisherman, but not all can help other people catch fish. A guide needs to manage the day for someone - whether it is giving them a new tool that is key to catching fish or just letting them enjoy a day on the river.
what are your suggestions on best places to fish?
I only guide for smallmouth bass + musky, and some of the best rivers are the Chippewa, Flambeau, and west fork the Chippewa, in addition to the St. Croix and Namekagon. I don’t guide for trout, but there are some great fisheries in the area for trout. The Namekagon River between Cable and Hayward is as good as it gets anywhere in the world for brown trout. While it is a tough river to learn, once you take the time to figure it out, it can be very rewarding. There are also great brook trout streams near the town of Springbrook and Earl. The spring creeks of that area get very little fishing pressure.
What is the most challenging river to fish?
For brown trout - upstream on the Namekagon from Hayward. You can go out one day and catch 20 trout, then go back the next day with the same conditions + gear and catch only 2. It can be a tough nut to crack but trying to figure a river out is an important + engaging part of the sport.
What is your favorite freshwater fish to catch?
I love both smallmouth bass and musky dearly, but if I had to give the nod to one, I would choose smallmouth bass. Smallies are a joyful fish with great energy. The best time to fish smallies is early June to August - the summer months - when the water is warm and they are at their happiest. Also, the weather usually happens to be really nice, and you can anchor the boat on a sandbar mid-fishing adventure to go for a swim. It is so different in comparison to musky fishing in the fall when it is cold, windy, + maybe snowing (which I also love). Musky fishing can be very intense and focused, but there is a delicate ease to smallmouth fishing.
Tell us about the best fish you've brought to hand...
It was my day off, and I was with my friend Erik and his fiancé, Katherine. We were fishing a stretch of the St. Croix River, and Erik’s fiancé was in the back of the boat reading Harry Potter out loud in the background. A lot of people think of big smallmouth as bruising fish that eat violently, but this particular fish matched the mood of the day - very relaxed and easy. I made a long cast to the bank behind a tree with a popper. The fish was far enough away that I could only see the ring of the fly on the water, and the fish came up and just kissed the fly delicately. It was my biggest smallmouth to date.
Give us some advice for a new fly fisherman…
Two things. (1) Don’t be afraid to try. A lot of people are intimidated because fly fishing is a different world with different equipment + jargon. It can feel daunting, but if you don’t try, it will never happen. You have to go and be willing to expose yourself, be vulnerable, and ask questions. (2) Remember to keep it fun. Fly fishing is hard, but it is also supposed to be enjoyable so don't get overly frustrated. Keep the attitude light and go have a good time on the water!
What are some of your tips on finding new places?
A lot of people are reluctant to give up their fishing spots, but you don’t know if you don’t ask. Go into a fly shop and talk to the owner or someone that is shopping around. The fly fishing community is small, and there are a lot of people that like to look out for each other and are willing to share. Map study is also a good way. I have discovered a lot of places to go just by studying maps. You have to be willing to do some bushwhacking, and fish water that isn’t so good, but you figure it out on your own. So much of the fun in that is trying to figure it out. When you eventually find it, find the water that has the fish you are looking for, it is really rewarding because you took the time to figure it out, and that investment of effort really boosts one's sense of accomplishment.
What are your tips for learning how to fly fish for the first time?
- You don’t have to start with getting a rod in your hand - start with a book. There are so many good resources to help teach you about bug life in streams, understanding food chains, why fish eat what they eat, fish behavior, seasons of the water, and the lifestyle.
- Take a class. Check out your local chapter of Trout Unlimited for classes on casting, fly tying and more. Trout Unlimited is an excellent way to get connected to other fly anglers in your area and learn some local waters.
Classes + events:
+ Hayward Fly Fishing Company
+ For Kids! - The Roger Lapenter Chequamegon Bay Smallie School
- Hire a guide in your neck of the woods. You can’t replace learning local knowledge and from someone who has taught a beginner before.
Book a day on the water with Stu through Hayward Fly Fishing Company.
What fish is on your bucket list to catch?
With each passing year, I get more into saltwater fly fishing. I would like to pursue Redfish in the Gulf of Mexico and the Florida Keys. Redfish are strong + beautiful fish. You sight fish them, so you can seek out a specific fish in the shallow water and the fish will take a fly willingly if you can present it to them.
Most underappreciated place in Northern Wisconsin
The Namekagon River. A lot of people do not understand the wild, pristine nature of it. To have a 100-mile long river protected from development is a rarity and I hope it can stay that way for generations to come.
Most Essential Item for Northwoods Living
Attitude. There is so much good in this part of the world, but you have to be willing to get out there + find it. Share this place with your friends and celebrate this wonderful place
Past "Meet the Northerly Community" posts:
If you have a uniquely northern story, we would love to interview you for an upcoming post - send us a message!