timberlands shoes Fly Fishing with Oliver White
It late afternoon on our second day of fishing, and Paul Vigano is struggling. He standing in the bow of a 16 foot aluminum skiff, making errant casts with a 12 weight fly rod into Parawan Pond and berating himself. going too fast, he mutters. rushing. deep in the Guyana rain forest, on a murky pond flanked by towering vegetation, hunting a creature few anglers have ever heard of the arapaima, the world second largest freshwater fish, a leviathan that can reach 14 feet long and weigh some 400 pounds. Just as extraordinary, this fish breathes air, having evolved over 150 million years in low oxygen ponds in the jungle. Arapaimas spend their days in the benthic mud, barely moving except to chomp the occasional peacock bass and surface every few minutes for a split second gulp of air. To catch the beast, you got three seconds after that gulp known as a roll to get your fly in front of its big, ugly face. A difficult proposition.
Vigano is an accomplished fly fisherman who has landed fish from Brazil to Kamchatka. He also runs a $700 million private equity firm in Connecticut and excels at high stakes financial ass kicking. He is used to winning.
at 10 o Paul, 60 feet, heading left, announces Oliver White, our guide, from the rear of the boat. Vigano casts. He late. He short. He frustrated. He exhales through his teeth.
Paul, White says calmly. get there. sits stretched out in the stern, long and lean, one bare foot dangling in the water, pearl buttoned western shirt open to his chest. From behind a pair of wraparound shades, he exudes an easygoing confidence. Sitting next to him is an equally confident Macushi Indian named Rovin Alvin. In soft, patient voices they explain how to read the arapaima how it creates a circular ripple on the roll, how bubbles betray its direction after the roll, how its mood can be discerned by the smoothness of the roll.
It doesn show, but White very much wants Vigano to catch an arapaima, maybe more than Vigano does himself. That not just because guides want their clients to catch fish. To White, Vigano is more than a client. He part of a continuing experiment to demonstrate that catch and release fly fishing can be a vehicle for economic development and environmental conservation. It a novel idea, one more promising than many ecotourism ventures, and one that White wants to replicate around the world.
But first he needs to prove it works here in Guyana. He like that proof to look like this: Vigano catches an arapaima. He goes home and tells his deep pocketed friends he caught an arapaima. Now they want to catch an arapaima. They fly to Guyana, catch their own arapaimas, and in so doing provide thousands of dollars to the 300 Macushi who allow them to fish for arapaimas. That allows the Macushi to continue to say no to the Chinese mining and timber companies clamoring to get in here. In the end, 185 square miles of rain forest, an area eight times the size of Manhattan, get saved. Thanks to fly fishing.
at three o Paul, 50 feet, going right, White calls out. Vigano casts. He late. He short. He still frustrated.
Soon dusk settles in, and when it does, all hell breaks loose. The giant river otters that have been eyeballing us all afternoon, big six footers, suddenly start barking and snorting at us. The forest cuts loose with the roar of howler monkeys. Kingfishers start dive bombing everywhere, and then we hear shotgun blasts, or what sound like shotgun blasts arapaimas slapping their tails on the surface. good, White says. the roll is smooth, that a happy fish, a catchable fish. When they come up splashing, they agitated. They don like you in their house. jungle is mocking us. Time to call it a day.
We take skiffs down the Rewa River to our camp. On the way, White explains that when pond levels get really low, jaguars swoop out of the forest and tear the mighty arapaimas to pieces. That the way it is here, everything eating everything else. Even young jaguars need to worry about the black caimans, which can grow to 15 feet long and weigh 900 pounds. When we get back to camp, we see seven of the massive reptiles just off the bank or at least we see their glowing eyes, watching us.
White, right and Alvin wrestle a 150 pound arapaima.
Guyana sits next to Venezuela on South America Atlantic shoulder, a nation the size of Idaho and consisting largely of pristine rain forest, with about a fifth of its 800,000 citizens living in the coastal capital, Georgetown. I met White on the flight from Miami, and over the Caribbean he informed me that he forgotten his shoes. All he had were the cheap flip flops on his feet. travel so much, sometimes I forget things, he said.
White had just concluded a two week fly fishing trip in Cuba, and after our stint in Guyana he would fly straight to the Bahamas for a week of bonefishing with the singer Huey Lewis. After that he would accompany William Ackman, one of the world richest hedge fund managers, to Tierra del Fuego to cast for sea run brown trout. Following that he planned to head to the Seychelles and Tanzania with similarly well heeled clients. In a fairly rarefied sport, White has carved out a rarefied niche, and when I made the mistake of dubbing him guide to the rich and famous, he cringed. just love to fish, he insisted.
In addition to global guiding, he co owns two successful fly fishing lodges in the Bahamas, both of which served as the setting for a television series about celebrities who fish, such as Jimmy Kimmel, Michael Keaton, and Tom Brokaw. His commercial sponsorships include Costa sunglasses and Yeti coolers. He writes a monthly column about his far flung exploits for Fly Fisherman magazine, exploits that have also been documented in films and TV shows. People in the industry told me that White, 36, is fast emerging as fly fishing preeminent personality. Some suggested he is transforming the very nature of fly fishing, that in bushwhacking through places like Guyana, Tanzania, and Venezuela to hunt arapaimas, tiger fish, and vampire fish, all challenging fish to catch on fly he taking the sport in directions that might appeal to a new generation. (On our flight to Georgetown, White discussed plans to travel up the Congo River for goliath tiger fish, a fly fishing meets of Darkness type of thing requiring heavy security, negotiations with rebels, and a sizable life insurance policy.)
stuff Oliver doing is pioneering, said Kirk Deeter, editor of Trout magazine. find a species never caught on fly before, determine how to get a fly in its mouth, then figure out how to land it. And he doing this in difficult places like jungles, with the world biggest snakes, biggest spiders, things that can eat you. Ross Purnell, editor of Fly Fisherman, told me that has traditionally been perceived as involving libraries and tweed jackets a gentleman sport. Oliver wants to make it an adventure sport. is a lanky 6 foot 3, with soft, hazel eyes, a square jaw, and a ball cap that never comes off. On our flight to Georgetown, we discussed the disappearance of marshland in south Louisiana, the Buddhist view of catch and release fishing, and the export economies of various French Polynesian islands. White was extremely personable, fairly brilliant, and refreshingly low key, all of it coming with residual traces of a charming Southern accent. If you were an industry looking for a poster boy to lure a new generation, you couldn do better than Oliver White.
But the problem with casting White, so to speak, as fly fishing next big thing is that White himself questions the entire enterprise. Saddled with both an excess of humility and a philosophy degree from the University of North Carolina, he admits to engaging in near constant self reflection and criticism. chased what I want to do, he says. whole a fly fishing personality organically grew from that. Now people in the industry want me to be that guy, and it doesn feel natural. OK, I a brand. But what does that mean, exactly? Wouldn the process of ceaseless brand promotion lead to an inexorable and tragic loss of authenticity, he wonders. And couldn this, in turn, result in the loss of his very self? do I do this and stay true to what I love? he frets. telling you, man, it a semiannual existential crisis. sounded like no fishing guide I ever met.
From Georgetown, White and I flew with Vigano and four others two hours south in a Cessna Caravan to a lonely dirt runway carved out of the jungle. From there, Rovin Alvin and several other Ma accompanied us in motorized skiffs two hours up the Rupununi River to its confluence with the Rewa and the site of Alvin village, also called Rewa. We overnighted in the rustic lodge there, and then motored five hours up the Rewa River to our camp, which consisted of a few hammocks in the forest.
Along the way, White told me about Indifly, the nonprofit he started in 2014, with the Macushi arapaima project as its flagship effort. Since he began bringing clients to Guyana in 2011, a new economy has emerged for the 300 residents of Rewa, who control some 185 square miles of rain forest. Fly fishing earns them $100,000 a year, an unheard of amount for a community this far off the grid. They own the lodge, run the fishing, and retain all profits. White does not earn a dime. The community relies on Indifly counsel, and with timber companies still trying to secure leasing rights by bribing the Macushi with flashy new boats and outboard motors, the project faces challenges. But White is already trying to replicate it in other places where economically distressed communities intersect with great fly fishing. He is talking to the Shoshone and Arapaho tribes in Wyoming Wind River Range, home to excellent trout streams. He has spent time with the residents of tiny Anaa Atoll in the Pacific, a potential bonefishing mecca. He is investigating Papua New Guinea (black bass) as well as Bhutan (mahseer).
think Indifly could be the conduit for everything, White says. get to do what I want to do, go where I want to go, but the focus is off me. It about helping other people. On our third day, we motor 10 minutes downriver and then hike a half mile through the jungle, past the giant buttressed root systems of mora trees and dense curtains of strangler figs. At Simoni Pond, we find three boats waiting on the bank, courtesy of a dozen Macushi who have schlepped them through the forest for us.
We paddle out. Within minutes, a distant thunk pulses our boat. feeding, White whispers. don know of another species you can fish audibly. You can hear them 60 feet away. Then arapaimas start rolling everywhere, 10 o moving left, two o going away, 12 o heading right. It a target rich environment. But Vigano, the finance guy, continues to struggle. Finally, after two days of quietly analyzing his cast, White steps to the front of the boat. Rather than detail the myriad ways Vigano is flagging, White mentions the Cablz brand sunglasses strap dangling behind his client neck.
a great little company, he says.
product, cheap to make, and they own the patent, White says.
wouldn mind a group of accessories companies, Vigano says. He mentions that he once owned a fishing gear manufacturer. White laments that most companies in the space are overvalued and poorly run. This launches an in depth discussion of good companies, bad companies, and investment strategies.
Bit by bit, sprinkled throughout this conversation, White tweaks his stroke. He tells him not to break his wrist on the back cast. He suggests over with your thumb at the end for increased speed. By late morning Vigano is casting farther and more accurately. is all about increasing your opportunities, White explains. that and you increase your chances of closing the deal. hit, when it comes, catches Vigano off guard, the way an earthquake might flatten an unsuspecting village. There plenty he say about it tonight over drinks how the roll was 30 feet out, how the fish was coming toward us but all Vigano can manage in the moment is shit! His rod becomes a horseshoe. White and Alvin scream for him to strip his line. But in seconds the fish is gone.
White points out Vigano error: He had raised his rod to set the hook. Any angler would do this, of course; that how you catch fish. But it not how you catch arapaimas. The species is armor plated, covered in half dollar size scales that Macushi women use as nail files. The inside of its mouth is no less impenetrable. Setting the hook requires some 25 pounds of pressure, and the best way to do this, as White demonstrates, is to wedge the rod in the crook of one arm, grip the line with both hands, and pull with everything you got. Catching the great fish amounts to a mano a mano tug of war.
Later this evening at camp, White pours himself a glass of 15 year old El Dorado, a celebrated Guyanese rum, and reflects on his day. He has helped a man edge closer to achieving a bucket list dream, while simultaneously helping a people maintain their centuries old way of life. He done some fishing. He will fish again tomorrow. Now he reclining beneath a billion stars in one of the world great unspoiled wildernesses. got the best job in the world, he says.
Tying a fly before setting out
About the only thing more compelling than the dreamy facts of White immediate situation is the unlikely story of how he arrived at it. Friends credit his success to smarts, charm, thoughtfulness, and work ethic. All true. But they also talk about unbelievable timing, uncanny opportunism, and a knack for transforming personal tragedy. could fall face first into a pile of manure and pull out a diamond, says his old friend Joseph Dalton. his life. It like a movie. It like Forrest Gump. was born in Boone, North Carolina, in 1979, but he grew up mostly in rural Johnston County, 30 minutes from Raleigh, where his father was an Army officer, and his mother a preschool teacher. Their house sat in a pine forest, and Oliver and his two younger brothers spent their days running through the woods, sloshing through creeks, camping, and canoeing.