In this feature of the ongoing Flylords Faces of Fly Fishing series, we had the pleasure of catching up with Riverhorse Nakadate. Riverhorse is a Patagonia fly fishing ambassador, environmentalist, musician, explorer, and talented writer. His work has been featured in various fly fishing, surfing, and guitar magazines and publications around the globe. Riverhorse resides in the Lone Star State where he can be found drinking french pressed coffee sitting in his cherished canoe, chasing bass, and redfish on the fly. Follow along as we interview Riverhorse to learn more about how he got into fly fishing, writing, and his role in Patagonia’s recent film It’s All Home Water | A Northern Light.
Flylords: Who is Riverhorse? Where did your name originate from?
Riverhorse: What? You don’t have ten other friends named Riverhorse? Awoooohoooooo! Yes, it is one of a kind and I have had it from the beginning. Nakadate stands for center of the chest, which is the heart. Although I rarely step inside corporate coffee shops, you can imagine the holy heck it unleashes at a Starbucks when they ask for your name, let alone when passing through foreign customs at airports, or a border crossing in other countries while on the road.
Flylords: How did you begin your fly fishing journey?
Riverhorse: I had the most soulful & beautiful earthy mother in the world. She made her way to Austin, Texas to chase dreams and go to college, which is where I was born. We had cheap government housing and were living on food stamps, but there was a river in the backyard, so I was free to run wild, swim, and fish day in and day out. I started out with a Snoopy Zebco rod and would use hoppers to catch bass. I’ll admit it, loud and proud.
She fell in a love with a steelhead and salmon fisherman from Oregon when I was in Kindergarten. He was there at the University of Texas teaching literature, after graduating from Stanford. He became my father, and so each summer we’d drive from Texas to the Oregon coast and stay there for months to fish. It changed everything. That’s where I found the sea, and surfing, too, which became an integral part of my life, since I am a surfer and have chased waves all over the planet, as well as fish.
Flylords: What was your first piece of fly fishing literature that was published?
Riverhorse: I was a staff assignment writer for SURFING Magazine for a decade and a few guitar magazines, but during all of those years I refused to write about fly fishing. I wanted to keep it close to my chest, for everything seemed so deeply personal. Eventually, I turned in a story called A Checkout Line to the Flyfish Journal and it was published right away. I think I’ve had some 20 pieces for them now, along with the Writers on the Fly tours we have done to various cities across the country and a few wild trips with them to islands, etc. There is something about our fly fishing community, how we pull together. The peeps at The Flyfish Journal became my closest friends in life, how can you beat that?
Flylords: How many years have you been professionally writing for?
Riverhorse: Sheesh, I guess it has been twenty years now. Just getting started? Ahahaha!
Flylords: When did you realize that you wanted to pursue a career in writing?
Riverhorse: I was always that kid who couldn’t stop reading when I wasn’t out in the water. Still am. There are five books by my feet that I’m reading now, as I write this to you. I was always writing in journals, using words to help me make sense of this life and why we are here, what matters to me. I wrote a couple poems in high school that got published and haven’t stopped since.
Flylords: Can you tell us a little bit about your connection to your canoe? Why is the canoe such a great tool to fly fish?
Riverhorse: There is nothing more intimate and personal than being intertwined to the hips of a canoe on some lonely body of water with nothing but days ahead. I’m a fan of absolute solitude, the sounds of nature, and using my own body to rely on going where I dream. The Merrimack canoes I own are everything to me. I’ve even slept in them under the night stars all over the country. Just seeing them on the roof of the truck lets me know I am free to go anywhere, far from land. Is it ok to confess that I’ve got three of them inside the 1910 bungalow here with me, or will you guys have an intervention?
Flylords: What makes bass fishing so special to you?
Riverhorse: I’m a fan of big topwater eats and predator fish, let alone the fact that bass are everywhere. So if we are talking pike, musky, barracudas, jacks, and rowdy fish like that, I am all in! I think it’s hilarious how so many focus on trout, which are beautiful, of course, but there are people who have no idea how much immeasurable joy one can have chasing big ol’ freight train bucketmouths on peaceful lakes and rivers. Smallmouth bass are definitely true to form, everything they say about their pound for pound strength is true.
The Flyfish Journal and Patagonia teamed up to do a film following me through Texas fishing for bass and running wild, you can just hop on the FFJ website or google Love & Water: Riding Shotgun With Riverhorse.
Flylords: Any memorable fishing moments you want to elaborate on in the past year?
Riverhorse: For some reason, I have found so many hawg bass this year. But the most memorable fish for me was actually a four-pound Brook trout. I was alone in Northern Minnesota and had taken the canoe all the way to Canada. I found myself on a 500-foot cliff overlooking the last body of water between our countries. There was a three-tiered waterfall that made its way down the cliff. I hiked the canoe down to the lake, and using a homemade crayfish pattern, caught the fish below the waterfall. On the five weight, it took a couple of minutes of brawling to even get a glimpse of it. That said, to me, every fish is beautiful.
Flylords: What draws you to the gulf coast of Texas?
Riverhorse: Home!! Texas is bigger than Spain. We have over 300 miles of barrier islands and salt marshes, emerald Hill Country Rivers, piney woods lakes, and amazing food, culture, music, and people. There are lifetimes of memories here in Texas, and this life is so fragile and fleeting that there will never be enough time to explore them all.
Flylords: What are some parallels between fly fishing, surfing, music, and poetry?
Riverhorse: All of these endeavors are about finding the Zen of flow. And, if you really spend time contemplating them, they are one and the same, aren’t they? For Flylords people reading this, can you even imagine life without any of these? No. Why would you? They are all so deeply personal, with infinite ranges of style and approaches. Endless flavors. Endless hues of color to paint with.
Flylords: Any tips you would give for the aspiring outdoor writer?
Riverhorse: You betya. Less is always more. Go for poetry, not novels. Find ways to tell stories that actually break free from the same boring themes which keep getting recycled in flyfishing, such as the: “me and a buddy went fishing and this is what happened” riff. I’ve written stories in the Flyfish Journal about yoga, rowdy brawls, a pitcher’s mound, baby squirrels, crash and burns in life, and yes, fish. Find your own voice, groove, and moments. And never forget that the smallest moments can be everything in life, they can shine a light on the answers you seek as a human.
Flylords: It’s our understanding you are working on a new film with Patagonia, what is this film about?
Riverhorse: It’s out now! It is called “A Northern Light,” and is about a proposed mine in the Boundary Waters. It was filmed by Tony Czech. There are so many formulaic documentaries out there, so our goal was to show the absolute raw, mesmerizing, breathtaking beauty of that wilderness, and let the viewers decide for themselves if this is a wilderness worth fighting for to keep sacred for all of us to enjoy forever. Here is the free film, hop on and enjoy the ride!
And here is a link to the Patagonia Action Works page photo essay I wrote so you can help save it, so you can be a person who stands up for our fish and wilderness.
Flylords: Can you talk about the behind the scenes of making this film? Was it just you and Tony out there? What went into the production of the film?
Riverhorse: The film was just the two of us, out there going in deep, making it happen. It may have been a crazy way to go about it, but we both knew what our creative dream and vision was and wanted to keep things just to us. There is a cool story about how we met. I had just done 82 miles alone up there in the canoe and was back out of the wilderness in a small town drying out my clothes in trees and from the windows of the truck, having coffee. Tony and his wife happened to walk by and saw me from across the street. They wondered if I was homeless, but Tony knew he should come over and say hey, said he had a feeling I was an amusing character he needed to talk to… ahaha!
He realized he had read my work for years, and I knew of him from many of the films he had done–projects with North Face, Red Bull, Lonely Planet, and so on. Within a week of phone conversations, we agreed we were going to go for it. Three years later….after dreaming it, writing it, hundreds of meetings together, adventures where we would work on the vision, and even down to the challenges of getting legal permits for the film and drones–there were so many details, let alone the path we took with the canoe and our gear. We shot film three times. Twice in summer, once in late winter.
There were some heavy moments, as there can be when you are out there on the fringes far from civilization. Perhaps the rowdiest were the two serious bear encounters. One was a standoff in the dark for a couple hours in the middle of nowhere with baby cubs involved, too. Another day on the side of a river, a massive whopper of a bear charged from out of the forest, loud as can be and not happy. That was exciting. Let alone paddling the sheets of ice and snow through the winter scenes, knowing if I fell through them into the water, that’d most likely be all she wrote, since we were miles from medical care. So be it, it was all worth it, because life asks us to have the heart to chase our dreams, and saving a wilderness is forever a dream worth fighting for.
I was hoping the home team at Patagonia would help me out with some sort of support, but never expected them to go all in and fully fund the entire film. You can bet that was an amazing phone call to get. How cool is it to have their unconditional support and wisdom for the release and the Cleanest Line essays we did? That’s the power of having family as a team. Our budget was tiny and we didn’t make a single penny from three years of work, slept in the dirt, etc. But whatever it takes do right by Mother Earth, is fine by me.
Flylords: In the movie you state, “This water is a membrane holding everything aloft.” What is the meaning behind this phrase?
Riverhorse: Water has held my heart aloft through everything in this life. There have been some crash and burns, some beautiful times, and some absolute heartbreak, which is par for the course. Water has given me endless hope and desire, the unbridled passion to seek and explore, as well as the steadfast understanding that we must do everything we can to protect it. If I’m not on water, I am somewhere on my way to it, no matter what day it is.
Flylords: Mark Twain once said “Whiskey is for drinking, water is for fighting,” do you agree with this?
Riverhorse: I prefer Shiner Bock or small-batch mezcal from Mexico, with some fresh organic limes carved up on the rosewood cutting board. And yes, I am a believer in French press coffee made over a campfire or on tailgates, mountaintops, alongside rivers, seas, and forests. As for Twain, he was something else. I have read him since I was a boy. He once said, “Always do what is right. It will gratify half of mankind and astound the other.” Times like these are what he was talking about. I would add that both water & love, are the reasons we are here. This world needs us to take care of each other now, more than ever.
Flylords: Conservation seems to be very important to you, why should anglers care about conservation and what can we do?
Riverhorse: To be deeply candid, I feel that fighting for the Mother Earth and wilderness is the reason I am here. This is the work I am meant to be doing, and what matters most to me. My time in nature has given me everything I have ever dreamed, and I hope to write stories, make films, share my words in community get-togethers, and even see all of you along the path to share some laughter and water.
Flylords: Every year it seems the world is getting smaller and it’s harder to find solitude. Where do you find your solitude?
Riverhorse: There are many who feel this, but I’d disagree. There is so much solitude and open earth out there in this miracle of a spinning dustball. Those who want it deeply enough will find those untapped places of mesmerizing beauty. You can find me anywhere there is wilderness, be it in the Arctic Circle of Lapland north of Sweden, a Texas salt marsh, a cliff along a river, or some faraway land–I am forever game to be out there delving in.
Flylords: Last words?
Riverhorse: This life has been so beautiful that sometimes I wonder if the cops are going to show up and say, “Riverhorse, the jig is up, you’ve been having too much fun in life, throw the fly rods out the front door and come out with your hands up, it’s over!” They can try to catch me if they can. I’d simply bail out the back door and leave them a note on the counter that says, “KISS MY BASS! AWOOOOHOOOOOOOOOO!
Cover photo from Tony Czech @tczech.