Oliver White is giving The Most Interesting Man in the World a run for his money. He’s been kidnapped by a machete-wielding maniac in the Bahamas (he escaped); worked as a fly-fishing guide in Chile until a client, hedge fund manager Bill Ackman, offered him a job in finance; and most recently, was invited by the royal family of Bhutan to fish their rivers for the rare and elusive golden mahseer. His life story is the subject of an upcoming documentary A Thousand Casts, which follows that voyage to Bhutan.
White’s an adventurer, businessman, and philanthropist, though—as he puts it—fly-fishing is the thread that ties it all together. Recently, we caught up with the angler to learn more about the documentary and discern the driving force behind his stranger-than-fiction life.
The documentary A Thousand Casts is expected to be released fall 2019.
Men’s Journal: How did the Bhutan expedition come about?
Oliver White: I have a column in Fly Fisherman Magazine, and a guy reached out to them about doing a story on Bhutan. The magazine suggested that I do it, but the only way to fish in Bhutan is with an invitation from the royal family. There’s a travel agency called MyBhutan, and they were the ones who facilitated the invitation. I got invited by the prince [Jigyel Ugyen Wangchuck], so I went by and had tea and chatted about everything. He’s a big outdoor sportsman. He loves to mountain bike, and he’s into fishing a little bit. The fourth king [Jigme Singye Wangchuck, his father] did a lot of fishing, and one of his bodyguards would go with him, so they sent that guy with me. He knew the river and where they’d caught fish before with conventional tackles.
How was the fishing over there?
It was incredibly challenging. There are a couple very prestigious, kind of aristocratic things to chase with a fly rod, and the golden mahseer is one of them. There really aren’t that many places in the world where you have the opportunity, and Bhutan’s rivers are pristine and perfect, with a healthy population of these golden mahseer. They’re omnivores and eat a lot of grass. Fish like that are very difficult to catch on a fly. As they get bigger, they get a little more predacious and eat small bait fish. You can see in the film where these tributaries come into the main river—the tributaries come in clean and the main river is a little bit off-color. Right there, the fish would stack up and you could see hundreds of them. You’d think that it’d be really easy to catch them, but if you literally get up stream of that and just put your hand in the water, the scent will drift down to the fish and they’ll all disappear. You have to be very stealthy and really work hard to get them, but it’s doable.
We don’t want to spoil anything in the film, but part of it details your experience being kidnapped while building a fishing lodge in the Bahamas. Did that change how you live your life?
The honest answer is people expect it would have a greater impact than it really did. At the time, you’re really just focused on the moment. All your resources get pushed to try and get out of this dilemma that you’re in. There wasn’t any of that life flashing before my eyes sort of thing. It was really just like, ‘Okay, man, what are we going to do?’ But as soon as I got out of it, there was this huge crash. An adrenaline crash or whatever it was. As soon as I was safe, it was just like a total meltdown. I immediately left the Bahamas and went back home. I was using that time to refocus and figure out what all that meant. Where I landed was that it was just a random event, and if I let that impact me negatively and change my life and miss this opportunity right now, then that would be a mistake. So I went back. I had to go back and finish the project.
If you had to pinpoint the driving force behind all of your remarkable experiences, what would it be?
A big part of it is just really trying to be appreciative of your time, this time that you get to spend here. I let that take precedence—to love what I do and figure out how to make a living doing it. I gave up some financial upside to do so, but I live very lifestyle-rich. So many people are just going through the motions. They’re hosed with all these things: get a job, get married, have a family, get a house with a picket fence, or whatever it is. All of a sudden, they look back and they haven’t necessarily wasted their time, but their life just kind of slipped by. A lot of my choices were driven by that fear of looking back with regret. The nature of my life, being nomadic and always on the move, it’s so much more than the fishing. I love the travel and the people and the cultural exposures. The fishing is really the thread that ties it all together.
You have a really cool project in Guyana that you setup through your nonprofit, Indifly. Can you tell us about Rewa Eco Lodge and the success it’s had?
There’s a village in the rainforest in Guyana called Rewa, and there are about 300 people there. In the late ‘90s, the village saw that their wildlife was being depleted, so they made a conscious effort to protect their lands. They got a grant from Conservation International and built a very small, primitive lodge and wanted to do ecotourism, but it wasn’t very successful. Then this guy went down to Rewa as a cameraman to film a birding show. He was an angler and we both worked with Costa Sunglasses. While he was there filming birds, he saw these arapaima, the world’s largest scaled freshwater fish. These things are six- to eight-feet long, and he called Costa and told them what he found. Costa sent me down there to figure out if you could catch the fish on a fly. We realized the people were so incredible that we could give back and help them. I brought one of the Makushi Indians from the village to the Bahamas, where I was still living at the time, and he spent a few weeks seeing how I run my business—how we do hospitality—and working on his fishing skills. We taught him how to improve the caliber of the food at Rewa for the guests; got them better equipment like boats, engines, linens, and all those types of things; then we did the marketing for them in the U.S. The annual income for the entire village was $750 the year before we got involved. Now they’re generating an excess of $120,000 a year in revenue from fly-fishing trips. It’s had a huge impact on the quality of life of every generation in the village, and the community owns the lodge.
Do you have any exciting plans for the future?
I really hope that Indifly can take more and more of my time. The goal is to be able to do more of that, but I still have to make a living, so it’s just balancing those things out. I would certainly look at opening or building another lodge. More than any of that, I’m a new dad. I’ve been guiding the last few days, so I haven’t seen much of him. When he wakes up, we’re going to get in the boat, play around, and go fishing. I’m just trying to figure out how to live this life that I want to live and also be present—learn how to be a great father and be able to drag my son around the world.
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