How Riverfeet got its name...
Founding guide, Dan Rice, grew up in a fishy family. Childhood days were spent chasing walleye, trout, bass and pike around Minnesota with his father, uncle and grandfather. He's a third-generation angler of the fly, and at the age of eleven, his dad put a fly rod in his hand for the first time. A blessing or a curse, this simple event certainly sealed his fate for a life obsessed with chasing fish wherever they may swim.
His early twenties were spent running a carpentry outfit so he could pursue the higher calling of being a veritable fishing bum. Starting work before the sunrise to finish by mid-afternoon, then spend the evenings casting flies in lakes and streams. Each night was spent at the tying desk, where in a matter of a few years he wrapped feathers, fur and thread around 10,000+ flies. There were more hooks in his house than grains of salt, and the floor around his desk was scattered with so many colors of feathers and furs that it appeared to be the scene of a murderous rampage on exotic zoo life.
In his mid-twenties he discovered superb fishing in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness (BWCAW). He figured the surest way to spend as much time as possible casting flies in the plethora of lakes and streams was to enroll at the local community college in Ely, MN, where he studied Watershed Science. During the months when the water was frozen, he presided over a local fly fishing club, where he introduced classmates to the joys of tying and casting flies, and the inevitable frustration of losing those flies to rocks, tree branches, and, if you were lucky, to really large fish. He also assisted with operating the first fly-fishing-only guide service into the BWCAW, where he took other fishy folks deep into the wilderness on canoes to practice fish foolery against the backcountry smallmouth bass, lake trout, northern pike, musky and walleye who had rarely - if ever - seen an artificial fly.
After graduating from college, he took a job as a Hydrologic Technician for the U.S. Geological Survey in Wyoming. Heck, he would've accepted any job offered to him if it was located in Wyoming. This particular one took him down two-tracks and long dirt roads, through cattle pastures and over high mountain passes all across the state to collect water samples and measure streamflow. It could get tricky for a fishy dude to focus on work while standing waste deep in a trout stream holding a current velocity meter instead of a fly rod, so pretty quick he realized he could bring the fly rod along, finish up the work, sign out for a lunch break, but skip the food in lieu of casting fur and feather to wild fish.
Attempting to take a man out of the mountains can be a dangerous thing. If you're going to attempt it, it's smart to have an irresistible idea. At the age of thirty he met a woman with just such an idea. The plan was simple - live frugal for a year to save up money, then buy a piece of remote property and live off the land for a while. A year later they owned 20 acres of forested landscape along a wild river in northern Minnesota where he spent four months living out of a tent. Days were spent casting flies to the musky and smallmouth bass in the river, and nights were spent listening to wolves howl while he wrote a book titled The Unpeopled Season. After coming out of the wilderness, he started a book publishing company - Riverfeet Press - and began publishing the work of other outdoorsy type of writers and renegades.
In his mid-thirties the mountains called him back west, and he moved to Livingston, Montana where he figured the smartest thing to do was combine his two greatest passions into one entrepreneurial endeavor. So he opened up a shop that sold camping and fishing gear in the historic downtown, a block away from the legendary Dan Bailey's fly shop, and within a double-haul distance from the Yellowstone River. Shopkeeper life consisted of chatting up locals and tourists about fishing and camping, tying original fly patterns and building custom fly rods for sale to creative anglers, plus leading backcountry expeditions to do foolish things like brew beer over a campfire and teach kids wilderness survival skills in the heart of grizzly bear country.
Then things started to get real complicated. A few of the books he had published won some awards and actually started to sell. This prompted him to trade off the assets for his camping and fishing store to go all in on the publishing biz. And just so the fates could prove that fly fishing had him hooked, barb and all ... pretty soon he was offered a job with the largest fly fishing outfitter in the state of Montana. So he figured, may as well do both.
The battle of conflicting desires rages in all of us, and just as he was starting to think he'd give up the publishing biz and go full into the fly fishing gig, he got a call from one of the most reputable book sales & distribution outfits in the world. They wanted to sell his books - the ones he had been editing, marketing and designing from his garage - to their large international audience. A decision like this required time to think, and he knew just the spot. On a high elevation stream where he had frequented for medium-sized cutthroat trout, something came lurking through the water. It was a deep pool but the water was clear and he saw a granddaddy of a small stream cutthroat near the bottom. Fish are a symbolic thing, after all. Chasing them is unlike chasing anything else. No matter how many of them you catch, they are forever elusive. He figured if he caught this fish, that would be as good as it could get, and time to move on.
Four months later he bought a house on a river in the Blue Ridge Mountains near Abingdon, VA. This location was nearer the distribution centers that he would be doing business with for book selling shenanigans. There were certainly places closer and which made more sense for this as a business move, but he knew the only way he could ever leave Montana was if it were someplace with mountains and trout streams. The waters in the northern Blue Ridge Mountains are diverse with smallmouth bass, musky and trout, and they do not disappoint. He quickly realized that while they call Montana the "Last Best Place," it was southwestern Virginia that should be known as the "First Best Place," with its hidden gems of natural beauty which exist down winding roads, through the hollows and gaps, along the ridges and down the valleys where crystalline rivers flow.
He's still making books to entertain a similar ilk who enjoy the outdoors, but his passion remains true to the lessons of his father the first day he put a fly rod in his hand. A man can have more than one love in his life. And as many ways as there are for a good time or to make a buck, he's willing to bet there aren't many better than helping a client catch a fish, and perhaps, if he's lucky, share something of the fly fishing OCD with a few more people.
"Head for our primeval Appalach, which is to follow the smooth waters up toward the hills into places where streams reduce themselves to lanes of fast running water through boulders, to push upward into mountain hollows, to go along the ribbon streams in the branchheads until you find the hole under a mossy bank where water from the center of earth leaps up to meet the light. If you'd like things to feel new again, that's a place to go."
- Howell Raines (Fly Fishing Through the Midlife Crisis)
Let's go fishing.
Cast us a line to talk details.