Fly Me Down Soul River
Chad Brown was standing in the river, rod in hand, when he had a realization–this was therapy. This was catharsis. The pain and the trauma he had been struggling with, since serving in the Navy and being honorably discharged, didn’t just float away, it dissipated. His passion for the art of fly fishing and the incomparable beauty of the river had begun a healing process where hospitalization and medication had failed. It was here that the project Soul River Runs Deep spawned.
Soul River Runs Deep and its corresponding program Soul River Runs Wild are Chad’s way of spreading his passion and promoting the healing powers of the river and fly fishing. Soul River Runs Deep is the retail portion, where Brown sells top quality fly fishing gear for youth and adults, while Soul River Runs Wild is a program that connects youth and veterans with the sport of fly fishing. Groups of all ages go on outings where they learn about the art of the sport, and the therapeutic powers of the river.
Soul River’s retail shop was where we decided to have our chat. Chad is a tall man, with an infectious smile and a strong handshake. As we sat down in the meeting room, he apologetically swept a pile of bright red flies off to the side of the table.
Why did you choose Portland to settle in, and what are some of your favorite places to go outdoors?
The appeal of Portland is that it is close to the water. I like the fact that I’m in the city, but it has an outdoor vibe. It’s easy to get to the outdoors really quick. It’s a good community–the whole sustainable mindset, the support system for entrepreneurs.
I like to get out on Clackamas [River] as much as I can. When I got free time to spend a couple hours on the road, I like to get out to the Deschutes River. I love to get to the Metolius River. They’re a little bit far, but I’m a big outdoors person. When I have the free time, I’m out.
What are some of your favorite places to go for food? Are you into the beer or wine scene?
I’m not really an alcohol drinker. I’m more into the coffee shops. I tend to wander in and out of over a hundred different coffee shops at a time. I’m a big coffee person–I love the coffee. I guess one of my big favorites is the mom-and-pops, because I like [giving the] support. One of my biggest is Stumptown–I love their stuff, they have great coffee. I tend to go out to dinner every once in a while with my girlfriend, and we tend to gravitate to a lot of off the beaten path restaurants. If I’m in a brewery, it’s a mom-and-pop, local one.
Can you explain the difference between fly fishing and normal fishing?
Normal fishing you are using worms and jigs, little contraptions that are put together with the hooks. That’s what bob fishing is, basically. You’re sitting down, you could be on a boat as well, trawling. Fly fishing is a whole different ball game. You’re not going out and using worms and jigs. You’re creating your own flies, and the flies imitate the insect aquatic life on the river. The fish eats a hundred different types on food, and that’s what you’re imitating, many of those hundreds different insects, underwater or on top of the water. It hits an artistic place, it also hits a science and etymology, studying your rivers and your aquatic life. You have to know about the species, understand their habits, how they are affected by the weather, the temperature drops, the water levels. As a fly fishing angler, you’re more in the theatre of Mother Nature and your surroundings.
When you go out to catch fish, do you eat what you catch? What type of fish do you like to catch?
I catch and release, it’s all sport. I tend to go after steelhead, and by default, when I have not hooked in on a steelhead, I go after trout.
Can you tell me how your schooling and past jobs have prepared you for starting your own shop? (Brown has a MSc in Communication Design from Pratt Institute, and has over 20 years of experience working in advertising and design)
None of it [prepared] me. I did not go to school for this. I’m learning everyday. I’ve done some years in New York, a little bit all over the US, and also international in my field of work in design and advertising. You know, I think the only thing that may have really prepared me, where [there was some] crossing over, is understanding marketing and branding. That’s what I did in my past. I did carry that over. As far as doing what I’m doing, it’s just a straight entrepreneur spirit. Learning and adapting really fast, going off of passion. Passion is what led me from the water into doing this. The river chose me. I feel like I’m being guided more by the river. I write my daily plans using a simple strategy, with the ultimate goal of connecting youth and vets to the outdoors. It’s just pure passion. I’m taking my passion and funneling it through ideas that I feel would help connect people. A lot of it is also driven by the pain that I went through in the military, getting stamped 50% mentally disabled from the war. That was a clear sign that said, I’m not supposed to be in business. I’m not supposed to be doing that. When I’m doing this big give-back, and connecting folks to the river, working with underserved youth and working with vets, it’s a natural medicine that comes back to me, that helps me keep propelling and keep moving forward of what I’m doing here. And so, there’s not a school that I went through doing this, it’s kind of like going through the school of hard knocks, nature’s schooling, you know? And it’s kind of like I’m writing my lesson every morning I get up.
Was it a hard transition for you?
Yeah, it was very difficult. I’m stepping into retail, I’m stepping into nonprofit, I’m stepping into business development. The whole idea of trying to put packages together. I went through a phase of trying to approach investors, preparing for investors, all that kind of stuff. Every single thing was completely new, and it was very frustrating, very challenging, and I think what kept me in survival mode is the fact that I have a strong will, a passion to see this through and make it work. I didn’t have, I don’t have a Plan B. When I was on the water, with my meds, that day…there was one day I literally had come out of the psych ward. I was stopped from killing myself. I got back on the water, starting fishing again, and then I kind of got that feeling where I was like ok I’m ready to kick some ass, get back into society. A lot of my drive comes from pain. It comes from the river. It’s just straight pure passion. I’m just trying to see this through, see how things unfold, you know? I’m learning everyday, I’m making new connections, new business relationships, and those relationships help propel things much, much further. I’ve been very fortunate and blessed to put myself in line with some awesome companies, and some government agencies that share that same view, that same drive, to connect inner-city kids and vets to the outdoors.
Can you remember when you first had the idea for Soul River Runs Deep? Was it an epiphany moment, or a slow build? Where did the inspiration for the name come from?
It was kinda like a slow build, after the idea came into my head. The idea came in when I got out of the psych ward at the VA. I don’t know how long from there…but I was in the water, that’s when I felt strong, and I felt, I’m ready. I started to come up with idea of soul river, you know, it’s deep, and then I started connecting the two. At that time, I was looking at how the river was healing me on a deeper note. That was kinda how I came up with Soul River Runs Deep. That whole tagline represents kinda like, you know, it runs deep within everybody, everybody has a story, everybody has a challenge, everybody has a process, a fight, what they’re dealing with every single day, and not everybody (our friends, or [whoever]) can listen, but you can always go to the river to and find your space. The river has a way of working through you to help you find your answers yourself. It doesn’t reject anybody.
When I started going through that process, and putting that idea together, I started in a slow way, building a brand. Through that brand, started doing a lot of writing, and coming up with, ok so I’m going to get back in society. I don’t want to go back into the ad and design world. I don’t want to do that [any]more. I want to close that. What I want to do, is bring my talent and my skill set into my new passion, and so I combined the two: art design/humanity, with fly fishing. Me, as a vet, that suffers from PTSD, I wanted to make sure that whatever I do, has to build and create some kind of vehicle of healing for other veterans. And then, me coming from a background of a broken home, I know what it’s about coming up, single mom, I had my little deal into gangs, so I know those things. Both of those worlds [are] close to me. My mom, she’s a, not just a juvenile, but an adult drug and alcohol counselor, and my dad is a drug and alcohol counselor for youth as well. I understand that engagement, and what’s going on in younger minds, and what they are going through. They’re soldiers themselves, they’re just not wearing the uniform. But they’re fighting, they’re fighting every single day. If I can have the opportunity and the ability to be able to bring both of these worlds together, my give-back…how I found my healing was through the river, but also a good support system, not the medication. Having a good support system, and a good community, in a natural environment, seems to me like an awesome, bottle of medicine that the doctor can’t prescribe.
What else do you like to do with your time, when you’re not on the river?
I like photography, art and design. I used to do it professionally. I still do freelance and work with established clients every once in a while. A lot of my strengths are in lifestyle photography and product photography. I like to draw and design, of course, that’s something I constantly do. Let’s see…I enjoy long conversations on coffee shops. I’m supposed to be getting a pet at the end of this month through an organization called Battle Buddies, vets with dogs, to help me with my healing process. I’m supposed to be getting a Labrador, so I’m looking forward to that.
What would you like people to know about Soul River Runs Deep?
Soul River Runs Deep is my retail, and so there’s a business part of that, that I have to run, basically, and within my retail it’s a mix from my line as a designer that extends into various other products of designers that I work with, from lifestyle to fly fishing. Everything I do in my retail, I give 15% into my nonprofit, which is Soul River Runs Wild. That is the nonprofit that helps connect youth and vets into the outdoors, with the whole mentorship. The season [for that] starts from June to October, and we have up to five or six outings. All of them are off the grid, we’re self supported, self sustained, and we use nature as our theatre, basically, educating and working and building community. The goal, especially for the youth, is bring them into an ambassador mindset, connecting and respecting the outdoors. Hopefully, that can be an inspiration that will lead them into jobs, in the outdoors, through the US Fish and Wildlife. Soul River Runs Wild is of course in line with awesome organizations and companies that support the backbone of what we do.
The other piece I would like to say is through my engagement with both entities, and connecting vets and youth, what I’m starting to see and become very passionate about, is the protecting of our public lands. It’s important for people to take a strong stand and it’s important for us to inject that into younger minds and let them know the importance of our public lands. We’re losing that every single day, and when we lose that it stops the access to our youth and vets to have that opportunity, and to get out there and enjoy the outdoors. That’s kind of stopping the medicine to the soul. It’s the healing ground, it’s my sacred place, and it should be treated like that. That’s what Soul River is supporting.
In the future, I’m going to be doing a lot more stronger environmental advocacy for the public lands, as well. It’s definitely a route that I’m going, starting to put it more into my literature. We just brought on Trout Unlimited. They’re one of the biggest nonprofits coming from the fly fishing world. We became partners with those guys, and that’s going to help us through memberships. I’ve been given the opportunity to distribute free memberships to the youth and vets. That increases the body, that increases the knowledge of fisheries and hatcheries, so that’s a strong partner that’s going to be able to play a big role into the education piece.