In this Interview Team Flylords caught up with Rafael Salado and Allison Riggie to learn more about Chasing Apache and their movement to spread mental health awareness and suicide prevention through fly fishing.
Flylords: Tell us more about Chasing Apache?
Rafael: “Chasing Apache was created to spread mental health awareness and suicide prevention through fly fishing. In summer of 2023, Allison (my girlfriend), Boba (our Great Dane) & myself will be hitting the road in our Jeep to fly fish the lower 48 for trout and spread mental health awareness. We will be saving Arizona for our last stop as that is where the Apache Trout can be found. My cousin’s nickname was, “Apache” which is how we came up with the idea to chase after the Apache Trout in his memory. I also feel a deep connection to the Apache Trout as their population has finally been restored after decades of cooperative protection and recovery efforts.”
Flylords: How did Chasing Apache come into fruition?
Rafael: “On May 6th, 2021 my beloved cousin hanged himself.
Prior to hanging himself, he lived a beautiful life. He was a nurse, he had graduated from college, he was an investor, a light weight angler, a hell of a cook, and great son/grandson/friend/nephew/brother/cousin. He deeply cared for others and truly had the biggest heart. This dude blew me away when he took our grandmother and his mom to an Aventura concert. For those who may be unfamiliar with Aventura, he is a big time Dominican Bachata artist.
When COVID hit, everything just went downhill fast, really fast. We were roommates at the time the pandemic began. We became roommates when my cousin encouraged me to move in with him after my divorce, a time during which this dude stepped up to the plate big time! He would call me every single day just to check in and see how I was doing, knowing that I was an emotional wreck. Once we moved in together, we had the best time of our lives! It was the first time as adults we had really connected. He was my bestie and my brother.
He was very outgoing, social, and family oriented, but all that changed with COVID. Everything being shut down, the uncertainty of the future as a result of the pandemic; it changed him. He didn’t want to come out of his room. He had the blinds down all the time, the room was so dark. He kept saying he felt empty inside and that he didn’t want to eat. I remember having to cook for him, pick up dishes from his room, clean his room, and put up the blinds for him. My beautiful cousin was cleaner than Mr. Clean himself, and definitely cleaner than me. If I left the dishes in the sink, he’d roast me! Then his manic depression hit. It went from bad to being on a rollercoaster ride with no seat belts on and you’re just trying to hold onto anything you could get your hands on. It was like living with a stranger. He started to become unrecognizable. He went from having over $40k in his accounts to being in the negative. He was very responsible and money savvy. He went from having one car to four cars in just a few weeks. He bought a Corvette, a Jeep, and a Camry, and he bought his girlfriend of two weeks a Mercedes. He would blow money like he had an ATM backpack strapped to him. He dyed his hair blonde. He pierced both of his ears. He had artwork hanging sideways all over his room. My cousin was a clean cut guy and was always organized, which is why I was so thrown off by the recent change of events.
Unfortunately, he also became very aggressive towards his loved ones, verbally assaulting all of us. He would start an argument and stir up potential fights. He even got into some trouble with the law after a night at a strip club. He had no prior run-ins with the law, nor had he been a frequent flier at the strip club, but his manic state had changed him completely. He obviously wasn’t himself and I started to take notice of how serious mental health is, so much more than just a chemical imbalance.
In the spring of 2021, my cousin and I had our best friend over and we had been talking about how we were feeling about what was happening in the world as a result of COVID. When my cousin spoke, he said his peace, but at the end he said, “I’m trying,” with a low tone of voice and a sadness in his eyes. At the time, I didn’t think much of it, but the next morning when I went for my beach walk at 5am, I couldn’t stop thinking about his words and all of the signs of his manic depression. Loss of appetite, him telling me that he feels empty inside, no longer wanting to be social, not wanting to come out of his room, and overall, just being extremely sad. I knew I had to do something, his life was in my hands. I remember that morning, sobbing at the beach as I suddenly came to realization that my cousin was suicidal. I jumped right in my car and drove to his father’s house, still crying, arriving a little before 7am. When his father answered the door, I told him, with tears coming down my cheeks, “I think Apache is suicidal.” That morning my uncle had my cousin move in with him and put some supports in place to help my cousin regain some stability.
On May 6th, 2021, he took his life.
After that, and still to this day, I struggle with feelings of sadness, pain, and guilt. Feeling as though I didn’t do enough.
Chasing Apache came into fruition to help those who are still living and battling with mental health. This is my purpose. I believe that healing can happen through fly fishing. They say the waters have healing powers.
Fly fishing saved me. Fly fishing for trout and being in the water has brought me solitude and strengthened my soul and it is important to me that I share that with others.”
Flylords: What resources does Chasing Apache have to offer for people that are struggling with mental health?
Rafael: “On our website at chasingapache.com, we have a page with different mental health links if you need help figuring out where to go for support, or you can always reach out to me directly (email@example.com). I always try to connect with people on the water. Anytime I meet someone fishing, I share with them what we’re doing with Chasing Apache, and how helping others while fly fishing has really helped to heal me and find peace within myself. I’m always surprised by how quickly the folks I meet on the water open up on their own and share their mental health struggles and stories with me. It is a beautiful thing to engage in these conversations because it reassures me of the fact that I am not alone in my depression and anxiety, and I hope it does the same for them.”
Flylords: How can people utilize these resources and be a part of Chasing Apache? Who can join?
Rafael: “Chasing Apache isn’t about who can join. It’s about eliminating the stigma associated with mental health. It’s about educating yourself through our website, resources, or conversations. It’s about finding the right supports for yourself or getting support putting the right supports in place to help a loved one in need. Everyone is invited to join us for our yearly 5k run/walk in my cousin’s hometown of Lynn, MA to spread mental health and suicide awareness and to remember all those we have loved and lost to suicide. Please visit our website for more information and to register!”
Flylords: What is your mission?
Rafael: “My mission is to leave my mark on the world, knowing that I wasn’t in this for clout chasing, fame, or money. I did, and will still continue to do this work to make the world a better place. The world began struggling long before my existence and will continue that struggle long after I’m gone. As Big Papi (David Ortiz) said, “If you believe in someone, it can change their world.” I believe with enough transparency in the sharing of peoples’ personal journeys with mental health, we will change the landscape on how we address and view mental health as a society and people will be more empowered to ask for the help they need. Through deep conversations with other anglers about our shared mental health journeys, it lets them know that they are not alone. It was because of the numerous conversations I had with other anglers about their mental health challenges, a father losing his son to cancer, a guide suffering from depression, and another angler who was on the brink of taking his own life, that I really saw how many others there were out there batting and struggling just like me. Mental Health has this stigma where it is not okay or safe to talk about unless you’re in therapy or behind closed doors. Why?”
Flylords: How can people support Chasing Apache?
Rafael: “Buy our merch! Designed in house, at least 10% of every purchase will be donated to a cause that helps support mental health or suicide awareness.
Donate used gear! As we build up our guide service for inner city kids and veterans, we will need as much gear as possible to get the most people out on the water as possible.
In the coming months, we will also be adding a donations tab to our site where folks can help to fund our journey as we plan to hit the road next summer to fly fish and spread mental health and suicide awareness throughout the lower 48.”
Flylords: What events do you host, support, run?
Rafael: “We are currently working on creating a Big Brother Guiding Services for inner city kids. As a teacher and having grown up in the city of Boston, I know that inner city kids are at a disadvantage when it comes to the access of respectable fishing waters, exposure to fly fishing, and green spaces in general. You don’t see that kind of stuff growing up in the city. What we see are MBTA buses, buildings on top of buildings, and barely any trout waters. Massachusetts does stock trout, but because demand is so high and supply is so low in the cities, if you don’t fish immediately after they stock, you won’t have a shot at hooking onto anything. My guiding service for inner city youth will be completely free of charge and we will supply all of the equipment and materials kids may need, which is why donations are huge for us to get as many kids out on the water as we can.
We also know that the waters and outdoors have healing powers and think that they can be leveraged to help veteran’s suffering from PTSD. We are working to partner with different veteran support groups to offer guide services for those who have served our country.”
For more information about Chasing Apache, please visit the website here. You can follow Chasing Apache on Instagram at @chasingapache.