Fly fishing gear

Column: Cast Hope Regional Manager Conway Bowman uses fishing to build the future

There is a moment when a child’s eyes sparkle and widen as a taut fishing line begins to sing as it rushes from the reel.

That’s why Conway Bowman agreed to become the regional director of Cast Hope, a nonprofit program that matches marginalized and underserved children and mentors with fishing guides.

On the face of it, it’s a way to keep boys and girls away from cell phones and video games while opening up a whole different world to those that too often fuel stress and struggles. Many children come from single parent families, if a parent is in their life, and are challenged in some way – emotionally, financially or otherwise.

The program is much more, however.

“Fishing is the key that opens the door to more opportunities for these kids,” said Bowman, 55, a fishing guide from Encinitas. “Most of these kids have never been more than a five-block radius from their neighborhood. You expose them to something positive, they achieve goals, they experience the outdoors.

“When they start catching fish, you see the confidence developing. You connect that last point.

That’s what makes August 5th so important. Fundraising for the program, which currently serves 30 children in the La Mesa-Spring Valley School District, has been battered in its three years of existence due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Bowman, the Lake Hodges reservoir custodian, said hopes were to expand to school districts in Fallbrook and, in a perfect world, San Diego.

The group hosts a Hawaiian casino night at Dana on Mission Bay. Colorful shirts, Vegas-style games, music, food and drink are the essential main course trimmings, keeping the kids connected.

The program, which is free for those involved, relies on the guides’ ability to pay to ensure the life lessons continue to flow.

“A lot of these kids need brightness in their lives, to some degree,” Bowman said. “When they catch that first fish, they turn to you with the biggest smile on their face. You know in that moment, you changed their life for the better in some way.

“It motivates the child and the mentor to come back again and again to find that special moment.”

Bowman told the story of a girl, maybe 10 years old, who faces daily challenges. She came to a program clinic teaching basic casting.

Soon she was on a boat.

“She had a fishing rod in the bow of the boat with her mother,” Bowman said of a guided trip to Mission Bay. “First cast, she gets hit and misses the fish. She rolls up and throws it in the same place and catches a 22 inch halibut. That day, she ended up being the hottest stick in the boat, a girl who has picked up a cane once in his life.

“As she walks in, she says, ‘You know what, Mr. Bowman? I would like to be a fishing guide one day. “She said, ‘Are the girls fishing guides?’ I said, ‘Yes, of course they are.’ She has been part of the program ever since.

A boy enrolled in Chico’s founding program, started by San Diegan Ryan Johnston, became a Sacramento River fishing guide. Another is pursuing a university degree in fisheries biology.

Success stories are starting to appear like dandelions.

“Rather than filling a half-day boat with a bunch of kids for a one-time contract, both the child and the mentor can grow with the guide they work with,” Bowman said. “When the day is over, the kid can’t go out fishing.

“We teach them to tie a knot, to cast with a fly rod. You develop these skills.

It’s a common-sense approach to something more sustainable, teaching kids to achieve goals while finding excuses for why bigger things in life aren’t possible.

The seeds are planted. Cast Hope offers the water.

“What I found in a lot of these kids is that they never set a goal in their life,” Bowman said. “They are definitely lost. Many children have two pillars in their lives, their mother and their father who keep them going. If they get off the rails a bit, they can bounce off either parent.

“The program gives the child and the mentor a bigger, long-term connection.”

They take the children to the wetlands, to show them the starting point of the drinking water that enters the reservoirs, travels through the filtration plants and reaches the taps. They visit the tidal pools. They roam the lakes and beaches on trash pick-up days.

The big picture fuels bigger goals.

“They give back, rather than just getting free stuff,” Bowman said.

The light bulb moment always rocks.

“A lot of these kids have no direction,” he said. “A fly rod can do amazing things.”

You can find a Hawaiian shirt in the closet, right?

==

Support Cast Hope

The nonprofit Cast Hope program, which connects underserved children and mentors with fishing guides, is hosting a Hawaiian casino night to raise funds. Casino games, food, two drink tickets and a band are included.

To register for the event, click on the “Events” tab on…CastHope.org.