There is a moment when a child’s eyes sparkle and widen as a taut fishing line begins to sing as it rushes off the reel.
For this reason, Conway Bowman agreed to become the Regional Director of Cast Hope, a non-profit program that connects marginalized, underserved children and mentors with fishing guides.
On the face of it, it’s a way to lure boys and girls away from cell phones and video games, while opening up a whole different world to the stress and fights all too common. Many of the children come from single parent families, if there is any parent in their life, and are challenged in some way – emotionally, financially or otherwise.
However, the program is much more.
“Fishing is the key that opens the door to more opportunities for these kids,” said Bowman, 55, an Encinitas fishing guide. “Most of these kids have never been more than a five-block radius from their neighborhood. They expose them to something positive, they achieve goals, they experience nature.
“When they start catching fish, you see their confidence grow. You connect that last point.”
This is 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 hit by the COVID-19 pandemic in its three years of existence.
Bowman, the reservoir warden at Lake Hodges, said hopes are expanding to school districts in Fallbrook and in a perfect world, San Diego.
The group hosts a Hawaiian Casino Night at The Dana in Mission Bay. The brightly colored shirts, Vegas-style games, music, food and drink are the ingredients for the critical main course and keep the kids connected.
The program, which is free to participants, relies on the ability to pay guides to ensure the life lessons keep flowing.
“A lot of these kids need some level of brightness in their lives,” Bowman said. “When they catch the first fish, they turn to you with the biggest smile on their face. You know that in that moment you changed her life in some way for the better
“It motivates the child and mentor to keep coming back to find that special moment.”
Bowman told the story of a girl, maybe 10 years old, who faces challenges every day. She came to a program clinic that taught basic casting.
Soon she was on a boat.
“She had a spinning rod on the bow of the boat with her mom,” Bowman said of a guided trip to Mission Bay. “On the first cast she gets hit and misses the fish. She reels in and casts in the same spot, catching a 22-inch halibut. That day she was the hottest stick on the boat, a girl who had picked up a rod for once in her life.
“On the way in she says, ‘You know what, Mr. Bowman? I want to be a fishing guide one day.” “She said, ‘Are girls fishing guides?’ I said, “Yes, they sure are.” It’s been in the program ever since.”
A boy who enrolled in Chico’s charter program, started by San Diego Ryan Johnston, became a fishing guide on the Sacramento River. Another is getting a degree in fisheries biology from college.
Success stories appear like dandelions.
“Rather than filling half a day boat with a bunch of kids for a one-time deal, the kid and mentor can grow with the leader they work with,” Bowman said. “When the day is over, the kid can’t go out and fish.
“We teach them how to tie a knot, how to cast with a fly rod. You build those skills.”
It’s a sane approach to something more permanent, teaching kids to achieve goals while making excuses for why greater things in life aren’t possible.
Seeds are planted. Cast Hope offers the water.
“What I found with a lot of these kids is that they never set a goal in their lives,” Bowman said. “You are definitely lost. Many children have two pillars in their lives, their mother and father, that keep them moving. If they get a little off the rails, they can bounce off either parent.
“The program gives the child and the mentor a greater, long-term connection.”
They take children to wetlands to show them the starting point for drinking water, which enters reservoirs, travels through filtration systems, and reaches faucets. You will visit tide pools. They walk by lakes and beaches on garbage collection days.
The big picture encourages bigger goals.
“You’re giving back instead of just getting free stuff,” Bowman said.
The aha moment still inspires.
“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?
Cast Hope support
The nonprofit program Cast Hope, which matches 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.