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Enjoy Magazine

Reeling In The Years

07/24/2014 11:20AM ● By Carrie Schmeck
By Carrie Schmeck
Photos: Courtesy of Ryan Johnston

Cast Hope Fly Fishing Guides

For Ryan Johnston, fly fishing offers a complex challenge that brings with it exquisite peace and a serene escape from the sometimes unpredictable rhythms of daily life. “When you’re on a river or lake, it doesn’t leave space for other thoughts,” he says. “There are few times in life where you can remove yourself, where your mind is allowed to go blank. The whole being on the water encompasses you and allows your mind to rest.” It is this blend of focus and tranquility that he shares with 250 underprivileged and at-risk youth in Northern California each year through his organization, Cast Hope.

In its sixth year, Cast Hope gathers like-minded fly fishing guides who share a desire to give back to their communities using passion as a platform. Though fly fishing serves as the centerpiece, the organization instills positive relationship experiences, personal achievement and an appreciation for sustaining natural resources. Kids who participate start with a drift boat day trip where they learn basic fishing skills. It’s an intimate five or six hours with just them, a mentor and a guide. “These are great opportunities our kids wouldn’t be afforded without a group like Cast Hope,” says Jim Culp, pastor of Orchard Church in Chico who runs Wilderness Experience, an outreach to at-risk Chico youth. “They spend a large chunk of time out on beautiful space doing an incredible activity.” If they want more, they are invited back for outings including overnight camping, clinics and road trips.
It all started with a conviction. Someone posed the question, “How are you using what you do best to help your community?” says Johnston, executive director of Cast Hope. He’d been working his way through college as a fishing guide and figured he could offer one fishing trip a month which he did for about six months. On a particular outing, a junior high aged boy whose dad had recently passed away said after landing a fish, “You know, this is the coolest thing I’ve ever done. I want to do this more.” It was an Aha! moment for Johnston who knew then he needed to make the experience “legit.” He was in grad school at the time, finishing his MBA, so he applied his own education toward creating a business plan and pursuing a non-profit status.
Cast Hope has three big goals, says Johnston. “First, fly fishing is expensive and we aim to make it accessible.” Kids who return after the first outing get free equipment such as rods, reels and flies supplied by private donors, grant funding and fund raising activities.
“Second, fly fishing is complex. There is a high knowledge barrier but there doesn’t have to be.” Cast Hope guides break the sport down to its simplest form yet, because of their vast knowledge, still manage to offer loads of knowledge and experience in short periods of time.
“Last, fly fishing requires access,” he says. “How do you get to creeks, ponds or lakes?” Cast Hope chooses fishing sites near students’ homes with the hopes they will be able to replicate the experience later.
Though he juggles his work at Cast Hope with a day job as a fly fishing guide, a wife and two small children, Johnston maintains his convictions. “Everyone has something to give, no matter what’s happened in your life. Whether it’s a phone call, a note or starting a non-profit, all of us have an obligation to give back.
“There is nothing better than watching a kid get excited and see pure joy on someone’s face. Seeing the pride in mastering a skill—it makes it worth every minute I’ve put in.” •

To learn more about or to donate to Cast Hope,