Encinitas fisherman teaches kids to fish with Cast Hope

A Cast Hope guide with a young fisherman.
(Courtesy of Cast Hope)

San Diego nonprofit Cast Hope is giving underserved kids the gift of the outdoors, providing free fishing experiences out on the water. The program aims to help kids experience success and develop life skills, foster positive relationships with adult mentors, instill a love of nature and create a foundation for the future of fishing.

Cast Hope will host its annual fundraiser, a Hawaiian-themed casino night, on Friday, Aug. 5 at The Dana on Mission Bay. Guests will be treated to an evening of fun table games, food, music by Par Avon and dancing in a tropical setting on Mission Bay.

Encinitas fisherman and waterman Conway Bowman serves as Cast Hope’s Southern California regional manager. A San Diego native, Bowman has always fished, it was something he loved to do with his father John.

He was given the gift of the outdoors at a young age—starting at age six through his early teens, Bowman’s father took him to Idaho in the summers, where he got to experience going into the mountains and his dad patiently taught him how to fly fish. Conway said his dad gave him a long leash in those summers and he was able to run around, explore and have adventures.

“That really influenced me throughout my whole life, taking chances and embracing the failures and appreciating when you do have success,” he said.

He knows many kids aren’t as fortunate to have had these types of experiences, which is what inspires him about Cast Hope and giving back by sharing his passion and skills.

Bowman got really into saltwater fishing in his early 20s and bought a small, 16-foot-long aluminum boat that he took out into the ocean. While his dad warned him not to go outside the jetty, he took that chance and learned many lessons: “Being in a small boat in a big ocean, you figure things out pretty quickly.”

Bowman realized that the Mako shark was a really great fly rod fish and he started fly fishing for the beautiful game fish—he is considered by some to be the pioneer of this sporting way to target the Mako.

He got a bigger boat, his U.S. Coast Guard captain’s license and started guiding, taking people out fishing for Makos all over the world. Always catch and release, he uses barbless hooks and never keeps the fish.

His expertise led to a 15-year career in TV hosting fly fishing and travel shows for ESPN, Sportsman Channel and the World Fishing Network. While he was grateful for his time on TV and the opportunities it gave him to see the world, he is now enjoying staying close to home with his wife Michelle and sons Max and Jackson.

Bowman got involved with Cast Hope about three years ago, when approached by founder Ryan Johnston. Johnston had started Cast Hope 11 years ago in Chico and thought San Diego would be a great place to open up a new outlet, joining chapters in Lake Tahoe, West Virginia and North Carolina.

The program takes children and their mentors out fishing as many times as they want, providing all the gear, tackle and a guide. Guides like Bowman teach them the fundamentals of fishing, how to cast a rod, tie a knot or hook, putting them in position to catch a fish.

They go out on excursions to city lakes and reservoirs and out on fish-rich Mission Bay.

“When we take them out…they pick it up very quickly,” Bowman said. “When they have that success of catching a fish, the smile on their face is amazing.”

It’s important to Bowman that they talk about conservation, catch and release fishing, and the proper way to handle fish with care. And Bowman said the trips are about more than just fishing.

“Fishing is a key that opens a door to many other things,” said Bowman, adding that his goal is that they come away with a greater appreciation for the environment, where our water comes from, how the ocean works and how everything is connected in nature. “These kids are our next ambassadors for our outside world…whether they stick with fishing or not it doesn’t matter, as long as they understand and are brought into the world of nature, they can be the greatest stewards of the environment down the road.”

Casting a rod is also a sneaky way for kids to catch the values of patience, persistence, decision making and confidence.

Part of the Cast Hope program is that the mentor and the child have to complete two days of volunteer service (such as cleanups and habitat restoration) and participate in a science day, learning about topics like fish biology or water conservation. If they stick with the program for one year and complete the requirements, Cast Hope will buy all the gear they need to keep on fishing.

Through Cast Hope, Bowman is experiencing how meaningful youth mentorship can be. His father passed away in 2020 and he is reminded daily of the lessons he taught him in fly fishing, resilience and love.

“My dad was a great mentor to so many kids, he was a teacher and he touched so many lives,” Bowman said of his dad, who was a high school teacher in San Diego for 40 years. “He’s definitely channeling through me. He’s definitely the reason why I’m doing this…his legacy with me is to share knowledge and help kids.”

Tickets to the Hawaii casino night fundraiser are $150 and available at Donations can also be made on the website. For more information, email