• Fly fishing as giving back: 3 ways you can get involved.
  • Post author
    John Zimmerman
  • Casting For Hopeconservationfly fishingProject Healing WatersTrout Unlimited

Fly fishing as giving back: 3 ways you can get involved.

Casting For Hope fly fishing competition winner Michael Bradley

Michael Bradley, winner of last year's Casting For Hope fly fishing competition, donated his winnings back to Casting for Hope.

Time, talent, treasure.

One of my favorite things about fly fishing is the extent to which fly anglers use their passion for fly fishing to give voice to their personal platforms for community service and civic engagement.

This narrative has a long history and is continuing to evolve in positive, responsible ways, from conservation and education organizations like Trout Unlimited and the Federation of Fly Fishers; to organizations like Casting for Hope, Casting for Recovery, Casting Carolinas, and Project Healing Waters that use fly fishing for healing mind, body, and soul; to organizations like the Fly Fishing Museum of the Southern Appalachians that are dedicated to preserving the heritage of the sport for future generations.

The people I know and work with in these organizations are stalwart, engaged, and knowledgeable fly anglers, but they also work toward a larger goal: using fly fishing to build bridges and help people.

For example, I was recently involved in a multi-organization effort to do something really powerful.

As a rod builder and fly tier, I’m often asked to give talks with various TU chapters. Bob Nanney, Activities Director at The Fly Fishing Museum of the Southern Appalachians and one of my best Casting for Hope volunteers, asked me to lead a rod building class at the museum, but the class wasn't only a sponsored event for Casting for Hope patients. Project Healing Waters was also sponsoring the class for their veterans, and the local TU chapter donated LED lights to make the tedious work easier to see. This gave me the biggest smile. 

We’re able to give back so substantially when we draw together the threads of our many networks.

Here are 3 ways you can get involved and use fly fishing as your platform to make a difference.

1. Volunteer your time.

Volunteer guide Jeff Konst teaching a Casting For Hope retreat participant to fish inside the rod length.

Most organizations like Casting for Hope, Trout Unlimited, and Project Healing Waters thrive on the gift of time.

Without people giving their time to put together events, monitor streams, oversee food pick-up and delivery, etc., our retreat programming, our stream cleanups, and our fundraisers could never happen.

It doesn’t necessarily take skill to help pick up trash along a river or measure fish in a measuring board… it just takes time.

Many volunteers say something along the lines of, “I don’t have anything to offer, but I want to help.”

I always say, “if you give me your time, I can make you so much more helpful than you ever imagined.” 

Casting for Hope could certainly use YOUR help in April!

The 5th Annual Gold-Level Fly-Fishing Competition is coming up soon—and we could use your help as a volunteer.

This event is our flagship fundraiser and you can sign up today to volunteer for this fun competition and get to watch some of the best anglers in the world compete for the Casting for Hope title in order to help make lives easier for women and families battling a gynecological cancer. 

Sign up below! We’ll feed you really well and you’ll go home sporting the official 2016 Casting for Hope t-shirt.

A little history on this event…

When Taylor Sharp and I were fishing together during his years in high school in my English classes, we used fly fishing together as a way to heal. I’d not too long before lost my grandmother, Doris, to cancer, and Taylor’s mom, Amy, was at the end of her battle with ovarian cancer.

Getting out in the water as fishing partners and brothers was curative to many of the pains we experienced individually and together. During Taylor’s senior year in high school, we fished together in a benefit fly fishing competition as a capstone to his senior project on fly tying and rod building.

Fusing my past experience with event planning and Taylor’s passion to continue transforming his pain into making the world a brighter place for sons and grandsons whose loved ones had passed much too early, we started Casting for Hope as a fundraiser for a non-profit in our region assisting women and families financially following a diagnosis of cancer.

Back then, it was small event—a one-day, tag-team tournament that wouldn’t even meet sanctioning requirements today.

But as the years went and our once small tournament started bringing in serious dollars for women and families in western North Carolina and some of the best anglers in the country were frequenting it, the competition (and our other fundraisers) evolved into a brand new non-profit. 

Kathy Haney joined us in 2014 as we worked to build an organization strongly focused on gynecological cancer patients and their loved ones—because there was nothing specifically assisting these individuals in the way we wanted to. 

We took off with one of the nation’s only Gold-Level fly fishing competitions—and the only one on the east coast—as our flagship fundraiser to fund our retreat programing and financial assistance program. 

Casting for Hope Fall Survivors’ and Caregivers’ Retreat, September 2015

Casting for Hope Fall Survivors’ and Caregivers’ Retreat, September 2015.

This fundraiser is an enormous undertaking and requires the filling of over 250 volunteer slots across three days. We hope we can count on many of you to sign up today to volunteer today. You’ll learn a lot you maybe never knew about fly fishing and help a great cause along the way!

If you’ve not lent a hand at a Casting for Recovery or Casting Carolinas or Project Healing Waters or Casting for Hope retreat for the people we serve—give it a try. I know every one of Casting for Hope’s volunteers has left saying how much he or she got out of giving his or her time and expertise to folks whose lives are made easier through learning a sport we all love so much. 

2. Volunteer your talents.

Project Healing Waters and Casting for Hope rod-building class.

I received a call the other day from a delightful man named Fred from Connecticut.  He’d found out about Casting for Hope. An avid fly tier who lost his wife to cancer several years ago, Fred wanted to use his talents to help other people. He called and said, “put an order in through me. I want to tie all of Casting for Hope’s retreat flies. Just say what you want and it’s done.” 

A long-time Casting for Hope angler sent me an email to say that although his new job in Texas was preventing him from attending this year, he wanted to send us a box of flies worth over $300 to raffle off anyway!  

My friend Bill Critchfield is one of the nation’s best bamboo rod builders, and for years he has donated bamboo rods to Casting for Hope to use in our auctions and raffles. He has a rare talent that gets put to good use—and I’m sure you have your own rare talents you could use to make your part of the world a better place through fly fishing.

These things warm our souls in volunteer, nonprofit sectors. We call it the rippling effect—we throw a stone in the water to serve and those rippling effects go places we could have never imagined.

3. Volunteer your treasure.

Casting For Hope fly fishing competition

Team Casting For Hope from the 2015 tournament. Eventual winner Michael Bradley is on the far right.

If you’ve not participated in a fundraising event for such an organization—give it a go!

The local competitions are fun—and are usually on great water. And the big national events, like Casting for Hope’s official Gold-Level Fly Fishing Competition, bring in the biggest and most skilled names in fly fishing that amateur and expert fly-slingers alike can learn a few things from during a river monitoring session.

Organizations like the ones I’ve mentioned make their services possible because of grassroots fundraising exercises and through personal donations of all sizes—great and small.

Nothing makes me happier than to get a call from a someone I don’t know saying that they've learned about Casting for Hope and have an idea for a fundraiser they’d like to put on for us.

These kinds of activities allow existing organizations’ networks to reach new audiences that we’d never have reached because another person is bringing his or her network of supporters to the table. 

My friend Bill Batson from Batson Enterprises gives Casting for Hope fly rod blanks and components to assist in our fundraising exercises every year—a very helpful gift of treasure to be sure!

Casting For Hope fly fishing tournament

I often receive phone calls saying “I wish I could do more, but I’m sending…” 

It makes my day to say, “your $20 will fill two prescriptions… will make an insurance co-pay possible…will put gas in a patient’s car so she can make it to her treatment… will put a meal on the table for a family struggling…” 

No donation is too small to be put to good use!

I can’t encourage you enough to think about how much richer your life has been made because of our sport and respond accordingly by thinking about how you might be able to give back.

Whether you find a valuable use in your time, your talent, or your treasure, I’m sure organizations like the ones I’ve mentioned and others like them could be helped a great deal when you choose to fuse your gifts with your passion.

Can’t fill a specific need? Find a cause about which you’re passionate and start something new!

The ideas for fusing your passions with fly fishing to serve others are limitless.

Host your own event for an existing organization like Casting for Hope as a fundraiser in other parts of the U.S. or world to raise funds and awareness. Inquire about starting your own satellite program if geography prevents you from working hand-in-hand with an existing organization you favor. 

Start your own organization to serve a cause you feel the strongest about. Casting for Hope would have never grown into what it is now without two guys believing in a cause and following through on it!  You can certainly do it, too.

But it doesn’t have to be as big as starting your own fundraiser or your own organization. 

Again, Taylor and I certainly hope to see you in Bakersville, North Carolina April 8-10 as one of our 2016 volunteers, but even if you can’t volunteer here, I strongly encourage you to give a few days (or a lot of days) back each year by fusing fly fishing with a willingness to serve—you’ll be the one biggest blessed!

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About John Zimmerman:

With Taylor Sharp (pictured left), John Zimmerman (right) is co-owner of Upper Creek Angler and co-founder and Chairman of the Board of directors of Casting for Hope.With Taylor Sharp (pictured left), John Zimmerman (right) is co-owner of Upper Creek Angler and co-founder and Chairman of the Board of directors of Casting for Hope. Upper Creek Angler is a guide and custom-built fly-rod service based in Morganton, NC. Casting for Hope is a regional nonprofit that serves women and families in Western North Carolina following a diagnosis of ovarian or other gynecological cancer through financial assistance and retreat programs. Casting for Hope’s flagship fundraiser is the only official Trout Legend Gold-Level fly-fishing competition on the east coast and one of just three in the United States. Watch the brief video below to learn more about Casting for Hope and the work John, Taylor, and their team are doing in WNC for women and families affected by ovarian and other gynecological cancers.  

  • Post author
    John Zimmerman
  • Casting For Hopeconservationfly fishingProject Healing WatersTrout Unlimited

Comments on this post (1)

  • Dec 03, 2020

    We also have available for all three stewardship activities Reel Recovery. Reel Recovery is a three day retreat for men who have or had cancer. It is of no cost to the participants. There are chapters in nineteen states and we have served over 2000 courageous men since 2003. Check out www.reelrecovery.org.

    — Martin Weaver

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