Battle Ground Lake camp teaches youngsters how to fly fish

Rick Bannan / [email protected]

The crackle of a fishing line cut through the ambience of a clearing at Battle Ground Lake State Park as one of many children attempted to pop a balloon with the hook on the end of the line. Back in the shade of the trees, another child was given instructions on how to properly cast a fly fishing line, while the youngsters waited to see who would land a bluegill at the edge of the lake.

About 20 participants, ages 10 to 21, took part in a four-day lakeside camping trip as part of a number of activities that make up the Urban Youth Leadership Program of Vancouver Parks and Recreation. The group traveled to North Clark County last week on a fly fishing trip.

Cyrus McClain, one of the Urban Youth Leadership Program instructors, said his only familiarity with fly fishing before the week was the Disney animated film “A Goofy Movie.”

“Honestly, that’s so cool,” McClain said, showing off a hat he won in one of the casting contests.

This was the first year the program had traveled to Battle Ground Lake for one of its summer activities. Children are engaging with urban youth through word of mouth, local nonprofits and other partners with the City of Vancouver, McClain said.

He said the goal of the program is to provide leadership and teamwork experience. Urban Youth also emphasizes employment, McClain said, noting that some of the young people helped organize the Sunday concerts at the Columbia Tech Center amphitheater in east Vancouver.

McClain said Battle Ground Lake is a perfect place to get out in nature without having to venture too far from the program’s namesake urban environment.

“They’re going to have a full forest with full trails,” McClain said. “It’s a bit more secluded and it’s not too far.”

While there are no requirements for young people joining the program, McClain said the focus is on mentorship for those who need it most.

“(For) a few kids here, it’s rare that they have father figures,” McClain said.

Bringing the kids to the lake involved a three-way partnership, said Johnie Tucker, Vancouver’s special events coordinator and urban youth program manager.

Heath Yeats, who is the Washington State Parks Regional Director for Battle Ground Lake, Beacon Rock, Paradise Point and Reed Island State Parks, has been instrumental in assisting with the program that spent most of the week at the Battle Ground-based park, Tucker said.

“We try to create opportunities for kids to get outside and see natural resources,” Tucker said.

The proximity to Vancouver has been particularly beneficial, as some of the trips organized by the program include travel hours. One of these annual trips includes a service project on the Pacific Crest Trail.

The third side of the equation is Simon Gawesworth, Battle Ground resident and lifelong fly fisherman. Gawesworth contacted the City of Vancouver about the possibility of hosting a free casting instruction event. He finally learned of Urban Youth’s upcoming camping trip.

“It’s right up my alley,” Gawesworth said.

He recently became Head of Education and Engagement for Far Bank Enterprises, a company that owns several fly fishing brands.

Gawesworth has been fly fishing for 50 years and left the UK at the turn of the millennium. He and Jackson Golik are two fly fisherman from Battle Ground who are instructors, along with two others from Portland.

Instructors taught casting techniques, took children to the lake to catch bluegill, and officiated casting competitions. Participants were also able to learn how to make their own fishing flies.

“Seeing these kids smile and laugh, try to pop a balloon, try to catch a fish and tie a fly… to inspire people, that’s what I live for,” Gawesworth said.

Gawesworth said the atmosphere was more fun than trying to have a dogmatic approach to teaching. Although initially broaching the subject of fly fishing can be a challenge for those unfamiliar with the sport, during the trip he said attendees opened up to the activities.

“If we get two people to fly fish, or even just tell their friends that fly fishing is fun, I consider that a win,” Gawesworth said.

About Patricia Kilgore

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