BY STEVEN CALAWAY BROWN
Rivers are all trying to get to the ocean. Little did I know as a child playing in the High Line Canal, I was destined for a life in the Caribbean. Full circle I return home for the holidays with my babies, walking the same trail, playing down by the same creek. It’s easy to see how life flows in circles.
My dad taught me how to cast a fly rod in the backyard and I’ve since passed that lesson on to thousands of people, and many of those are teaching thousands more. After graduating from Cherry Creek High School, I was lucky enough to get into Colorado College (CC), a prestigious school where I could ski and fish, what a miracle. Class was out at noon, and by 1:30 p.m. I was casting blue-winded olives to rising trout way up Cheeseman Canyon on the South Platte, this is before it was crowded. I usually was the only one there. Catching six-pound rainbows on two-pound test with size 24 flies was admittedly harder than getting A’s at CC, so it drew me in.
John Duncan, CC grad and owner of Telluride Outside came to campus and did a presentation on the fly-fishing industry during my senior year and I was hooked. While my peers dressed up for job interviews around the world, I moved to Telluride and became the fly shops first and last ‘wader boy.’ The dirty stinky waders needed cleaning, patching and organizing. They cut me lose at noon every day to learn the fishery, a program I was accustomed to. By the end of the season my day arrived. Another guide pulled a no show and they needed me to guide.
Guiding is seasonal and I became a teacher to compliment the change. I earned a master’s in English at Colorado State University and ended up teaching both English and Spanish, preschool through college, mostly in outdoor venues. I learned that when done correctly, guiding is teaching, and teaching is guiding. Guides make the best teachers. Teachers make the best guides. A teaching guide … just kidding that’s enough.
In graduate school I designed a college course called Reading and Writing the River through Fly-fishing, Boating and Back-packing. I was lucky enough again to be invited to Colorado College, this time as a visiting instructor. On the 21-day summer course we floated the Black Canyon, backpacked up the South Fork of the White River, while reading and writing about rivers. Experiencing and writing our own fishing stories, rigged with metaphors.
After four summers teaching this course it morphed to include my explorations in Central America, Reading and Writing Rivers and Oceans of Honduras. I led a group of 12 college students to read and write about rivers and oceans in Honduras for 21 days. This course led to starting my first business in 2008, Fly Fish Guanaja.
Coincidence, dreams, and destiny led me to starting a saltwater fly-fishing lodge on Guanaja, one of the Bay Islands of Honduras. The clients I gathered in the Black Canyon of the Gunnison River fueled a small bonefish, permit and tarpon operation where I rented a private island and collected deposits from my first guests to build our first boat. Our two-week season doubled every year for the first few, then steadily grew. Twelve years later we have eight boats and 30 staff between two locations, and we are booked when it’s sunny, even sometimes when it’s rainy.
In June our lodge turns into a campus and we host our Guanaja Student Program. Teenagers come to engage service work while learning all aspects of saltwater fly-fishing. Mangrove restoration, community art projects, recycling and literacy projects are some of the ways our students integrate with local communities. In addition to fly-fishing, students scuba, snorkel, paddle board and more.
Every student has written or said our student program is one of the best experiences of their lives. This alone has inspired us to form our new nonprofit, Fish for Change. We have already expanded our student programs into three more countries and have scholarship opportunities for students who can’t afford the experience.
Fish for Change is a concept. We’ve given the concept movement with our recent film, Beyond the Horizon. Please check it out, it’s a 24 minute documentary that won several awards. Our head guide Rankin Jackson’s narrative drives the film out of the depths of the Honduran cartel, into the light of becoming a saltwater fly-fishing guide. The film documents in real time our exploration of a previously unknown and dangerous fishery that we now access with our clients by helicopter. It has been touted as one of the best fly-fishing films yet, and I will add, precisely because it’s not about fishing.
Our film created movement for our concept, and we gathered. Now Fish for Change is an organization. My wife Beckie and I have retired from guiding to dedicate the second half of our careers to Fish for Change. Our core team is continuing the work we’ve already been doing, with a mission to spread this impact as far and wide as possible because we know it makes for a better world.
Fishing was always just a platform to engage life in more meaningful ways, even from the beginning. In retrospect, ‘fishing’ had as much to do with what really mattered as the socks I was wearing. Spending time with dad mattered. We were fishing for change from the first cast.
Everyone reading this knows a student who would benefit from this program, so getting involved is easy, you can send someone our way, or help make another’s dream come true. Check out www.fishforchange.org.
I smile and feel lucky as I push my babies down the High Line Canal.
Happy holidays old neighborhood, and thanks for preparing me to help others, it’s the most important thing we can do.
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