As another Thanksgiving weekend rolls to a close, here’s one of those feel good fishing stories to serve as a reminder to be thankful for everything you have. It’s founded on a charitable organization aimed at bringing a smile to the faces of those whose daily dose of “normal” is different than most.
Doing good deeds is the name of the game with the CAST for Kids Foundation. Formed in 1991, the foundation is a national charity with strong Texas ties. It joins volunteers who love to fish with children who have special needs and disadvantages for a fun day of fishing in the outdoors. Fittingly, CAST is short for for “Catch a Special Thrill.”
Thousands of youngsters benefit from the program every year with the help of guys like Keith Combs, a life-long angler and a popular Bassmaster Elite Series pro from Huntington who is passionate about introducing others to the sport. He and his wife, Jennifer, are always game when it comes to chipping in for a good cause.
Combs formed a partnership with CAST this year. As part of the deal, he hosted a fishing event for special needs youths in unison with his 6th Annual Keith Combs Sam Rayburn Slam open bass tournament in October. Additionally, the couple helped organize a banquet/fundraiser benefitting the CAST foundation on the eve of the main derby.
Plenty of youngsters caught a big thrill in the Saturday fishing event. All of them caught fish and earned the opportunity to weigh in on the big stage, Combs said. A few enjoyed their first ride in a boat. Some traveled from as far as San Antonio to join in the fun.
“It was an awesome weekend, but the highlight was getting to see the smiles from all the kids,” said Combs. “Each one of them got a plaque, tackle pack, T-shirt and they left with the rod and reel they fished with.”
While the kid’s fishing event was a huge hit, the CAST banquet/fundraiser the evening before turned out to be a home run.
Several items rang the bell in the live auction. Combs and Bass Pro Tour angler Todd Faircloth of Jasper donated fishing jerseys that reeled in upward of $2,000 each.
Combs said the event grossed about $103,000 before expenses — an all-time record for first-time CAST fundraisers. The money is earmarked for use in hosting more CAST for Kids fishing tournaments and programs.
Jim Behnken, CAST for Kids Foundation Texas Regional Director, said the organization has been hosting fundraisers to benefit challenged youngsters since 2017. Texans have a rich history of rallying around the cause.
CAST’s annual Fort Worth campaign holds the record for money raised. Fort Worth’s 2022 CAST for Kids Foundation fundraiser on October 20 at the River Ranch Stockyards grossed $228,000.
Combs isn’t the only popular bass pro affiliated with the CAST program. Two-time FLW Tour Angler of the Year and Bassmaster Classic Champion Jay Yelas of Lincoln City, Oregon, has been the organization’s executive director since 2015.
Yelas, 57, recently announced his retirement from a decorated pro fishing career after 35 years to devote more time to growing the organization.
The organization hosts dozens of kid’s fishing events each year. According to Behnken, 2022 was the biggest year yet with 80 total events in multiple states, including 29 in Texas.
That’s more than double the total number of events held before CAST began its fundraiser campaigns in 2017. The organization has a history of relying on donations to stay afloat, Behnken said.
Behnken says most events are limited to 40 participants with pre-registration required. It costs nothing to participate.
Children receive a free rod/reel, tackle box, fishing shirt and an award plaque. Participants in all Texas fishing events also are treated to free meals provided by presenting sponsor, Texas Farm Bureau Insurance.
Behnken said the CAST fishing events also are open to special needs and disadvantaged adults. He recalled a September 2022 event on Lake Leon near Eastland that was attended by 12 special needs adults. One of them was an 86-year-old man who had never caught a fish.
“He caught is first-ever fish, plus he got the opportunity to drive a boat with the assistance of the boat captain, Behnken said. “Driving a boat was something he’d wanted to do is entire life. It was really cool to be part making that dream come true.”
Another special program under the CAST umbrella is the Take a Warrior Fishing Program. Established in 2011, TWF events are designed to support military personnel and their families by creating an adaptive, community-based outdoor recreation experience through the sport of fishing. Behnken said CAST expanded the TWF program in 2022 to include first responders, as well.
Clearly, catching the special thrill that only fishing can deliver is what CAST is all about.
“Anything to bring a smile,” Behnken said. “Often times, the kids’ lives revolve around therapy and making doctor visits. Our programs give them as well as their parents a refreshing break from all of that — an opportunity to experience the thrill of catching a fish or riding in a boat that they might now otherwise get.”
To learn more about the CAST for Kids Foundation or for updates on upcoming fishing events in 2023, check out castforkids.org.
Matt Williams is a freelance writer based in Nacogdoches. He can be reached by email, firstname.lastname@example.org.
Casting for Kids Foundation events
|2/25/23||Miller Park Pond, Temple|
|4/1/23||Calaveras Lake, San Antonio|
|4/8/23||West Lake, Houston|
|4/23/23||Joe Pool Lake, Dallas|
|4/29/23||Pearland Bass Pro Shops|
|April TBD||Morgan’s Wonderland, San Antonio|
|5/13/23||Fort Phantom Hill, Abilene|
|5/13/23||Freshwater Fisheries Center, Athens|
|5/20/23||Lake Richland Chambers|
|June TBD||Eagle Mountain Reservoir|
|July TBD||Lake Waco|
|9/24/23||Lake Leon, Eastland|
|September TBD||Lake Granbury|
|September TBD||Twin Buttes Reservoir, San Angelo|
|September TBD||Lake Corpus Christi, Mathis|
|September TBD||Lake Weatherford|
|9/15/23||Sam Rayburn South (Keith Combs Slam)|
|10/7/23||Bringle Lake, Texarkana|
|10/7/23||Live Oak Lake Pond, Live Oak|
|10/21/23||Corpus Christi Packery Channel|
|October TBD||Lake Tyler|
|October TBD||Lubbock Buffalo Springs Lake|
|October TBD||Sam Rayburn North|
|October TBD||Son Valley Ranch, Victoria|
|October TBD||Lake Bonham|
Original Source: https://www.dallasnews.com/sports/other-sports/2022/11/25/cast-for-kids-foundation-partners-with-professional-anglers-to-provide-smiles-to-children/