Camp at Battle Ground Lake teaches youth how to fly fish


The crack of a fishing line cut through the ambiance of a clearing at Battle Ground Lake State Park as one of several kids tried to pop a balloon with the hook at the line’s end. Back in the shade of the trees, another child received instruction on how to properly cast a fly fishing line, as youth waited to see who would land a bluegill down at the lake’s edge.

About 20 participants, ranging in age from 10 to 21 years old, took part in a four-day camping trip at the lake as part of a number of activities that make up Vancouver Parks and Recreation’s Urban Youth Leadership Program. The group made its way to North Clark County last week, during a trip that had a special focus on fly fishing.

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

“Honestly, this is so cool,” McClain said, as he showed off a hat he won from one of the casting contests.

It was the first year the program made its way out to Battle Ground Lake for one of its summer activities. Kids get involved with Urban Youth either 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 has a focus on employment, McClain said, noting some of the youth helped run the Sunday concerts at the Columbia Tech Center Amphitheater in east Vancouver.

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

“They’re going to have a complete forest with complete trails,” McClain said. “This is a little more isolated and it’s not too far out.”

Though there aren’t any requirements for the youth who join the program, McClain said there is a focus on mentorship for those who need it most.

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

Getting the kids out to the lake included a three way partnership, Vancouver Special Events Coordinator and Urban Youth Program leader Johnie Tucker said. 

Heath Yeats, who is the Washington State Parks area manager for Battle Ground Lake, Beacon Rock, Paradise Point and Reed Island state parks, was integral in helping the program which spent most of the week at the Battle Ground-based park, Tucker said.

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

The close proximity to Vancouver was especially beneficial, as some of the trips the program goes on include hours of travel. One of those annual trips includes a service project on the Pacific Crest Trail.

The third side of the equation is Battle Ground resident and lifelong fly fisher Simon Gawesworth. Gawesworth reached out to the city of Vancouver about the possibility of doing a free casting instruction event. He eventually learned about Urban Youth’s upcoming camping trip.

“This is right up my alley,” Gawesworth said. 

He recently became the education and engagement manager for Far Bank Enterprises, a company that owns several fly fishing brands. 

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

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

“To see these kids smiling and laughing, trying to pop a balloon, trying to catch a fish and tying a fly … to get people inspired, that’s what I live for,” Gawesworth said.

Gawesworth said the atmosphere was more about fun than trying to have a dogmatic approach to instruction. Though initially broaching the subject of fly fishing can be a challenge for those unfamiliar with the sport, over the course of the trip, he said the participants opened up to the activities. 

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


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