Over a year ago, Captains For Clean Water was introduced to the Fish For Change program through Heather Harkavy, the organization’s Director of Development and Student Programs.

Fish for Change is a nonprofit organization that offers international fly fishing programs for a diverse group of students that carry out local initiatives, including mangrove restoration, teaching english as a second language, community art projects, trash clean ups, and more.

Their goal is to create a generation of conscious anglers who use fishing as a platform to change the world. They do this by uniting a diverse group of students in wild fisheries where they engage in a variety of initiatives that promote connection, education, conservation, and exploration. The Fish For Change student programs are an opportunity for students to become immersed in foreign culture and environment while helping protect them.

Captains For Clean Water had the chance to get involved by nominating a local student to attend the week-long 2019 program at Abaco Lodge in Abaco, Bahamas, and by inviting an industry partner to sponsor it. When we reached out to Simms Fishing with the opportunity, they didn’t hesitate to jump on board.

Simms is not only a respected leader in the fishing industry, but they do an incredible amount to give back to conservation groups and efforts across the nation. Outdoor industry leaders like Simms provide a critical layer of support to our organization and having them as a partner goes a long way to help advance our mission.

Teaming up with Simms and the Fish For Change program was important because it allowed us to empower the next generation to advocate for our natural resources and facilitated an experience that would positively impact them forever. Next, we had the task of selecting a young, passionate individual who could be an ambassador to another community and help share the message of water quality. Enter Kevin Casanova, a local high school student, talented fly fisherman, and clean water advocate among his peers.

“Kevin was a natural fit,” said CFCW Program Director, Captain Chris Wittman, “He had reached out to us with an idea of how he could help raise awareness about Everglades restoration in the community. He put together a proposal and eventually founded Young Captains For Clean Water, a new club at his high school focused on educating local youth on water quality issues in the state.”

Over 300 students initially signed up for Kevin’s club. Each month, 20 students meet up regularly to discuss fishing techniques, water quality issues, gear, and boats. Kevin sends out a weekly email update and gets local businesses and organizations to come speak to students.

At Captains’ 3rd Annual Restore Gala, Kevin was called up on stage and awarded the scholarship for the trip, much to his surprise, “I was super stoked. Heather told me about the program, but I had no idea what to expect. I thought it would be a touristy place in the Bahamas.”

In July 2019, Kevin spent a week at Abaco Lodge with several other students where he got to visit local villages, mentor kids within the school system, learn about environmental issues and conservation techniques, and, of course, fly fish. Kevin shared his experience with the team at Captains For Clean Water:

Abaco is true bahamas life, not a tourist place. We went into an Abaco village called Sandbanks where we got to connect with and learn about the Haitian kids who live there. We learned about their goal to make it to America for jobs and a better life. That was inspiring. We gave the children toys and coloring books, played games, and taught them about fly fishing. 

It was interesting to learn about their environmental problems. The local fishing guides say they have a lot of pollution. There’s a coral ramp full of plastic that they cleaned up and filled twelve bags full of trash. There’s lots of corrosion and some parts of the island that used to be completely dry, are now under water.

The highlight of my trip was fishing with our guide, Travis, and another student, Eric. It was my first time ever fly fishing for bonefish and I had a chance to catch one on the second day which was amazing for me. On my first cast, I stripped three times, went to set the hook, lifted the rod and the hook popped out. I learned not to do that again. I caught the bonefish on the second time. And three or four more that day.

There were guys in the program from other states—California, Texas, and New Jersey—they had all heard of Captains For Clean Water through Instagram. They asked a lot of questions about our water issues and the red tide so I gave them an update on that.

My biggest takeaway was—fly fishing brings more people closer together than anything. I don’t have many friends who do it; but everyone at Fish For Change fly fishes and they were telling stories about how they’ve connected with people all over the world.

The Fish for Change program is amazing and I’m definitely recommending this program to any kids who want to learn more about fishing but also learn more about themselves and other cultures. This trip influenced my career path. From a young age, I knew I wanted to do something in the fishing industry. After this trip I learned that there are other paths. You can travel the world fly fishing and connect with people. I would love to travel the world fly fishing for record size fish and learning about different communities and cultures. I still would like to be a guide but I want to experience what I experienced in Abaco many more times and in different locations all over the world. I can’t thank everyone enough that was able to make this trip possible for me to go on. This is a trip I will never forget.

Kevin mentioned that he kept a journal during the trip as something that he will be able to reflect on to always remember his once-in-a-lifetime experience.

“Fish for Change creates a community of the next generation of fly fishermen and conservationists around our world. We bridge the gap of race, religion, and culture as we turn our passion into purpose together,” said Heather Harkavy, the Fish For Change Director of Programs, “This summer I watched students ask themselves why they fly fish and leave the programs with a new found meaning for fly fishing and intention behind their actions. Students made great change both internally and within the communities and environments we stepped foot in. Summer 2020 Programs are launched. Reserve your spot for this upcoming summer, donate to make tangible change, and learn more at www.fishforchange.org.”

Photos courtesy of Meris McHaney, Knox Kronenberg, and Dylan Schmitz.