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Reelin' Them In

Casting Shadows Foundation promotes fatherhood by way of quality experiences

Since 2018, the Casting Shadows Foundation has been reaching its founders’ goal of promoting fatherhood through fly-fishing and outdoor activities. Cofounders Gary Schild and Ben Sharbono have fond memories of days spent fishing with their fathers—spackling on that sunscreen, casting and reeling, and the thrill of setting the hook, all with dad and waders at their hips. It’s safe to say that these two men were looking to find a way to create those core memories for other families.

“We started out saying, ‘Let’s just take some kids fishing in honor of our dads,’”said Gary. As the thought began to grow, Gary and Ben realized raising money through a nonprofit foundation would allow them to sponsor the type of trips they dreamed of. Before long, Casting Shadows Foundation was formed.

Every summer, Gary and Ben host eight to 10 fly-fishing trips through Casting Shadows with each excursion providing a father and his child a day fishing together on the river.

One of the biggest benefits is that the parent doesn’t need to worry about any of the logistics and can just focus on having quality time with their child or children. Instruction with an experienced guide is provided as well as gear and transportation, all at no cost. Gary and Ben always try to join in aboard their own raft, often with their older children, taking pictures and enjoying the happy faces ahead of them. The specific river is chosen based on the family’s location with the Madison, Bitterroot, and Blackfoot rivers being regular routes. They hope to host some trips on the Missouri River this year so dads from Helena can join in, too.

Even though the main goal of Casting Shadows is to promote the joys of fatherhood, trips are not limited to just fathers and their children. Occasionally an uncle will go with a child whose father isn’t able to make the journey for any number of reasons. For instance, a school counselor once accompanied a boy whose father had broken his leg. The child benefits from this one-on-one quality time where encouragement, mentorship, and old-fashioned listening make a huge and meaningful impact. And dads get to fully indulge in this quality time without distractions, logistics, or any other life hurdle.

“Part of it is getting a kid out fishing, part of it is to reward a dad that’s doing a great job,” Gary said.

Most of the time they are taking out people who can’t afford a trip, but sometimes they send people out that could afford it, but for one reason or another haven’t made the time. Gary shared one instance where a school counselor recommended a boy who really wanted to go fishing, but whose father was often out of town for work. A trip was arranged and the father and son had a memorable and beautiful time together. The father then donated the cost of another trip to the Foundation so someone else could have the same experience.

Most of the participants are referred to Gary or Ben through various sources. Teachers or counselors might provide the name of a child that seems to be struggling, and community members familiar with the program will often suggest a father or child they know. Gary is always asking people he meets if they might know of someone that would benefit from a trip.

Both co-founders have a group of local fishing guides they use on a regular basis who are patient while teaching children and willing to take a break from fishing when needed. Even though it’s for a good cause, it’s important to both Gary and Ben to compensate these men for their services and not expect any freebies. In their first year though, most of the guides donated their time since the foundation was still in the midst of getting off the ground. Now that the foundation has funds, the guides are compensated at around $600 per trip but this isn’t to say the guides do it for the money.

Brooks Jessen, owner of TroutZoola Montana, is one of these guides. Like Gary and Ben, Brooks also reminisces great memories of spending time outdoors with his father, and he has carried on that tradition with his own kids.

“I think it’s pretty cool to be able to offer that to someone who hasn’t had that chance,” said Brooks. He’s seen dads and kids have a real chance to talk and laugh and sometimes get reacquainted. Brooks has been guiding for years and his regular customers are often grown men who are able to pay for his time and expertise. “So these trips kind of make me appreciate fishing a little more,” he said.

The foundation’s main fundraiser is their annual chili feed. Gary refers to the chili feed as both a way to raise money and to get their message out to the community—a reminder of this invaluable resource.

“We’re taking kids fishing, but we’re also making sure people are watching so that they can follow that lead,” said Gary. This year, close to 300 people came together at the Lolo Community Center in early April to feast on hearty chili and bid on tables full of fishing gear, artwork, and other items graciously donated by local businesses and community members.

Gary and Ben’s passion and dedication ensures that the Casting Shadows Foundation will be able to carry out their promise of promoting fatherhood and dad’s spending time with their kids for many years to come.

“The biggest benefit is creating a lifetime memory and most of the time I feel like we’ve created that memory,” said Gary.


Fathers, Let's Make a Splash

  • Gary (left)
  • Ben Sharbono