Jay Yelas: Delivering the Joy of Fishing with C.A.S.T. for Kids
In spite of his Oregon upbringing, Jay Yelas managed to discover bass fishing.
Right after he finished college at Oregon State, Jay started fishing tournaments as a pro. Now in his 31st year of tournament fishing, he hasn’t looked back since.
And with a Bassmaster Classic title and two FLW Tour Angler of the Year awards under his belt, he hasn’t had to.
“Fishing bass tournaments is the most challenging thing I’ve ever experienced,” Jay says. “It’s like a big chess match where you have to outsmart the bass and the other guys fishing at the same time.”
In 2005, his success as a pro reeler earned Jay an invitation to sit on the board of directors of the C.A.S.T. for Kids Foundation. The foundation has several programs, but its primary goal is to host events in which folks who are facing their own unique life challenges are paired with volunteers who take them fishing.
The Foundation’s main program, C.A.S.T. for Kids, offers children with special needs the chance to get out on the water and enjoy a day of fishing, camaraderie and fun in a way that they may not otherwise experience in their day-to-day lives.
The Fishing Kids program seeks to engage kids in cities and urban areas in the sport of fishing. The events are open to anyone who is interested. The goal is simply to get “more kids fishing, more often.”
Finally, the Take a Warrior Fishing program pairs vets and active duty military personnel — particularly those assigned to Warrior Transition Commands — with volunteers who help them get outdoors and reconnect with natural world. Family involvement is an important component of the program, as well.
As for Jay, he served on the Foundation’s board for a decade. Then in 2015, he stepped into the Executive Director position.
Although he still does some tournament fishing, these days Jay is very involved with day-to-day operations of the C.A.S.T. for Kids Foundation, which is headquartered in Seattle.
With satellite headquarters in Alabama and Texas, the foundation is now the largest fishing charity in the United States. Today, they host events in more than 30 states. In 2017, they hosted their 1,000th event, and over the foundation’s history, they’ve helped more than 100,000 kids spend the a day fishing.
Under Jay’s tenure, 2017 was the foundation’s biggest year to date, and he and the board want to see it keep growing.
Testimonials from anglers and their families demonstrate the impact that the foundation has had on participants.
“It’s more than fishing,” Jay says. “Fishing is just the venue to bring people together, share a day and share some joy with one another; to create something that’s different from the challenges the kids face everyday, whether it’s a foster home or a disability.”
To help support the foundation, they host an annual celebrity fishing tournament in conjunction with a C.A.S.T. for Kids event. This year, they’ll be fishing Lake Waco, in Waco, Texas.
“We want to keep helping people put on fishing events, so they can share the joy of fishing with kids in their community,” he says.