'What seems most remarkable in all this is that you're hosting a network TV show."
Conway Bowman says, "Yeah, tomorrow morning is the first show of the season."
Bowman, 38, a San Diego native, is a city employee working at Lake Hodges. He also hosts In Search of Fly Water on ESPN2. What follows is how he got there.
To begin, I wanted to know where San Diego stands in the world of fishing. "San Diego is a pretty dynamic place to fish," Bowman says, especially bass fishing. We have eight of the best reservoirs in the United States right here."
"I got my chops fishing all the city and county lakes. Also, fishing the jetties and in salt water on half-day boats. And my father had a little boat and I'd fish out of that.
"My dad was a school teacher. We spent our summers in Idaho. I developed my trout fly-fishing skills on some of the best ground in the United States. Then, I took that to the next level: I started fly-fishing for bass in San Diego city lakes...."
I laugh, "And then on to fly-fishing in the Pacific Ocean. Were you one of the first to fly-fish in saltwater?"
"There were four or five other guys doing it," Bowman says. "There were some old-school guys who did it back in the '50s, but nobody went for it out here."
"And, from there to hosting a show on TV." Love unplanned and fabulous success. "That's quite a jump, from city employee to..."
"And I'm still a city employee. I manage Lake Hodges. I've been working for the city since I was in high school. Back then, I bought a boat. I needed to pay for the boat, so I became a fishing guide and started guiding people. Started guiding in '97."
"And kept your 40-hours-a-week with the city?"
"Yeah. My days off were for fishing. That's when I took my clients out. During fishing season I had no days off, but I loved what I was doing. Plus, I have the best job in the world: I work at a lake. I'm around fishing 24/7."
Here's the bingo question. "How did you get from there to ESPN?"
"I was fly-fishing for mako sharks," Bowman says. "That's what I specialized in. Mako shark is an extreme, crazy fish; there's the potential that fish will kill you. They run anywhere from 50 to 250 pounds. They're super fast and jump out of the water, which makes them great for fly-fishing. You use big saltwater flies, you can sight cast through them, which is the ultimate in fly-fishing."
"What's sight casting?"
"We go out, we're in the area where you'll see the fish spinning across the water looking for food. I throw these big flies, about eight ought; they're huge. We'll make a 50-foot cast. They'll either hit or they won't. We always throw to the fish we see. That's the extreme end of fly-fishing."
Okay. "Let's get back to how you got to ESPN."
Bowman asks, "Have you heard of the magazine Men's Journal?"
"Their editor heard about what I was doing. He gave me a call and said, 'Hey, man, I'm coming out; I want to try this.' So, he came out and we fished and he caught a 175-pound Mako shark on the fly. He wrote this great article -- how exciting it was, how this is the next big thing, the new frontier of fly-fishing, how I was taking saltwater fly-fishing to the next level, and I'm the only guy doing it on the West Coast.
"So from that, two producers for ESPN are flying back from somewhere. I think they were drunk. It's a few months after the article came out. Somebody left the magazine on the airplane, they saw the article and thought, 'That would be an awesome show.' I mean, these two producers happen to produce a show for ESPN that was a fishing show, a fly-fishing show, and it was called, Cabela's Sportsman's Quest.
"They called me and said, 'We want to come out and do a show with you,' and I'm, like, 'Great, come on out.' At first I thought the guys were b.s.ing me, but they came out. Turned out, I was the guide for the Cabela show's regular host.
"Long story short, that show aired, and somebody at ESPN saw it -- I think he was the president of the outdoor department. He looks up and says, 'Jeez, why don't we get that guy to host a show for us. At the time, ESPN was going through some changes; they were sick and tired of the old hillbilly fishing host. They needed some excitement.
"So, right when they're having this big meeting, my show came on, and the main guy goes, 'Let's get him to host a show.'"
More Bowman next week. In the meantime, you can find him at Lake Hodges or Bowman Bluewater Guide Service or Sundays on ESPN2.