Fish for Free Day just over the horizon

After another wet and rainy spring, it’s hard to believe that the Memorial Day weekend is here already. Next weekend, of course, will mark the opening of the summer recreation season for many folks.

With that in mind, the first of two Fish-For-Free days for 2019 in Pennsylvania occurs next Sunday throughout the state. The Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission created the first Fish-For-Free day in 1984 as a way of introducing folks to fishing by setting aside a day on which no fishing license is required to fish on any water within the state. A few years later, a second free fishing day was added, and again this year, those free days will occur on the Memorial Day weekend and Fourth of July holidays.

If your holiday plans include spending time around the water, the Fish-For-Free days are a great time to introduce a friend or family to fishing. If you happen to be one who has left the sport in recent years or know someone who has, the holiday is also a perfect opportunity for a reintroduction to the sport of fishing. Of course, kids under 16 years old don’t need a fishing license to fish in Pennsylvania, so any day is a great day to take a youngster fishing. Teaching others to fish can be giving them the gift of a wholesome form of outdoor recreation, something that could potentially be a satisfying lifetime hobby.

And for those who will be taking advantage of one of the free days, remember that only the license requirement is waived. All other fishing laws and regulations are still in effect and must be complied with. Bass season doesn’t open until June 15, but all other species of game fish are currently in season. If you intend to keep your catch, make sure you know the size and creel limits that apply to the water you are fishing. Those regulations can be found online at fishandboat.com or a summary of the fishing laws and regulations can be picked up for $3 at any fishing license issuing agent.

Memorial Day weekend is usually prime time for catching most species of panfish, such as sunfish, perch, or crappies. Almost every lake in our region will hold a good population of these popular fish, offering many hours of enjoyment for novice and veteran anglers alike.

While my favorite species of panfish is the one that is biting best when I happen to be fishing, I really love to catch crappies whenever I have the opportunity. Crappies tend to grow a little larger than other panfish, will take a variety of baits and artificial lures, and are great eating as well. After heavy rains had most streams and rivers running high and off color earlier this month, most area trout streams are in great shape right now, trout fishing is another great way to spend the weekend.

Politics as usual

Last month, the Pennsylvania Board of Game Commissioners voted to move the opening day of deer season from the long-standing Monday after Thanksgiving to the Saturday after Thanksgiving. As might be expected, sentiments among the hunting community were divided regarding the change and the voting on the measure by the eight commissioners reflected that. Before the final vote, Commissioner James Daley made an amendment to retain the traditional Monday opening day. That amendment failed by a 5-3 vote, and the original proposal for a Saturday opener passed 7-1, with Daley as the lone dissenting vote. As a result, deer season will start on Saturday this year.

Shortly after that historic change, state House of Representatives Game and Fisheries Committee Majority Chairman Keith Gillespie (R-York) and Minority Chairman Bill Kortz (D-Allegheny) met with members of Board of Game Commissioners to discuss the Saturday opener. They want to scrutinize potential benefits and drawbacks of a Saturday opener and whether it will continue for the 2020 season.

Nothing frustrates me more than politicians sticking their noses into most issues involving hunting and fishing. That’s because few if any of our elected representatives are hunters or anglers and simply don’t have a clue about hunting, fishing, conservation or wildlife management.

They too often are swayed by a vocal minority of folks who call their offices to complain about something but shirk from their responsibility to do some basic things that would truly help the hunters, anglers and the natural resources of Pennsylvania.

As I commented here last month, I’m mostly neutral on the change. I’ll go deer hunting whenever they open the season. I can also see both sides of the issue with equal compassion. I love tradition but also understand the Saturday opener would benefit working folks and families. But it also seems somewhat silly to open the season on Saturday when we still can’t hunt on Sunday here in Pennsylvania.

And that problem is squarely on the shoulders of the politicians because Sunday hunting is prohibited by state law, not by the game laws. So if the politicians would really like to get a clue and do something meaningful for all hunters, bring Pennsylvania into the twenty-first century and pass legislation to permit Sunday hunting.