PA: PF&BC pins its hopes on contest

Harrisburg – The Pennsylvania Fish & Boat Commission is
hoping to boost license sales by participating in a big-money
contest now through mid-July.

Currently suffering its greatest loss of anglers in six years, the
commission has joined with Cabela’s – the retail giant – in a $2.2
million tagged-fish promotion at eight popular waters
statewide.

Anglers can win up to $1 million on a single fish, but landing the
lunker while using specified brand-name products – called prize
accelerators – could more than double those bucks.

Contest waters include lakes Wallenpaupack, Raystown, Foster Joseph
Sayers, Nockamixon and Arthur, as well as Presque Isle Bay, the
Ohio River’s Emsworth Pool, and Penns Creek. Tagged fish include
largemouth and smallmouth bass, walleyes and trout.

“It gives us the opportunity to connect people to the outdoors,
with the hope they’ll continue to fish without the benefit of
winning $2.2 million,” said the commission’s Executive Director
John Arway.

“Fishing is fun, but it’s also big business, which is why you see
the connection to Cabela’s gear.”

West Virginia is one of 18 other states taking part in the “Wanna
Go Fishing for Millions?” promotion. And while license sales are
down nationwide, Pennsylvania took an especially hard hit this past
spring when the drop in anglers fell by double digits over the same
time last year.

The commission traditionally sells 90 percent of licenses by July
1, with the run-up to spring trout season accounting for most of
those. Arway said lousy weather caused sales to skid.

By April 27, the agency had sold 65,000 fewer licenses and almost
44,000 fewer trout and trout/Lake Erie “combo” stamps than the same
date last year. Resident licenses were off by close to 13 percent,
and non-resident sales by 14½ percent.

As of May 14, when the Cabela’s contest began, the drop had
narrowed to 8 percent.

The commission chose the eight waters for the contest based on
their location and popularity, Arway said. And while Cabela’s
offered to perform the stockings or cover the cost, Arway said his
agency will pick up the tab.

“Cabela’s is a partner,” he said. “Doing the tagging ourselves
enabled us to cover more water.”

Commission biologists spent several weeks electroshocking to net
hundreds of fish, tagging them, and releasing them back to the
wild. Arway said he could not immediately estimate the cost to his
agency, but the effort will be worth it if more anglers head to the
water.

Some in the fishing business expressed their doubts.

“This won’t do anything to get people fishing,” ventured Matt
Deputy of Nockamixon Sports Shop. “Guys who come here are just glad
they have a little time on the water, and if they catch a tagged
fish probably won’t even know what it means.”

Ron Anderson, of Appalachian Trails near Lake Arthur, had mixed
feelings. “Anything that stimulates peoples’ interest in the
outdoors is a bonus,” he said.

“But it’s a statement of the times that we’ve got to pay people to
do things that are fun anyway.”

He thinks the Fish & Boat Commission’s problems won’t be
reversed with a one-time contest. “Most of their customers are baby
boomers, and young people aren’t participating,” he said.

Tagged-fish derbies are nothing new. Both Anderson and Arway
recalled the Atlantic Richfield contests of 50 years ago, when more
folks routinely fished.

“I didn’t fish that contest only for the contest, and I still
remember it to this day,” Arway said.

“Being a poor farm boy, I thought it would be my ticket to buying
my folks a brand new car – when cars cost $4,000,” said
Anderson.

“Of course, I never caught the winning fish.”

The commission has scheduled learn-to-fish events at all of the
tagged-fish waters, except for the Ohio River and Penns Creek, on
the first Fish for Free Day May 30. For more, visit
www.fishandboat.com

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