Fish agency to use catfish to attract new anglers

Staff Report

Harrisburg — Both have been, by most measures, successful on their own. So now there’s an effort underway to combine them.

Fishing programs, that is.

This summer, the Pennsylvania Fish & Boat Commission will sponsor two fishing programs centered around catfish and meant to get people “doing what we want them to be doing,” meaning buying licenses and fishing, said Carl Richardson, education section manager for the agency.

One of the events will be held near Pittsburgh, the other near Philadelphia.

They’ll be different from one another in a couple of ways. But they’re born of the same two programs.

First, the commission offers a couple of mentored youth fishing opportunities each year. On the Saturdays before the state’s two opening days of trout season, children and their adult mentors can fish for stocked trout. Later in the year, they can fish for panfish on select enhancement waters without regard to size limits.

Interest has grown over time.

Richardson said the agency has already issued 61,000 voluntary youth permits – required of kids fishing the mentored days – this year. That’s more than were issued in 2014 and 2015 combined.

It’s also sold 27,000 voluntary youth licenses this year. That’s already 1,200 more than last year.

Second, the commission annually offers six family fishing festivals at various locations around the state. They are days when families can learn fishing skills, then get to do some actual angling, all without having to buy a license.

Such days have been identified as being one of the top five kinds of programs for recruiting, retaining and reactivating anglers, Richardson said.

The catfish programs will be a mix of the two, in that they’re aimed at getting families on the water fishing for catfish.

“What we’re doing is taking a couple of our successful programs and putting them together into one,” Richardson said.

They’ll be run differently, however.

The Pittsburgh event will be held at North Park Lake in Allegheny County over two days, July 29 and 30.

It will involve a family fishing festival. Commission staff will lead some educational programming from 4 to 6 p.m., Richardson said. It will focus on teaching people how to fish for catfish, what to do with them if they catch any for the table and more.

Between 200 and 250 people will be able to participate by pre-registering, Richardson said.

They’re guaranteed fish to cast over, too.

The commission – using money generated by the sale of voluntary youth fishing licenses – will purchase between 1,200 and 1,300 channel cats averaging 14 inches from a commercial vendor. They’ll be released into North Park Lake.

The commission will also be stocking some larger fish pulled from the sanctuary on Pymatuning Lake. All will be 24 inches or longer.

“We’re also going to get some big bruisers out of the (Pymatuning) sanctuary,” Richardson said.

The one catch?

Adults must have a fishing license to fish, and they must be accompanied by a youth, who must also have either a voluntary youth license or a commission-issued permit, Richardson said.

Those who meet those requirements, though, can fish after the festival until 11 p.m. Saturday and then again from dawn to 11 p.m. Sunday.

Only children will be allowed to harvest catfish.

“In Philadelphia we’re going to take a different approach,” Richardson said.

There, the commission will host a family fishing festival at what’s known as the Schuylkill Banks/Walnut Creek Access in the city. That will take place from 9 a.m. to noon on Aug. 5.

The commission won’t be stocking any catfish there.

That’s partly a reflection of where voluntary youth licenses are sold.

Allegheny County, home to North Park, ranked first in the state in sales among 67 counties. Philadelphia ranked 54th.

“We’re going to take advantage of the existing fishing on the Schuylkill River,” Richardson said.

And, he added, the commission also wants to see if stocking is necessary to bring people out.

The trade-off is that the commission will not require participants in that fishing festival to have a license. That will be waived for the duration of the event, he noted.

The commission will be looking at both the Pittsburgh and Philadelphia events closely, Richardson said.

“We’re going to be evaluating the daylights out of it because it is a pilot,” he said.

The commission will do some of the standard survey work, like counting participants, he said. Anglers will also be asked to fill out surveys, he added.

Most importantly, perhaps, the commission will be collecting names and contact information.

That, Richardson said, will be cross referenced with the automated licensing system to see who among participants had purchased a fishing license and when, and who bought one within 12 to 18 months of the events.

“This gives us an opportunity to compare and contrast the two different programs,” Richardson said.

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