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Mentored youth trout day coming

| Monday, July 15, 2013, 6:54 p.m.

HARRISBURG — Mentored youth trout fishing likely is coming to Western Pennsylvania.

This past spring, the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission piloted a mentored program on 12 waters in the southeastern corner of the state. On the Saturday before opening day, youngsters and their mentors were allowed to fish on stocked lakes and even keep two fish each.

Nearly 8,900 people — 5,100 of them kids — registered to participate. About 90 percent got on the water. Most importantly, follow-up surveys revealed that 82 percent of participating adults were either satisfied or very satisfied with the experience, said Carl Richardson, manager of the commission's education section.

“That's a pretty significant positive reaction,” Richardson said.

As a result, the commission is looking to expand the program statewide in 2014.

When the board next meets in October in Erie, agency staff will recommend waters across the state and dates for the program in 2014. Commissioners will be asked to give those ideas final approval in January.

“This is another experiment. We're going to go out and see what happens,” commission executive director John Arway said.

A couple of states offer special youth-only fishing days once trout seasons have started, Richardson said. None gives kids a special day before the regular opener, and none allows mentors to fish with them, he added.

But the survey indicates that's one of the main things that made the program so popular here, Richardson said.

The opportunity for youths to fish free from competition with crowds of adults ranked as the most important aspect of the program to mentors, Richardson said. That fact that kids caught fish — they caught and released and caught and kept fish at a greater rate than did adults — was the second-best thing about the day, mentors said.

But the fact that mentors could fish ranked a close third, Richardson said.

If and when the program goes statewide next year, it likely will look different in places. This past spring, all of the waters in the program were lakes. It “may be hard to get this to work in the northcentral” region unless the commission adds some flowing waters, said commissioner Bill Sabatose of Elk County.

Richardson agreed. In areas of the state with few stocked trout lakes, the commission may run the mentored day on streams, he said. No matter what, though, the hope is that the program will get families fishing, he said.

“It's worth a try,” Sabatose added.

Bob Frye is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at bfrye@tribweb.com or via Twitter @bobfryeoutdoors.

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