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Fish commission makes voluntary youth licenses available

Seven-year-old Allan Arnold of Farmington holds a 19.5-inch largemouth bass pulled through the ice at High Point Lake in Somerset County. Allan, who is experiencing his first western Pennsylvania winter after moving here from Australia, was fishing with his dad, Hans Arnold. Youngsters 15 and under like Allan aren't required to buy a fishing license, but voluntary youth licenses will be available for the first time ever by the coming weekend.

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Rules change adopted to lift restrictions

Anglers will be able to use “Alabama,” “umbrella,” or “parachute” rigs to fish on Pennsylvania waters this year.

With one western Pennsylvania exception, that is.

Fish and Boat Commissioners this past week gave final approval to a rules change eliminating the restriction on how many hooks an angler could have on his line at one time. That limit previously was three.

The change means bass and crappie anglers who want to use “Alabama” rigs — which contain up to five swimbaits or crankbaits on one wire frame — can do so.

The “jury is still out” on what the long-term impact of such rigs might be, said commission executive director John Arway. Some have suggested they increase mortality among fish, he admitted.

But the commission controls harvest by seasons, sizes and creel limits, said Corey Brichter, head of the commission's bureau of law enforcement. Whether an angler catches and kills five fish on one cast with an Alabama rig or catches and kills five fish on five casts using a single hook, the outcome is the same, he said.

“When you've got your limit, you've got your limit,” Brichter said.

“This should have no impact on fish populations in our state,” Arway added.

The rules change impacts ice fishermen, too. They won't have to abide by any particular hook limit, either.

The one exception is Pymatuning Lake in Crawford County. That lake straddles the Pennsylvania-Ohio border. The commission and its counterpart, the Ohio Division of Wildlife, share jurisdiction there.

Ohio has a three-hook limit and asked the commission to maintain that on Pymatuning, so that anglers fishing legally in Pennsylvania wouldn't be in violation of the law if they drifted into Ohio waters. The commission agreed, so the hook limit — on open water or through the ice — remains three at Pymatuning.

Sunday, Jan. 26, 2014, 5:58 p.m.

What the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission can't demand, it's going to ask for.

The agency's board voted this past week to create a voluntary youth fishing license for children 15 and younger. They'll be available as of Feb. 1.

Kids won't be required to get a license before fishing. They can fish for free, as is the case now, though if they plan to take part in one of the state's two mentored youth trout fishing days, they'll need a voluntary youth license or a free mentored permit.

But the commission is hoping that parents, grandparents and other mentors — and even some corporate sponsors — will buy youth licenses to pass out to children anyway, to support youth fishing programs.

Total out-of-pocket expense for the license will be $2.70. That includes $1 for the license itself, $1 for the issuing agent selling it, and 70 cents for the company that built and runs the automated licensing system.

The commission plans to put the entirety of its share of the money toward youth fishing programs, said executive director John Arway.

“This is a reinvestment into youth, into the kids in our state,” Arway said.

That's needed because participation in fishing among children has been trending downward, said Tim Schaeffer, the commission's director of policy and planning. In 1995, 41 percent of Pennsylvania children ages 6 to 15 fished, he noted. That fell to 37 percent in 2005 and to 24 percent in 2010.

The commission has long been looking to address that through additional recruitment programs.

To come up with the money needed to pay for them, agency officials approached state lawmakers several years ago about the idea of creating a mandatory youth fishing license, similar to the mandatory junior hunting licenses required of kids ages 12 to 16 by the Pennsylvania Game Commission. That idea got a cold reception. No bill creating a junior license was ever introduced.

The commission is hoping the voluntary license, which requires no legislation, will provide a way around that.

“It's a way for people interested in the future of fishing to contribute, to do the right thing,” said board president G. Warren Elliott of Franklin County.

The benefits could be large, Arway said.

The commission gets about $5 in federal revenue from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service for every fishing license it sells, he said. Roughly 367,000 kids ages 6 to 15 fished in Pennsylvania in 2010.

“If just 25 percent of those 367,000 children were to purchase a voluntary $1 license, it would result in more than $550,000 in revenue for the commission to invest in youth programs,” Arway said.

The commission will be looking to sportsmen's groups, clubs and corporate sponsors to help make the program work. The hope is they will buy license vouchers, then pass them out to children. The commission already has been in talks with Pocono Raceway and Trout Unlimited, for example.

The vouchers are not licenses, themselves. Kids still would have to redeem them — for free — at a license agent. And only when a voucher is redeemed would the commission get any federal funding.

But such sponsorships would get licenses in the hands of kids and money needed to recruit more of their fellow youngsters in the hands of the commission, Schaeffer said.

In time, the commission might even offer voluntary youth licenses in the form of a license button. That could hold real appeal, for sponsors and children, said commissioner Bill Worobec of Lycoming County at this past week's board meeting in Harrisburg.

“Is there any reason we couldn't go to a corporation and ask them to buy 50,000 of them in bulk, then pass them out with every pair of sneakers they sell or something? Kids like buttons,” he said.

“Absolutely. That's part of the marketing plan,” Arway said.

Commissioner Norm Gavlick of Luzerne County said he suspects the licenses will be popular, especially among children.

“Kids want to have a license just like their parents or mentors or whoever it is that takes them fishing,” he said.

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

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