Charles Walsh: DEEP working to popularize fishing with youth
Updated 5:49 pm, Saturday, January 26, 2013
If someone were to gauge youth fishing participation in Connecticut based on the turnout on opening day of trout season in April, they might conclude that fishing is more popular than ever with kids. The banks along some of the fully stocked lakes, ponds and trout parks are crowded with enthusiastic children casting lines, watching intently for bobbers to bob and squealing with delight as they reel in a nice fat trout. It's a joyous sight to behold.
Sadly, that impression is a bit misleading.
The truth is that the numbers of young people (under 16) who fish regularly has been dropping for more than a decade, a trend that's led to fewer adult anglers. The decline in youth fishing is reflected in the continuing fall in the numbers of fishing licenses issued annually by the Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection.
Blame for this unfortunate fact usually falls to a couple of factors:
• Parents, especially dads, are for some reason less likely to introduce their offspring to fishing than they once were.
• Modern kids are more likely to prefer indoor activities like computer games and TV watching to outdoor activities like fishing.
Concerned by this trend, the DEEP has over the years developed many laudable programs aimed at introducing more kids to the fun of fishing. When the DEEP is not promoting events like free fishing days for kids, private groups do their part by sponsoring and organizing all-day youth fishing programs. Every spring, for example, the Fairfield Police Athletic League and Milford Striped Bass Club put on highly successful youth fishing programs attended by hundreds of children.
As great as these programs are, the overall numbers of kids who fish continues to fall.
Now the DEP has launched a more comprehensive program called "Youth Fishing Passport" aimed at introducing and connecting young people to "a lifetime of excellent fishing opportunities across Connecticut." The new program will "introduce young anglers to the state's many fishing opportunities and engage them in a lifetime of appreciation for Connecticut's beautiful natural resources," said Susan Whalen, deputy commissioner of DEEP. "Encouraging young people to spend time outdoors with a family activity such as fishing is good for their health and for the health of our environment."
In other words, it will hopefully sustain an interest in fishing into adulthood.
By signing up for the Passport, participants aged 16 and younger receive an annually renewable Lifetime Conservation ID number. The idea behind the Passport number is to give young fishers a sense of belonging to the state's angler community, says Whalen.
One facet of the program is to make available activities that extend the state-wide fishing experience throughout the calendar year. Two activities currently available through the Passport program are a virtual fishing challenge that allows young anglers to compare their catches with other anglers online, and Fish-Geo Catching, which is similar to geocaching, except that the goal is to catch a variety of fish species from designated state water bodies.
Early participants in the Passport program are eligible for free gifts such as bags of Berkley Power Baits. In addition, the publisher of the annual Connecticut Angler's Guide is sponsoring a Youth Fishing Passport Sweepstakes. Prizes include a family fishing charter and fishing gear packages from Berkley and Shakespeare.
Complete details and free sign-ups for the Youth Passport program are available at the DEP Web site, www.ct.gov/deep/YFP.
If we may be allowed to paraphrase a familiar saying from another field: Give me a child who fishes until they are 10 and I'll give you an angler for life.