Every year, the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission (PFBC) hosts several Family Fishing Festivals – one in each of their six regions across the state. Right now, there are still four festivals left for 2016 (May 21, June 11, June 18, and June 26). These are free events for families, which include fishing and related activities. There are also some Fish for Free days on May 29 and July 4, 2016. Fishing licenses are not required for any participants during these events. I first became aware of these activities recently when I received an employee bulletin email about them, and decided to register us (which is required) for the one in our area. My daughter has been talking about going fishing for quite some time now, and I thought that this would be the perfect opportunity to try it out. The fact that it took place on her thirteenth birthday made it even better!
The PFBC provides fishing poles and bait for all festival participants, so the only things you need to take are things such as sunscreen, insect repellant, or a sun hat. It’s a catch and release program, so you don’t need to take a cooler or anything to store the fish. Make sure to dress appropriately for the weather, and don’t forget that mud could be a part of the day (boots are a good idea). Sunglasses are recommended, for protection from both the sun and fish hooks. Camp chairs are also recommended, since most people don’t want to stand for several hours.
We woke up kind of early that day so we would be able to get ready and make the drive there in time for the 9 am start. The beginning of the program consists of mini-workshops about tying knots (to attach the hooks to the fishing line), line casting, and safety. The guys who ran the program were all very nice, helpful, and informative.
After the workshops, the actual fishing part started! We were at Deep Creek Lake, and were encouraged to spread out all around it. My daughter and I picked our spot, and set up our chairs. We casted our lines and waited. The PFBC employees walked around the lake and checked on all of the participants, and assisted with any questions or concerns.
I wish I could say we caught several fish, but we didn’t. My daughter caught one at one point, but it escaped as she reeled it in – it fell at least a foot back in to the water when it did. We think that these fish are experienced with the process, and have figured out how to avoid being caught.
We did, however, have a wonderful time. My daughter spotted a frog and a tiny turtle. We saw a snake swimming on the surface of the water (I didn’t know they held their heads up like that). We saw butterflies, dragonflies, spiders, and even an inch worm.
Near the end of the event, my daughter caught the baby turtle in her hand. It was a painted turtle, and the shell was about the size of a silver dollar. It was very shy at first, but after a minute, it started to walk around on our arms. We took some pictures and videos for a few minutes, and then she put it back where she had caught it.
It was a very positive experience for both of us, and we’d like to do it again. We’d also like to thank Andrew Desko, the SE Regional Education Specialist who taught us about fishing courtesy and safety, as well as his colleagues who taught the other workshops.