Free fishing weekend open to all - The Buffalo News
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Free fishing weekend open to all

The last weekend in June offers all New York residents two days of license-free fishing on all state waters.

Tournaments, derbies and group competitions add to the excitement of fishing, but the basic anticipation of heading out to a fishing spot – along a small farm pond or in a boat out on the Great Lakes – has its own unspoken aura of nature’s nobility and bounty.

For decades programs have been set up to take a kid fishing, which often becomes as much a fun trip for the adults as it is for the first-time youths. For many of the adults, the experience can be as instructive and enjoyable for them as it is for the kids.

Three major youth fishing events take place during this license-free fishing weekend. Events are free and can be arranged for before the outing or at the event.

The Department of Environmental Conservation partners with Erie County Federation of Sportsmen’s Clubs affiliate club volunteers each year at Chestnut Ridge County Park for a Youth Fishing Clinic.

The weather gods seem to smile on this event. For the last five years, the last Saturday in June at Chestnut Ridge has seen ideal conditions for fishing in the pond at the northeast corner of the park.

Even the first outing that ended with a heavy downpour was warm and comfortable enough for kids to catch their fish, which were later released. After fishing, kids and accompanying adults could get inside the Commissioner’s Cabin at the end of fish outings for a hotdog lunch and presentations of prizes for participation, not just for winning catches.

Before fishing, each kid gets a series of learning-station lessons on everything from selecting, hooking up and casting lures to fish identification and culture.

DEC biologist Mike Todd and staffers bring samples of fish and other aquatic life for kids to recognize. Todd’s fish displays include everything from colorful and desirable game fish such as yellow perch or a northern pike to a less-appeal eel.

Volunteers set up – and help untangle – rods and reels kids can use for free while fishing during this clinic. Many a volunteer has manned the rods and reels, but Paul Stoos probably has logged the most hours at line and rod tangles before, during and after this clinic.

Knot tying and lure selection are an essential part of a fisher’s foray, so separate stations are devoted to tying lines to lures and weights properly. Russ Johnson and Joe Jemiolo are there each year to help kids get the right start with line tying and lure selection before they head out to fish the pond.

Anglers, from the most experienced to the newest arrival, are faced with the fun and frustration of finding the right lure that fish will bite. The county pond offers a generous supply of panfish, some nice bass and the occasional northern pike.

Kids get instruction on all kinds of artificial baits, including “plastics,” vinyl/rubber bodies resembling worms, minnows, leeches and other grubby creatures; body baits such as Rapalas, Yo-Zuris, and other stickbaits and crankbaits; spoons and spinner; and spinnerbaits that combine a spinner and a jig or grub body.

But the universal pond bait for kids and adults is the reliable nightcrawler. Each clinic, kids are set up with a generous supply of “‘crawlers” that work on perch, bluegill, bass and everything else biting on that Saturday.

Two years earlier, Safari Club International volunteers erected a pond pier that is handicap accessible at a roadway and is along a stretch of bank that attracts all kinds of fish. The DEC tent is set up near this pier and kids can get pointers on how to catch and then how to identify and then release their catches.

Either side of this pier, parents and mentor/guardians can walk kids along pond banks with nice clearings for fishing access and good catch prospects everywhere. The walkway skirts the entire pond and most folks set up along the openings on the south side.

But the venturesome types often work around the northern sides either on the west or east to find fish. Along with nice panfish catches, many have come back with stories and proof of bass and northern pike they caught or nearly caught.

Coordinators set up aerated pools so that fish caught can be measured and then revived to a return to the pond.

Events start at 9:30 a.m. Saturday and conclude with prizes and lunch at noon. Adults will be able to sign up kids on the morning of the event, but pre-registrations can be made by calling Mike Todd at the Region 9 NYSDEC office (851-7010), Dave Barus, ECFSC event coordinator (652-2256 or 597-4081), or the East Aurora Boys/Girls Club (652-4180).

For a listing and details on this and other DEC youth-fishing related events, visit

The Gateway Harbor Annual Hooked on the Tonawandas Fishing Tournament will be held both days, with a registration tent set up in the Gateway Harbor Pavilion on the North Tonawanda side of the canal at the corner of Sweeney and Webster Streets.

Prizes are given in several divisions and entrants can sign up ($15 fee) before and during the tournament.

The event kicks off with a Cast OFF Concert on Friday evening. For complete details on this event, go to

Rochester-area youths have a Free Fishing Day outing in Howden Pond at Hamlin Beach State Park in Monroe County. The pond supports a variety of panfish species and is open for public-access fishing daily.

The Free Fishing Day goes from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Saturday. The contest is all catch-and-release fishing.

Park officials have a system for measuring catches and will present a number of prizes to youths for the biggest and the most fish caught

Along with the fishing, kids will have crafts and games to enjoy. For complete details, check with park officials at (585) 964-2462.

Many an angling-focused youth program has been held in recent years, but few hunting-related youth-participation events are held each year.

Typically, a Niagara County pheasant hunt for youths at the Fin, Feather and Fur Conservation Society (3-F Club) is filled by early spring. This year, a few spaces are open for the Ninth Annual Pheasants Forever and 3-F Club Youth Pheasant Hunt to be held on 3-F grounds in Lewiston on Sept. 16.

Each year, about 40 volunteers donate their time and talents to assist in the various learning stations and hunting safety preparations that make this event a popular success.

Activities start at 8 a.m. with instruction on good field conduct and the first hunt begins at 9 a.m. Dave Whitt, program coordinator, said, “It’s too bad we don’t see more of this kind of effort to recruit more youth into the outdoor ranks.”

For information about setting up a similar program, details on the 3-F youth hunt and to register a youth, check with Whitt at 754-2133.


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