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There are no free launch sites -- or possibly a rare few -- but anglers can fish for free anywhere on New York State waters next weekend.

Kids and grown-ups can get out and experience the fun of putting together fish-catching gear, selecting the best spots to try and planning good approaches to good catches. Line tangles, knot retying and forgotten tackle items all fade to minor when a kid hoists up that first hooked fish. It could be a largemouth bass or the smallest of sunfish; colors and action become more important than size and trophy status.

One good way to keep a permanent record of a kid's first catch is to note where, what and when a youth caught that first fish and send the information to the Department of Environmental Conservation's "My First Fish!" award program. These free awards, begun in 1999, list a young fisherman's name and when, where, what size and what type of fish was caught. For details and an application form, with pictures to help identify fish species, write to: "My First Fish", NYSDEC, Room 552, Albany, N.Y. 12233.

Several kids clinics have been held this season at Letchworth State Park, Hyde Park in Niagara Falls, Tifft Nature Preserve and Forness Pond in Cattaraugus County.

Two gatherings set for Saturday, one for kids and one for adults, allow everyone to fish the free weekend and experience that thrill when a fish hits and someone -- especially a young kid -- catches and brings in a fish.

Erie County Federation of Sportsmen's Clubs, Inc. co-sponsored a Kids Fishing Clinic with the DEC at Tifft Nature Preserve on June 9. Saturday, ECFS volunteers will be set up at Chestnut Ridge Park with their casting practice area and food tent and will provide assistance with knot tying and all the help kids need to get that bobber in the water and ready for a fish bite.

Kent Kruse, ECFS president, a regular at casting instruction, will be there to help keep youthful casters on target and away from lines and casting plugs. "Sometimes they get so excited that they don't look at what's around them (things or people) when they let that casting plug go," Kruse said while untangling lines at the Tifft outing.

Tony Scime and Paul Stoos patiently tied and retied knots so kids could get to the water's edge without delay. Don Kill, ECFS past president, called off numbers of prize-winning ticket holders; every kid gets a ticket and every kid gets some kind of prize. Galyans and Cabalas supplied most of the prizes and tackle items kids could use while fishing.

ECFS will hold a repeat performance -- free equipment use, free lunch and drawing prizes for kids -- Saturday by pre-registration only. For details, call 655-4056.

Kids have few problems learning the lines of fishing, but adults sometimes have start-up difficulties. "It is the feeling that many adults would like to fish but are reluctant because they don't know how," said DEC Region 8 Fisheries Manager William Abraham. For this reason, Region 8 conducts an Adult Fishing Clinic each year during the statewide free fishing weekend.

This year's clinic goes from 8:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday around ponds at Region 8 headquarters, 6274 East Avon-Lima Road (Route 5/2 0) between Lima and Avon. This clinic presents five areas as training sessions in rules, regulations and ethics; fish identification and aquatic ecosystems; care of the catch; basic gear and rigging equipment; and fishing techniques.

All adults are welcome but pre-registration is suggested so planners can have enough handouts and clinic space set up. For more details, call 226-533 3/5 332 or e-mail: rlschrod@gw.dec.state.

Whether you attend a clinic or go it on your own during this free fishing weekend, you must know and observe all state rules for equipment use, species sizes, creel limits and other regulations. Visit the nearest license-issuing agency or DEC headquarters and get a copy of "NYSDEC Fishing Regulations Guide 2000-2002." This guide includes help with catch-and-release techniques, details on Angler Achievement Awards for either caught or caught-and-released fish, and many other tips.

To contact Western New York DEC headquarters, call Buffalo (851-7000), Allegany (372-0645) or Avon (226-2466). DEC personnel can supply information about the regulations guide, "My First Fish!" and other fishing programs.

If Father's Day presents included fishing tackle, take dad, granddad or anyone interested in trying to catch a lunker on a license-free fishing trip next weekend.

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