Fish for FREE

Released by the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department:

AUSTIN, Texas - Parents looking to save a few dollars by vacationing closer to home this summer might consider taking their youngsters to a nearby Texas state park, where they can try their luck at hooking a fish or two without worrying about needing a fishing license to do so. And, if you're looking for how-to instruction and structured activities for your young angler, or simply want to brush up on your own fishing skills, more than a dozen state parks this summer are hosting special family fishing events.

This year marks the sixth year of the Free Fishing in State Parks program that waives fishing license and stamp requirements within more than 50 Texas state parks. To capitalize on the program, which has been extended through Aug. 31, 2009, 13 state parks are hosting special family fishing events, where participants learn fishing skills, angling rules and regulations, have a chance to catch a fish and perhaps win door prizes.

One of this year's participating parks is Ray Roberts Lake State Park in north Texas, which has already held a couple of family fishing events and has two "Fish On!" events set for May 16 at the Isle Du Bois unit (9 a.m.-1 p.m.) and June 13 (8 a.m.-noon) at the Johnson Branch unit.

Park ranger Jerry Vaughan, who oversees the park's fishing events, expects at least 200 people to show up for the popular events that draw residents from throughout the Dallas-Fort Worth metroplex. He says the program attempts to replicate the kind of fishing advice once commonly dispensed to youngsters by older family members.

"Lots of parents today don't know how to fish and are hesitant to take their kids fishing," Vaughan said. "We try to create an atmosphere that is like you're going fishing with grandpa. The key is getting kids outdoors so they'll know what's going on and respect the world around them."

At the Ray Roberts Lake fishing events, children learn the basics of fishing from park rangers and volunteers, and can try their luck at landing a fish, some for the very first time. Last year, Vaughan says, an 11-year-old participant caught a Junior Angler-record bluegill. The Ray Roberts Lake Rotary Club will serve free hot dogs and sponsor drawings for door prizes. Fishing tackle and bait will be provided or participants can bring their own.

The Texas Parks and Wildlife Department believes the special fishing events are increasing state park visitation and engaging new anglers, which will translate into future fishing license and equipment sales, and future conservationists. Statistics gathered last year by TPWD's Aquatic Education branch show that 53 special family fishing events reached more than 2,300 youth and 1,400 adults. Of that number, one in five youngsters had never fished before and 109 kids reported catching their first fish. Of adults surveyed, 47 percent said they had never been to the park before.

Thanks to a variety of retail sponsors, event participants walk away not only with newly acquired fishing skills, such as learning how to tie and bait a hook, but also with freshwater and saltwater fishing guides, fishing equipment, tackle boxes and other giveaways.

The special family fishing events continue to grow.  The number of participating state parks this year has increased from 11 to 13. Included among those sites is Galveston Island State Park. Though the park suffered catastrophic damage from Hurricane Ike, the bayside ponds are being used for the fishing events and will welcome anglers on May 9, June 6 and July 11. Goose Island, Lake Casa Blanca and Cedar Hill state parks also have joined the roster of parks hosting family fishing events this year.

Special events aside, any time is a great time to visit a Texas state park to enjoy recreational fishing without breaking the bank. However, keep in mind that license-free angling applies only to fishing inside a state park from the bank, a pier or from a boat if done in a body of water totally contained within the boundaries of a state park, such as Huntsville State Park's Lake Raven. State parks along the coast also participate to encourage fishing from the beach and wade-fishing. State park entry fees, however, still apply.  All state fishing regulations, except the license and stamp requirements, remain in effect.

In addition to Cedar Hill, Galveston Island, Goose Island, Lake Casa Blanca and Ray Roberts Lake, fishing event coordinators have scheduled special family fishing events this year at Bastrop/Buescher, Blanco, Bonham, Choke Canyon, Eisenhower, Huntsville, McKinney Falls and Palmetto state parks.

A complete list of the coastal and inland state parks offering scheduled events and family fishing classes can be found on the TPWD Web site.