Cumberland Times-News

Columns

June 15, 2014

One free Maryland fishing day remains

— There have already been two free fishing days in Maryland this year and one more is coming up.

On July 4, anybody who wants to may go fishing anywhere in the state. A fishing license will not be required.

It’s a neat idea and Maryland isn’t the only state that opens up its waters in this manner for a day or three.

Maryland, by way of the Department of Natural Resources, is saying, “Try it. You’ll like it.”

This approach is no different than the person in the supermarket aisle giving you a free sample of cheese or yogurt or crackers, hoping you will say “yummmmm” and eventually become a paying customer.

Maryland’s Fisheries Service gives everybody and their brothers free rein on these free days. However, all anglers, whether they are licensed or not, still have to adhere to regulations for the waters they choose to visit and the species they choose to catch.

So, natural resources police officers do not get this day off. Well, some of them probably do.

If you think the opportunity is worth wading into, you can read the regulations online at www.dnr.state.md.us. Just click “Fishing” at the top of the page and it will lead you to the regulations page.

I wouldn’t want somebody who is camping at Big Run State Park, and who finds out about free fishing day, to grab a worm, put it on a hook, walk up some forested tributary of the upper Savage River, catch a brook trout and eat it. That would be the piscatorial version of high crimes and misdemeanors.

There are ample public fishing waters — I would suggest a reservoir for first-timers — such as Savage River Reservoir and Piney Dam in Garrett County and Lake Habeeb within Rocky Gap State Park in Allegany County.

But, while free fishing for a few days is admirable on the part of the state, how effective is it in bringing people out for the first time? How many of these folks then go on to purchase fishing licenses?

Nobody really knows.

For one thing, many of the individuals who would want to try angling on a free day don’t have fishing gear and are not very likely to rush out and buy some. They may not know a spinning reel from a spinnerbait.

I asked Tom O’Connell if the state fishery agency he directs has a way to monitor the success of free fishing days.

“We currently do not have a way to estimate the number of people that use our free fishing days. I’d really like to be able to,” he said.

O’Connell said he and his charges have considered a free registration, but don’t believe such a tool would be convenient enough to be successful.

A survey of Maryland residents would be costly and O’Connell believes it would be difficult to obtain an adequate sample size.

A less intense survey would be one that asks existing license holders questions such as “Did you use free fishing areas and did it influence your decision to purchase a license?”

I agree with O’Connell that the efficacy of a free fishing day is difficult to ascertain.

I suggested that with the effective online license purchasing operation now being used by the DNR that it should be easy to identify first-time fishing license buyers because many of them would not yet have a DNR identification number. Simply ask those people if free fishing days influenced them to buy the license.

Perhaps natural resources police officers working on the free days could ask anglers whether or not they have a license.

“No ticket, Ma’am. Just asking.”

Maybe the agency web site could include a place where unlicensed individuals could indicate if they fished on the free days.

It could be that the success of free fishing days doesn’t really need to be monitored or analyzed with a high level of scrutiny. Just keep them coming and figure that somebody out there between Friendsville and Crisfield is going fishing, catching a sunny or a catfish, and having a great time.

That’s good enough for me.

Contact Outdoor Editor Mike Sawyers at msawyers@times-news.com.

 

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