PA Fish and Boat Commission

Controversy Casts a Shadow Over Pennsylvania's Mentored Youth Trout Day

On Saturday, March 25, Pennsylvania's mentored youth trout day was held in 18 southeastern counties. It presents a unique opportunity for children 16 and under to fish freshly stocked waterways without the crowds of opening day. Unfortunately for some, the day was marred by adults taking advantage of the situation.

The rules for Pennsylvania's mentored youth trout day are as follows:

 To participate, adult anglers (16 years or older) must have a valid fishing license and trout/salmon permit and be accompanied by a youth. Youth anglers must obtain a free PFBC issued permit, or a voluntary youth fishing license.

The voluntary youth fishing licenses cost $2.90, including fees. For each of those sold, the state's Fish and Boat Commission receives $5 in federal reimbursement dedicated to youth outreach and education, courtesy of  the United States Fish and Wildlife Service's Sport Fish Restoration Act. A win for everybody.

Pennsylvania's mentored youth trout day

Ricky with a nice rainbow trout. (PA Fish & Boat Comm.)

The program's goal is to introduce kids to fishing. During the opening day rush, it is often hard for young children to get an opportunity to fish comfortably. I can imagine the masses crowding a prime stream bank intimidating to a small child. The event is gaining in popularity in now what is it's 4th year. According to the PFBC, 25,600 youth anglers participated last year.

Pennsylvania's youth mentored trout day

Hayleigh Joe Cornog admires her catch. (PA Fish & Boat Comm.)

The Downside?

While scrolling through numerous social media posts on Saturday, I noticed a disturbing trend. It seemed as if adults were taking advantage of the day to fish without a youth present. In addition to that, the rules state that the mentoring adult must practice catch and release only. Reports stated that adult anglers were leaving the streams with their harvest!

Therefore, I decided to go to a local trout stream to see for myself. While I did not see any adults possessing trout, I did witness some questionable behavior (adults not displaying their licenses and groups of adults fishing with one youth angler are the only violations I came across).

The PFBC employs only 85 Waterways Conservation Officers. Additionally, there are 70 deputies that assist the officers. They patrol Pennsylvania's more than 720 streams and 120 lakes open to public angling. This is a herculean task to say the least. To expect them to site every violator is impossible. Consequently, we as the "mentors" must practice the honor system, and report those who willfully break the law.

My greatest fear is that the mounting complaints will cause the state to cancel the program. In that case, the only ones punished will be the youth anglers. A father on the local stream said it best when he suggested that everyone fishing without a child should go find one and take them fishing. We all know a child. Be it your son, daughter, niece, nephew or just a neighborhood kid. That way we can ensure the state will continue this great program, and the kids will be the focus of Pennsylvania's mentored youth trout day, not the adults.