You never forget your first love – or fish.
“Four years old, bluegill off a wooden dock in southwestern Pennsylvania,” said John Arway, executive director of the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission.
“I was a little toddler in little booties, wearing one of my grandmother’s handmade dresses out on the end of the dock, fishing,” said Kayla Hartung, an environmental education specialist.
Fewer young people, however, are dropping their lines.
“The number of people buying licenses anymore is decreasing because anglers are aging out of our sport. They’re getting older, and you can buy a license at age 65 and you’re good to go for your whole life,” Arway said.
To keep revenue streaming into the commission, officials created a mobile unit and program called the Gaun First Catch Center.
“We have vans and trailers stocked with fishing equipment donated by fishing tackle manufacturers that want to see it working, too,” Arway said.
Commission employees are currently traveling all over Philadelphia with the unit to teach urban kids how and where to fish.
If the program reels in enough interest, officials hope to expand to cities across Pennsylvania.
“A lot of people don’t know that the refuge is in their own backyard, but getting them out and getting them fishing, they’re learning new locations to go,” Hartung said.
Smartphones and social media are distractions, but employees find that the simplicity of a line in the water is also alluring to their target audience.
“That first fish, when they get it on, they’re ready to cut those worms in half and put them on the hook. They’re ready to go,” Hartung said.
“We call it the love of the tug. So, once you hook a fish for the first time, you remember it forever,” Arway said.