Thousands of kids and adults across Oregon will get a free pass to test-drive fishing, crabbing and clamming this weekend as part of the state's annual Free Fishing Weekend.
Those would-be anglers not vested enough in the angling pastime to buy a license can try their hands on rods, crab pots and clamming shovels without having to fork over money for the normal paperwork required by state law.
Several events are planned across the state, most of which are designed and organized to get kids away from the Xbox and into the real world of the outdoors.
"It's a neat thing," says Ken Meigs of Medford, who has volunteered on Free Fishing Weekend events at Expo Ponds for more than a decade. "It gets kids into fishing without having the parents spend a bunch of money.
"You don't have to buy anything or know anything," Meigs says. "Just bring your kid. We got it all."
One of the most popular local events is at Expo Pond off Penninger Road next to the Jackson County Expo Park. Volunteers, teamed with ODFW employees and The Black Bird Shopping Center, will offer free bait, weights, loaner rods and instructors to help kids catch some of the 2,000 legal-sized rainbow trout stocked there this past week just for this occasion.
"There are times when we've got almost every one of those rods out with kids at once," Meigs says.
Jessica Sall, ODFW Fish Division spokeswoman, says officials have no way to track how many people take advantage of the day, but organized youth-oriented events at 35 water bodies drew about 6,400 kids and 1,000 adults last year.
The largest is at the Bonneville Hatchery on the Columbia River, where about 1,100 people fished last year, Sall says.
Toss that out and the remaining 34 events averaged about 150 people, with kids out-numbering adults 6 to 1 — with the one normally a parent or adult who brought kids, Sall says.
"They're very well received, and we have a lot of partners," Sall says.
Outside of the agency-planned events, others have piggybacked fishing derbies and fundraisers onto the program thanks to its no-license requirement.
The Disabilities Recreation Project will hold its 10th annual Wade Marshall Trout Fishing Tournament for seniors and those with disabilities along the jetty the project built on Howard Prairie Lake near the resort.
The derby is a fundraiser for the DRP, which is now in the midst of building fishing piers, wheelchair-accessible paths and bathrooms at the Expo Ponds.
The tournament has a $10 entry fee, with lunch T-shirts and prizes in the mix. It runs from 6 a.m. to 2 p.m.
Oregon's licensed anglers who already have a combined tag for salmon, steelhead, sturgeon and halibut are encouraged, but not required, to log their catches this weekend.
In past years, agency officials have said anglers with salmon/steelhead/sturgeon tags must log their catches because catch data is used to gauge angling effort and success — part of the sum of information used to monitor angling effects on fish populations.
But a review last week of the state statutes that define Free Fishing Weekend showed no language for such a requirement, Sall says.
Here are the events planned for Saturday at various water bodies in Southern Oregon.
Expo Ponds, 9 a.m. to 1 p.m.: Parental supervision is required. Rods and reels will be available for loan and bait is provided, along with help for beginning anglers.
Hyatt Lake, 9 a.m. to 2 p.m.: This popular event features free camping Friday and Saturday nights and free breakfast Saturday from 7 to 11 a.m. Rods and reels can be borrowed and the bait is free, as well as free boat rides for kids.
Lost Creek Lake Marina, 9 a.m. to noon: This event has prizes for largest fish, free bait and limited loaner rods and reels.
Fish Lake, 9 a.m. to noon.: This event is for kids ages 16 years and younger. Free loaner rods available.
Lake Selmac, 9 a.m. to 3 p.m.: This event at the trout shelter by the boat ramp is for kids 16 and younger. There will be help for new anglers, free bait and loaner rods, and kids can make a fish print. A Coast Guard cruiser will be on display, and kids have a chance to win prizes.
Reach reporter Mark Freeman at 541-776-4470, or email at firstname.lastname@example.org.