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.
Newbie 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.
One of the most popular local events is at Expo Pond off Peninger Road next to the Jackson County Expo. Volunteers from the Church of the Nazarene, teamed with ODFW employees and 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.
The event has become such a part of the social fabric here that organizers see some familiar faces and tactics each year.
"We're seeing a lot of the same people and we're seeing them come back with their own tackle," says Chuck Fustish, an Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife biologist overseeing the Expo event. "They see guys with their own gear casting into the middle of the pond, farther than with the stuff we lend them."
And for good reason, Fustish says.
With the pond's water temperatures expected to be in the mid-60s, the stocked trout likely will be out farther in cooler water, he says.
Medford's weather forecast calls for highs in the low 70s and a chance of rain.
Overall, 37 events are planned throughout Oregon, up three from last year.
An event at St. Louis Ponds near Portland will take the place of the one previously held at the Bonneville Hatchery on the Columbia River, where more than 1,000 people fish at the event.
"It just got too big," says Darlene Sprecher, ODFW's education program assistant. "They moved it to St. Louis Ponds, and we'll see how it goes."
Likewise, the agency left the Lieberg Hatchery and moved that event to Anton Baker Pond near Cottage Grove, Sprecher says. A new event will be added at Nedonna Pond in Tillamook County, she says.
Oregon's events are getting more popular annually. Last year, nearly 9,000 people took part in Free Fishing Weekend events, with more than two-thirds of them kids and more than two dozen disabled anglers, Sprecher 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 11th 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 $600 in cash prizes. Lunch, T-shirts and prizes are also available. It runs Saturday from 6 a.m. to 1 p.m., with the weigh-in from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m.
Anglers who already have a combined tag for salmon, steelhead, sturgeon and halibut are encouraged, but not required, to log their catches this weekend.
Here are the events planned for Saturday at various water bodies in Southern Oregon.
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, loaner rods and other activities.
Diamond Lake, 8 a.m. to 2:30 p.m.: Check-in begins at 6 a.m. at the resort's marina. Fish will be measured until 2:30 p.m. for biggest fish prizes by age class for kids.
Reach reporter Mark Freeman at 541-776-4470 or firstname.lastname@example.org.