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Free fishing on tap this weekend

Oregonians can fish, crab and gather shellfish for free this weekend during Free Fishing Weekend.

Residents can take part in Oregon’s watery outdoors without a fishing license or a combined angling tag to log their catches of salmon, steelhead, sturgeon and halibut.

They also can use two rods on lakes without fear of a citation and can even sidestep the special Columbia River endorsement tag needed to fish in that massive river basin.

But there are some restrictions on out-of-state visitors this weekend aimed at reducing nonresidents traveling to coastal communities due to COVID-19. Clamming and mussel harvesting is closed to nonresidents coastwide. Crabbing is open throughout most of the state but banned for nonresidents in the Columbia River and ocean areas north of Cape Falcon.

State fish managers are reminding anglers to pay heed to social distancing requirements and wear a mask when that’s not possible.

Free Fishing Weekend has been around in Oregon since 1988 when Medford native Mike Bickler, who worked for ODFW, adapted a program here that he began in Pennsylvania in 1984 to boost lagging license sales there.

Bickler had a catchy slogan to go with it: “When was the last time government gave you something for free?”

It was a little public relations ploy that worked. Pennsylvania had its first Free Fishing Day in September, and by October almost all the ex-pat anglers had returned to the fold and bought licenses, Bickler said in a 1998 interview.

Bickler returned to Oregon in 1988, and the Oregon Fish and Game Commission, later renamed the Oregon Fish and Wildlife Commission, in 1989 adopted what was originally Free Fishing Day in 1990.

It has since morphed three times, first turning the free day into a free two-day weekend. In 2015, the Oregon Legislature passed a bill directing ODFW to offer up to eight free fishing days annually.

Initially, the agency added days around Thanksgiving, to encourage fishing instead of Black Friday shopping, New Year’s Day and Earth Day. But the first weekend in June remains the traditional one.

ODFW typically picks one Free Fishing Weekend for some time in mid to late summer, “and this year that falls on Aug. 15-16,” ODFW spokeswoman Michelle Dennehy said.

Reach Mail Tribune reporter Mark Freeman at 541-776-4470 or mfreeman@rosebudmedia.com. Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/MTwriterFreeman.

John Linson lands a rainbow trout at Diamond Lake. Mail Tribune File Photo