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Oregonian created Free Fishing Day — in Pennsylvania

I know this weekend is Free Fishing Weekend, and it brought up a conversation with my neighbor over whether Free Fishing Weekend was created in Medford. Was it?

— J.J., Medford

Free Fishing Weekend was not created in Medford, J.J. But its creator, Mike Bickler, was created in Medford.

Bickler invented what at the time was known as Free Fishing Day while working as the public information director for the Pennsylvania Game Commission in 1984.

That year, Pennsylvania jacked up its fishing license costs by 25 percent, and people quit buying licenses, Bickler told the Mail Tribune in 1998. He dreamed up the free day on the water to invite anglers back with the idea of reminding them how much fun they had fishing.

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

It was a little public-relations ploy that worked in Pennsylvania. They had the 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 moved back to Oregon and took a public-information job with the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife in 1988, but by then his idea had preceded him.

That year, backers took Bickler’s FFD format to the Oregon Fish and Wildlife Commission, but it failed. It passed in 1989, and Oregon’s first event was in 1990.

It has since morphed twice, first turning the free day into a free two-day weekend, and two years ago three more two-day blocks of free fishing were added — at Thanksgiving, New Year’s and Earth Day. But the first weekend in June is the traditional one.

During Free Fishing Weekend, Oregonians and visitors can fish, crab or clam without licenses and tags. All angling rules and limits, however, remain in force.

Send questions to “Since You Asked,” Mail Tribune Newsroom, P.O. Box 1108, Medford, OR 97501; by fax to 541-776-4376; or by email to youasked@rosebudmedia.com. We’re sorry, but the volume of questions received prevents us from answering all of them.

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