John McCoy: Free fishing days are a golden opportunity

Anyone who pays taxes can attest that few things government “gives” its citizens are truly free.

One notable exception is West Virginia’s free fishing days.

For two days in early June each year, anyone of any age can fish any of the state’s public waters without having to buy a fishing license. This year’s free days are June 7-8.

“Free fishing days are a terrific opportunity for people who have never fished to give it a try, and they’re a terrific opportunity for people who have gotten away from fishing to get back into it,” said Bret Preston, fisheries chief for the state Division of Natural Resources.

Strictly from a fishing standpoint, the timing couldn’t be better. Early June is a “Goldilocks” period; the waters of trout streams are still cool enough that the fish bite readily, and the waters of lakes and warm-water streams are warm enough that bass, catfish and other species bite freely.

What better time, then, to borrow a rod and reel from a friend, grab some bait and head for the nearest fishin’ hole?

We veteran anglers could do our non-fishing friends quite a service by inviting them out for a day filled with fresh air, clean water, good companionship, and — who knows? Maybe a fish or two.

It’s also a golden opportunity for parents who don’t currently have fishing licenses to take their kids fishing. Without the need for a license, parents would be free to cast their kids’ lines out without having to worry that a Natural Resources Police officer might see them and write a ticket.

DNR officials try to build up family participation by scheduling special events to coincide with the free days.

The largest takes place on the grounds of the DNR’s Bowden Hatchery, located a few miles east of Elkins in Randolph County. Hatchery officials stock a pond with trout and invite young people to come and fish for them. This year’s edition of the Bowden Fishing Derby is scheduled for June 7.

Another popular event, also oriented toward kids, takes place near Beckley at Little Beaver State Park. That lake, too, gets stocked specifically so kids can fish. Preston said a conflict caused officials to move this year’s derby from June 7 to June 14, but since all the involved anglers will be 15 years of age or younger, no fishing licenses will be required.

The DNR also has timed a couple of its catfish-stocking initiatives to coincide with the state’s free fishing days.

“We orient our ‘catchable catfish’ stockings toward waters in state and municipal parks, where families tend to go at this time of year,” Preston said. “We stock 15 or 16 waters with channel catfish that average about a pound and a half apiece. We’ve been doing the stockings for a good many years, but we’re now doing them just before free fishing days so that more people can take advantage of them.

“These are good-sized fish, and catfish are usually pretty agreeable about biting, so it’s an excellent opportunity for families to come out and enjoy a day of fishing.”

The DNR also stocks specially tagged, catchable-sized catfish in eight state park lakes. The “Catfish in the Parks” initiative, as it’s called, is designed to gauge how many people come out to fish. The agency offers prizes to anglers who catch tagged fish and report the catches.

Reach John McCoy at or 304-348-1231.

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