Free weekend to get hooked
SPRINGFIELD STATE JOURNAL-REGISTER
It’s difficult to comprehend that number. But at least that many people go fishing in Illinois each year.
According to the Illinois Department of Natural Resources, 1.2 million people — including kids, who don’t need a license — went fishing in Illinois in 2009. Compare that to Illinois’ nearly 13 million residents and it’s clear a lot of people in this state at least casually participate in fishing.
And they all have one thing in common: Someone took them fishing the first time and showed them the ropes.
Every person wetting a line at Lake Springfield — from those sitting on picnic tables or jetting by in state-of-the-art bass boats — has a story about the person who introduced them to fishing.
Sure, we all know someone who likely was born with a bait-casting rig attached, but it’s doubtful even those hardcore anglers figured everything out all by themselves.
This is the weekend that new anglers get a free pass to get started. Free Fishing Days runs through Monday. No license or stamps are required — for a few days, anyway.
That may be just long enough to get someone hooked on fishing.
Last Saturday, anglers lined the pond at Conservation World at the Illinois State Fairgrounds for a senior citizens’ fishing event.
A few of them shared their stories.
LeRoy Morris, 83, sat in a lawn chair and recalled the person who got him started: his wife, Mary.
The two got married shortly after arriving in Springfield in 1948. LeRoy worked at the Allis Chalmers plant.
“I’d fished a little bit before that, but not too much,” he says. “When we got married, my wife liked to fish, so we’d go to Lake Springfield and she’d fish and I’d take a book.”
That arrangement didn’t last long.
“Well, you don’t catch any fish with a book,” LeRoy says with a laugh. “So I started fishing.”
Mary doesn’t get around very well now, so LeRoy is fishing without the person who introduced him to the pasttime.
Grandparents also get a lot of credit.
“My grandfather got me started when I was a kid,” says Larry Bates, 60, of Springfield. “We fished in Lake Springfield off West Lake Shore Drive over at his sister’s house, and I’ve been fishing ever since.”
Bates caught a pair of channel catfish and a pair of turtles on a morning of fishing that started rainy.
“I just love coming out here every year,” he says.
Dan Stephenson, district fisheries biologist for the Illinois Department of Natural Resources, says tournament anglers get a lot of attention, but everyday people who fish contribute to conservation by purchasing a fishing license and any associated trout or salmon stamps.
“I see way more recreational fishing, but I’m not out on the weekends when most of the tournaments are taking place,” he says. “We hear from the tournament anglers more, but I suspect overall they are in the minority.”
For some, getting started fishing was as simple as fashioning a cane pole or finding a long stick.
Bruce Clay, 71, of Springfield, says he has been fishing since he was 7.
“We used to cut our own cane poles or even a large stick,” he says. “Everybody fished in our family.
“And we fished for the table. We didn’t turn anything back.”
Bobby Grooms, 68, of Sherman, says if his dad couldn’t take him fishing, “the guys in the neighborhood used to take me when he was working.”
Grooms says he didn’t even start using a rod and reel until he was well into his adult years.
Fishing provided exercise and recreation, he says.
“Plus, you get to eat what you catch.”