A unique, if annual, opportunity to hook your non-fishing friends on the sport presents itself this month across many Heartland waters. National Fishing & Boating Week is celebrated the first full week of June, and, as part of the festivities, most states offer what are called “Free Fishing Days.”

On these days, resident adults who otherwise would be required to purchase a license to fish are exempt from having to do so. The participating state’s agencies temporarily waive the permit process to allow non-angling adults to test the waters — and the sport — without having to gamble the price of a license. The hope is that people will try fishing, enjoy themselves, become hooked on the sport and join the ranks of annual license-buying anglers to help protect our waters for the future of boating and fishing.

What this license-free holiday presents to those of us who already recognize the many benefits of wetting a line is an opportunity to lure non-fishing friends and family members aboard our boats and offer the option of angling as an activity with no “strings” attached.

So, if there’s someone you’ve invited to fish in the past who begged off because they said they couldn’t afford it, it’s time to call their bluff! Explain that their argument isn’t valid for the day you have in mind, that you look forward to showing them how to catch a fish, and that you’ll even supply the bait. (Like you wouldn’t have already.)

First-Timer Tips
Once your newbie angler is aboard, consider the following tips for a successful first outing:

  • Explain to your guest that you simply want to give fishing a try for a while as part of the boat trip, that you hope they’ll join in and give the activity a chance, and that you’re willing to end the lesson at any point in the process. By designating fishing as only a side activity during, they won’t feel like they’ve ruined the day if they decide they don’t enjoy it.
  • Let your guest know exactly what will take place on your fishing outing, from how long the boat ride is to the fishing grounds, to what water and weather conditions to expect, to recommended dress (e.g. comfortable clothing and non-skid shoes).
  • Let them know that, if they wish, you’ll tackle as much of the “dirty” work of rigging hooks and bait, casting, landing and releasing the catch, and so on.
  • Share your own history of how you started fishing and why you enjoy it. Ask about any fishing experiences they’ve had in the past. Any negative examples may give you an idea of what to avoid repeating during your outing.
  • Target fish species like panfish and places in protected waters where you know your guest will be comfortable and have the best chance of catching something. Size doesn’t matter, action does.
  • Give the novice angler adult-size, good-quality tackle to use. No Barbie rods or cane poles.
  • Offer (but don’t force) hands-on instruction of how to operate the reel and how to release and retrieve the line, and base any casting attempts on their ability to handle the rig.
  • Finally, make sure you fish, too, using the same tackle, technique and bait, to demonstrate to them that you enjoy catching bluegills or catfish or crappies the same as you hope they will. You don’t want your guests to think you’re “dumbing down” the experience for their benefit. Even if you are.

Here are the 2017 Free Fishing Days in our heartland states:

Alabama: June 10
Arkansas: June 9-11
Georgia: June 3, June 10 and September 23
Illinois: June 16-19
Indiana: April 15, May 20 and June 3-4
Iowa: June 2-4
Kentucky: June 3-4
Louisiana: June 10-11
Michigan: June 10-11
Mississippi: June 3-4 and July 4
Missouri: May 6
Ohio: May 6-7
Tennessee: June 10
Texas: June 3
Wisconsin: June 3-4

For information on all states’ free fishing days, and more fishing tips, visit: takemefishing.org/how-to-fish/how-to-catch-fish/free-fishing-days-2017/

Author: Dan Armitage is a regular contributor to HeartLand Boating magazine