When it was first introduced in 2012, Pennsylvania’s Mentored Youth Fishing Day seemed like a great idea. I
It was a program designed to give adult mentors the opportunity to take children trout fishing and beat the crowds that typify the traditional rush on the opening day of trout season, which is due to begin a week later. While the program started on a limited basis in 2012, in 2015 it was rolled out statewide to benefit future generations of anglers in the Commonwealth.
Children participating in the program may fish any Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission (PFBC) trout water and keep two legal trout. Mentors must have a fishing license and trout stamp. While adult mentors are encouraged to fish with and train the children, they must release any trout they catch unscathed.
But here’s the catch: The supervised youth must hold either a Supervised Youth Permit or a Volunteer Youth Fisherman’s License. The Mentored Youth Permit is free and the Voluntary Youth Fishing License costs $2.97 ($1.00 cost plus $1.97 agent/transaction fee).
I was never inclined to participate in this program until this spring, when my five-year-old grandson and his family live in the area. With Mentored Youth Fishing Day coming up this Saturday, March 26th, I have decided to go online to the PFBC website and purchase a Volunteer Youth Fishing License. Little did I know that the trouble that would ensue would be something akin to getting caught with illegal drugs in Turkey (aka the 1978 film Midnight Express).
My bureaucratic nightmare began when the PFBC website directed me to another website, HuntFishPA, a website where I had obtained other hunting and fishing licenses with relative ease. I then agreed to purchase a youth volunteer fishing license, paid the $2.97 fee and received not a license but a coupon with instructions to redeem at a dispensary. This extra step seemed pointless. At least I managed to print out every other license I’d bought from HuntFishPA in the past directly.
Nonetheless, the next day I dutifully reported to Dick’s Sporting Goods (a dispensary) to have the license printed out. There I was faced with a very warm and patient Dick “team member” named Justin trying to print the license. He’d never dealt with vouchers before, but tried valiantly to print the license, to no avail. He received a message that the voucher was invalid, but he kept trying for the next 40 minutes or so. “Maybe that coupon is actually the license,” he offered at one point, until I pointed out that the coupon specifically said, “This is NOT a fishing license.”
At this point I was ready to throw in the towel, but Justin was determined to be successful in our quest for a license and even called HuntFish PA to see what the problem was.
After being on hold for a while, he had a brief chat with the voice on the other end of the line before turning to me with a confused look on his face and saying, “They decided to close 20 minutes early and hung up on me.” I shook my head and thanked him for his Herculean, if unproductive, efforts and left the store. A glance at my watch showed that I had already spent almost two exasperating hours trying to get a #$%@$% youth fishing license, far more time than I probably would have spent trout fishing with my grandson on a Saturday morning.
The next day I reported back to HuntFishPA and tried one last time to secure that elusive license but with the same frustrating non-results.
Finally, as Dick’s team member Justin had done the day before, I dialed the HuntFishPA helpline. After being on hold for 20 minutes I finally spoke to a person named Jose and explained my problem. He very politely informed me that I could not purchase a license for my grandson, only a voucher and that my grandson would then have to create his own profile which would include his name, address and social security number before the actual approval was granted could become problematic. The reason my voucher was invalid was because my date of birth indicated that I was not under sixteen (far from it) and therefore was not eligible to purchase a youth license although it was not for me.
Jose explained that he understands that this is a new policy put in place by the state last year and that up to that point I could have obtained a license for my grandson without all the bureaucratic hassles. Ironically, children under the age of 16 do not need a fishing license to fish for trout during the open season. The only day they need one is Mentored Youth Day, which means I could take my grandson trout fishing after the regular season starts with no licensing worries.
The Mentored Youth Trout Fishing Day event has come under fire in the past, particularly from a minority of selfish adult anglers who don’t like the kids getting a day’s head start. There have also been complaints of adult mentors suspected of abusing the system by capturing and holding trout with little or no involvement from the child they are said to be mentoring.
Meanwhile, back on the HuntFishPA helpline, Jose seemed to understand my plight when I pointed out that this new policy, requiring youth to submit their own profile to the state, is the Mentored Youth Trout Fishing Day program might not cripple, but would probably be a long way to discourage parents (or grandparents like me) from letting their kids participate, especially the part where five-year-olds have to provide their social security number. For my daughter, at least, that part was a definite deal breaker, and I suspect the same would be true for many other parents.
Then, in a classic case of bad timing, an email from the PFBC popped into my inbox today (Monday) promoting Young People’s Trout Fishing Day and explaining the steps needed to be taken to get a fishing license available for young people. To that end, it was revealed that the teen had to create his own HuntFishPA account by providing his social security number, date of birth and designated email address. However, I could not find these required steps anywhere on pages 5 and 6 of the 2022 Fisheries Handbook where information is provided on the Voluntary Youth Fisherman’s License. Had these steps been outlined in the manual, it would have saved me (and probably others) a lot of time and trouble.
Further clarification of the situation would come in another email from Mike Parker, the communications director for the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission, who invited me to call him, which I did. “I think you may have received some misinformation from your provider regarding the requirement for all anglers, even youth anglers, to create their own accounts,” he told me. “It is, but there is nothing new about that. Since 1998, federal and state laws have required the PFBC to obtain SSN numbers from anyone acquiring a recreational fishing license. Same goes for hunting licenses etc. Again this is required from us not us but as we are the agency selling fishing licenses we need to collect the SSN numbers.”
Parker further explained that the laws mandating the survey are related to child welfare, in which so-called “deadbeat parents” who are in arrears with child support payments are prohibited from obtaining recreational licenses for activities such as fishing/hunting. “Again, this is a 24-year requirement,” Parker added, “and anyone who has earned a fishing license in any state must provide an SSN number for many years at this point.” Thanks to Mr. Parker for his time and explanation. He also understood my confusion and agreed with my point that the procedure for obtaining a youth fishing license should have been spelled out more clearly in the manual.
In any event, the Mentored Youth Trout Fishing Day is scheduled for this Saturday, March 26 from 8:00am to 7:30pm and will include all of the stocked waters listed for the opening day of trout season. We hope you and yours have fun at the creek on Saturday – if you somehow manage to extort a permit from your child!
Tom Tatum is the outdoor columnist for MediaNews Group. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.