As many as 100 children will cast their lines Saturday into a stocked pond on the campus of Augusta Technical College with hopes of reeling in their first fish.
The event, organized by longtime fisherman Kirk Gatch for the past two decades, is part of a statewide effort to introduce young anglers to fishing, which license and merchandise sales show is on the upswing as the economy begins to stabilize and more people search for outdoor activities to share with their families.
“If a child catches their first fish before they are 5 years old, they’ll be hooked for life,” said Gatch, the lead coordinator for the 26th annual Kids Fishing Event at Augusta Tech.
Gatch, 60, caught his first fish in 1958 with his father at Leitner Lake on Fort Gordon. He was 5.
The Georgia Department of Natural Resources’ Wildlife Resources Division is hoping for more families like the Gatches.
The agency is holding events across the state to introduce parents and children to fishing, a sport of patience, perseverance and respect for nature.
“These events provide an opportunity for youth to fish, often for the first time, with assistance from volunteers and in places where they are likely to catch fish, helping reinforce the positive experience,” said John Biagi, the Wildlife Resources Division chief of Fisheries Management.
The campaign will kick off Saturday, with the division waiving all its license laws.
Among the waterways to be showcased are Augusta Tech’s catfish pond, which will hold the Breakfast Optimist Club’s 26th annual Kids Fishing Event, and the McDuffie County Public Fishing Area in Dearing.
Augusta-area merchandise sales show that interest in fishing might be increasing.
This spring, Broadway Tackle in downtown Augusta has at times been backed up with customers, with some buying kid-size rod and reels, apparel and lures.
Across town, Rivers and Glen Trading Co., which offers free clinics and holds high-adventure excursions to advance local fly fishing, has become a popular hangout for young people eager to learn how to tie flies and best catch fish in local ponds and creeks, owner Walker Hopkins said.
“The fly fishing industry is on the rise,” Hopkins said. “I would say its booming among today’s youth.”
As the economy stabilizes, Hopkins said, parents and children have more discretionary funds and a willingness to get out and be more active.
He said he has seen “dramatically more” young people becoming interested in fly fishing compared with previous years.
The Wildlife Resources Division hopes the sales translate into more fishing permits purchased.
Despite steady increases in sales, fishing licenses in Georgia have struggled to meet the sales mark recorded in 2009, when 637,725 permits were sold.
More than 616,200 permits were sold last year.
Gatch said Augusta has the Savannah River, the Augusta Canal, and lakes and ponds stocked with 5-pound catfish, bass and trout across the region.
“I am hoping we catch some big ones,” Gatch said. “We’ll see how we start the season Saturday.”