When the Pennsylvania Game Commission became the national trendsetter in the 1990s with its Mentored Youth Hunting program, many hoped the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission would follow with some type of unique fishing opportunity for youngsters.

Well, better late than never.

Mentored Youth Trout Day, a pilot program finalized and adopted earlier this year by the PFBC, will be held Saturday, March 23, from 8 a.m. to 7:30 p.m. at 12 specifically designated waters throughout the 18 counties in the Southeast Region for unlicensed anglers younger than 16.

Regionally, in Schuylkill County, MYTD will be held at Locust Lake, Barnesville; in Lehigh County, fishing will be held on Section 8 of the Lehigh Cannel, and the program is limited to the Southeast Region because of its opening day the following weekend, Saturday, March 30, at 8 a.m.

To participate, youngsters must register on the PFBC website at http://www.fishandboat.com/ [1] and be accompanied by a licensed angler with a trout stamp.

A licensed angler may chaperon more than one MYTD participant, or it may be done one-on-one and both the youngsters and the adults are allowed to keep two legal trout with a 7-inch minimum length.

Like the MYHP, one of the goals of MYTD is to help stimulate interest in purchasing a fishing license when the youngster reaches the age of 16. Most often, parents are the source of both instruction and serve as mentors to young anglers and hunters.

Special youth opportunities offer a one-two punch by engaging both youth and their parents or other mentors. Additional information on the PFBC's rationale can be found on the Mentored Youth Trout page on www.fishandboat.com/MentoredYouth.htm [2].

In establishing this pilot program the PFBC wants to evaluate angler interest and determine if the agency resources would be available to expand the program statewide. Given the 18-county southeastern earlier region opening day, this was the best timing and location in the state to give this program a try.

According to the PFBC, the agency is "testing the waters" to see what the potential may be with this type of program. This smaller scale test also gives it a chance to work through issues related to stocking, law enforcement etc, before taking the program to a larger scale.

Understandably, there has been frustration on the part of anglers in other areas of the state that is not included in the MYTD, however, PFBC staff agreed it was best to start small in a concentrated area rather than scattering waters around the state, or going statewide from the start.

Depending on the results of this pilot, the agency will be considering regulations establishing a more formal program and possible expansion.

All the waters on the list are lakes or the Lehigh Canal rather than streams, and this was done for several reasons. By stocking in lakes, the PFBC believes it will be easier for youngsters and mentors to catch fish.

Also considered was previous creel surveys and it was determined that the selected waters are some of the more popular waters. Stocking logistics also play a part, and by stocking lakes the fish will be there the following week for the regional opener, but had streams and creeks been chosen for the MYTD it meant they may have required restocking the following week.

In addition, the PFBC wanted the sites to be easily accessible and there is a safety aspect in that rainy weather would affect flowing creeks and streams. Agency personnel wanted to avoid having anglers some of whom may be beginners having to deal with high and fast flowing water.

It is the hope of the PFBC that youngsters will have fun and recognize that fishing is an easy, uncomplicated sport that everyone can enjoy.