Fish-for-Free Days in Pennsylvania

Which days are free and a breakdown of items needed for a first time fishing trip.

By Jestine Mayes, publisher Macaroni Kid Johnstown - Laurel Highlands - Altoona May 26, 2022

It’s 5am and you’ve decided to try your hand at fishing. You’ve got your thermos of coffee, a cooler with your lunch and snacks ready to go. The worms are in their container, ready to help you catch the one that no one will believe was as big as it really was in person. The kids are snuggled up on the bank, keenly watching their bobbers on the water-top, ready to reel in their line at the slightest movement. The sun isn’t quite up yet, and you can hear the sounds of the local wildlife beginning to wake as you settle into your spot for the day. Other fishers pass by with a hello and a “catch anything yet?” as they head to their spots. It’s a beautiful start to the day and not having to keep track of time is something of a rarity that makes fishing that much more enjoyable. No matter where you are, you can always find a place to cast your rod and take the day as it comes.

My son with a fish he caught.

If you’ve never tried your hand at fishing, Pennsylvania’s Fish-for-Free days are the perfect opportunity to do so. Every year there are two days that allow anyone (resident and non-resident) to fish without having a license, though all other fishing regulations still are required to be followed. This year the Fish-for-Free days are being held on Sunday, May 29 and on Monday, July 4. You can even find places that participate in the Borrow a Rod & Reel program, where there are loner fishing gear, including a tackle box full of hooks, bobbers, lures and more. The Prince Gallitzin State Park is the closest local loaning program for Cambria, Somerset, and Blair Counties and is open daily from 8am - 4pm. Other loan participants can be found on the website.

A few things to know about 2022 PA licenses for fishing:

  • A fishing license runs $22.97 for one year, but most fishing enthusiasts purchase extras, or stamps as they’re known in our area. 
  • Extras include a trout permit, which allows you to legally catch and keep trout, and the Lake Erie permit, which as its name implies, allows you to fish on Lake Erie. 
  • For children under 16, there are voluntary Youth Fishing Licenses available which cost less than $3 and a Mentored Youth Permit which is free. 
  • Discounted licenses and permits are available for senior citizens and for multiple years. 

Not sure what you need and don’t have a tackle loan program near you? Don’t fret, as we’ve got a starter list for you and where to find items. We fish as much as possible each year and enjoy seeing who can out fish who each time we go. As you get more comfortable with fishing, you can try out lures instead of worms or even the many different kinds of super bait, rubber lures and more.

Starter Fishing Items List:

  • Fishing Rod
  • Fishing Line
  • Hooks
  • Bobbers
  • Worms - Worried about baiting your hook? I found this tutorial for you by the Wyoming Game and Fish Department on YouTube. 
  • Cooler or Stringer if you want to keep your fish for later - Don’t know how to use a stringer? Watch this video by AnglersEscape on YouTube for a tutorial.
  • Knife to cut snagged line
  • Needle nose pliers or clamps to help get stuck hooks out of the fish's mouth
  • Snacks and drinks for the day

My husband explaining the dock to our son as our daughter enjoys the snacks!

Where to find fishing items:

  • Your Backyard
    • This one might sound odd, but trust me, it’s fun! If you’re willing, hunting for nightcrawlers can be really fun. You’ll need a light source and some patience. After dark, take a flashlight and shine it just at the top of the grass. You’ll notice the grass move and even see nightcrawlers as they come out in the cool of the night. Have a container with loose soil to put them in and then keep the container in a cool dark place until your fishing trip, switching out the dirt from time to time to ensure they have food. You can also get worm food to add into the dirt. Thundermist Lures explains it better with their tutorial.
  • Tackle Shops
    • You can find literally everything you need for a single day of fishing, the season, or for year round fishing (ice fishing anyone?). Watch for sales and try to go before the first day of trout/bass/etc, just before Father’s Day and holiday weekends, or you may have to deal with long lines and wait times. 
  • Yard Sales
    • One of the best places we’ve found cheap and good fishing gear is at yard sales. Some of us tend to hoard as much fishing equipment as we can, always looking for a lure that will work better or a reel that casts a little more smoothly. My husband has gotten entire tackle boxes full of lures, including lures that are near impossible to find these days, for less than $10.
  • Thrift Stores
    • You’d be surprised what people will give to the local thrift store so that they don’t have to deal with it anymore. From fishing rods to wading boots, you never know what you’ll find. From tackle boxes to lures and fishing line, you never know what you’ll find at the thrift shop.

My husband and son reeling in a fish.

Where to begin your fishing journey:

While everyone has their favorite water hole, creek or river, you can find a list of stocked waters on the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission website, as well as stocking dates. This will ensure there are ample fish when you go. Be aware, however, that the closer to the stock date that you go, the more fishers will be out as well, so make sure you get out early to ensure you "snag" your favorite spot. Below are just a sample of the stocked waters throughout the Laurel Highlands. Be sure to click the PA Fish & Boat link and the link below to see what stocked streams are closest to you!

Stocked Streams in the Laurel Highlands:

Cambria County - Howells Run, Noels Creek, North Branch Little Conemaugh River, North Branch Blacklick Creek, Laurel Lick Run, Hinckston Run, Laurel Run, Little Paint Creek

Blair County - Frankstown Branch Juniata River, Clover Creek, Canoe Creek, Bells Gap Run, Poplar Run, Vanscoyoc Run, Beaverdam Creek

Somerset County - Laurel Hill Creek, Whites Creek, Wills Creek, Beaverdam Creek, Beaverdam Run, Raystown Branch Juniata River, Clear Shade Creek

Ligonier & Surrounding Areas - Mill Creek, Loyalhanna Creek, Fourmile Run, Linn Run

Whether you choose to catch & release or keep your catch for dinner, be mindful of how you care for the fish. Helping to get air back into the fish's gills will ensure that they are able to recover from the shock of being caught. Keeping the fish in the cool water on a stringer or in a cooler of ice will keep them from decaying in the heat of the day and keep them fresh until you're ready to make dinner. 

We hope this information helps you on your adventure and that you “reel-y” enjoy your day on the water as much as we do!

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