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State fishing for young anglers

The Associated Press

SANDUSKY — Concerned about the declining number of people fishing, Ohio’s wildlife leaders are handing out free fishing poles to kids and teaching them how to snag a walleye.

Those are just a couple of the programs designed to build a new generation of anglers.

The number of fishing licenses sold has dropped dramatically over the past two decades.

During the 1980s, about a million Ohio residents held fishing licenses each year. Two years ago the number was down 662,867.

‘‘It just seems like a heck of a large segment of young folks are out of touch with the natural world,’’ Ray Petering, the Ohio Division of Wildlife’s executive administrator of fish management. ‘‘They’re content to play video games and stay inside all day.’’

It’s not just Ohio that is seeing a drop in fishing.

Wildlife officials say the declining number of fishing and hunting licenses nationwide is the hottest topic among natural resources agencies across the country.

Ohio’s natural resources department has increased its outdoor education programs, including hunting and fishing education courses.

‘‘We’re trying desperately to maintain that connection to the outdoors,’’ Petering said. ‘‘The decision to hunt and fish is an individual decision. We just want to make sure that these young folks at least have some exposure to these outdoor activities.’’

Some activities, such as camping, hiking and bird watching, are growing in popularity, he said.

The number of fishing licenses sold did go up two years ago following a good hatching year for fish in Lake Erie in 2003.

‘‘Lake Erie is the primary driver of license sales,’’ Petering said. ‘‘We really bucked a state and national trend when we showed an increase and everybody else had a decrease.’’

Jack Tibbels, who owns Tibbels Marina and Charter Service in Marblehead, said families are the ones who need to help promote outdoors activities.

‘‘The grandfathers are out here in great force, taking their grandkids fishing because they’ve done it,’’ he said. ‘‘That’s all we do. We go someplace hunting and we take them with us.’’