SNYDER: A chance for Pa. fishermen to hook a free lunch

  • Pennsylvania annually has two "fish-for-free" days.
  • The first of these free-fishing days is set for this Sunday.
  • The second free-fishing day is scheduled for July 4.

The old cliché is not always true.

Most folks say there is no such thing as a free lunch, but Pennsylvania offers something that challenges that notion.

Each year, the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission offers two “fish-for-free” days. With any luck, you may prove the old adage is wrong. You just may hook a free lunch.

The first of this year’s free-fishing days is May 29, which just happens to be this Sunday. The second fish-for-free day this year is July 4.

These special days mean anglers who would normally need a license to fish the state’s waterways have the opportunity to sample some of the region’s great fishing opportunities without first shelling out a few bucks for a license.

Memorial Day weekend is a great time to wet a line. It’s the time of year when a wide array of fish are eager to bite, from bluegills to walleyes. But for novice anglers there's nothing better than hooking a few hefty catfish.

These fish, whether they are small channel cats or super-aggressive flatheads, are almost always eager to take a bait. It doesn’t matter whether you put a worm on the hook or use a chunk of chicken liver, there's a good chance something with whiskers will want to take a bite of it.

One of the most popular places in York County to target catfish is the Susquehanna River. The calm waters above Safe Harbor dam — in the area known as Lake Clarke — offer great habitat for eager channel cats and more than enough oversized flatheads roam the waters to keep anglers excited. Your best bet is to try around the islands just south of the Route 462 bridge.

If you’re looking for a thrill, toss on a big bait and target flatheads. While native to the state’s western rivers, flathead catfish are invasive to the Susquehanna and our nearby waterways. But that hasn’t stopped them from proliferating up and down the river.

It is unknown how the voracious feeders made it to our region, but they first showed up at Blue Marsh Reservoir in Berks County in 1997. They made their fish appearance in the Susquehanna in 2002. They’ve since become a favored night-time target, with many anglers spending the night on the water in search of hooking into a fish that can weigh 30, 40 or even 50 pounds.

If you’re after something a bit smaller and easier to catch, head to one of the county’s lakes and toss a line from the shore in target of bluegills. They're eager feeders, meaning you can catch a slew of them fairly quickly and keep novice anglers from getting frustrated.

In the central part of the county, lakes Redman and Williams are great places to target bluegills. Up north you can visit Gifford Pinchot State Park and its fish-filled lake. And on the western side of the county, Lake Marburg is a great place to search for a variety of fish, especially bluegills.

SNYDER: Boaters must give water the respect it deserves

No matter what kind of fish you hook into on Memorial Day weekend, it will be one worth remembering. If you take advantage of the commission’s “fish-for-free” day — a rare freebie — it won’t cost you a penny.

You may just hook a free lunch.

Andy Snyder writes about the outdoors for The York Dispatch. He can be reached at