Fishing with Disabilities

I grew up in a fishing family. My dad and my brother are both avid fishermen and I married one as well. As a kid, I certainly enjoyed dangling a bobber in the water. As a teen I went on some deep sea trips with my parents and got sea sick. That took care of that interest for a while.

Now, as an adult, I love being outdoors,  especially with my kids. I don’t particularly enjoy eating fish, so I’m not too interested in catching fish anymore. Still, a day outside walking and fishing with my family is much better than a day in front of a screen. So I try to encourage it as much as I can. Being a mom, I can’t really relax and fish anyway, I’m too busy making sure no one falls in!

Fishing Programs and Opportunities for Kids with Disabilities

I write an outdoors column for my local newspapers and this week I did my column on getting ready for fishing season. I wanted to rework that column for the blog and the amount of information I found about fishing and special needs kids is really encouraging! So here you go, here are some tips on getting ready for fishing season, tips for getting your kids interested in fishing and extra resources for the family with special needs.

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Fishing. Think about all the fine motor skills to be practiced!

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Trout season is almost here in Pennsylvania. In recent years we’ve had some minor changes. Our state is made up of 67 counties but the 18 counties in the southeastern corner get to start a few weeks earlier, due to temperatures being a bit warmer. Also, there now is a Mentor program, so any adult license holder can take a child fishing, and those days are before the regular season starts. So, in order to get Pennsylvania and all trout anglers ready, here are some tips!

Do Kids Need a Fishing License?

Get your fishing license. Of course this is the most important step because we want to support the great state of Pennsylvania and not be fined. Anyone 16 or over requires a valid license. You don’t even have to leave your house if you have a computer. Just go to and you can get it online. Remember that certain demographics are eligible for free or discounted licenses, plus now you can get a multi-year license so that you don’t have to renew every year. If you live near state lines like we do, check out those websites and get whatever neighboring state licenses you need and check their regulations.

brian fishing
Brian fishing in the Adirondacks.

Clean out your tackle boxes. If you are like my family, your tackle box can often become your portable trash can. We often have empty drink containers and wrappers in ours so that we don’t litter while we are out. Add in a few broken lures, a reel with some old line, maybe even a dead worm or two and you have an afternoon of work ahead of you. Now is a great time to change line on reels and clean out what you don’t need so that you are opening day ready and not caught unprepared while creek side.

Find your life jackets. Pennsylvania has mandatory life jacket laws during the cold weather months or until April 30. Make sure you have your life jacket and that you are wearing it, especially the kids. You can read the specifics of the law online, but this applies to most small watercraft. Still, it’s a good idea for little kids to wear them even if on dry land. Cold water shock happens quickly.

Fishing Programs and Opportunities for Kids with Disabilities

Check out C.A.S.T. for Kids. C.A.S.T. for Kids looks to be an amazing organization. They are now in 22 states and they want to get “More kids fishing, more often.” And that includes kids with special needs and they have a special branch of the group for veterans. Awesome, huh?

fishing programs for special needs kids

Find a special needs fishing derby or Family Day. Many parks in the state hold special family days. In Chester County’s Hibernia Park, the second week in May is the Special Needs Fishing Derby. I was quite surprised at the results I got when I did an internet search for “special needs fishing derby.” Go take a look, maybe add in your city or state. You might be surprised at the events taking place that you didn’t know about. We also have an event for kids in Kennett Square at Anson Nixon Park. Since it is a borough park I am assuming that they will make the necessary accommodations for special needs. Call the borough ahead of time so that they are aware you’re coming.

Find a youth to mentor, or mentor your own youth. The first Mentored Youth Trout Day is at the end of March. This program is designed to encourage kids to become interested in fishing. Any angler aged 16 or over with a valid license can mentor a youth and you both can start fishing on March 28, several weeks before the rest of the state.

In the bad weather days, you can pretend to fish with this cute set. Click for details.
In the bad weather days, you can pretend to fish with this cute set. Click for details.

Opportunities for kids to try fishing.

Don’t have your own tackle? Not a problem! Chester County has three local sites (Nottingham, Hibernia and Springton Manor) that participate in the free tackle loaner program. Call your local park office for details or to reserve yours. This is also a great idea if you are trying the Youth Mentor program and don’t want to invest in equipment before learning if they enjoy the activity. But who doesn’t enjoy fishing?

Lastly, double check your dates. If you are new to Pennsylvania or are crossing county lines to go fishing, you should double check the dates before you go. If you are fishing before the permitted opening day for that region, you will be fined! We’re all eager to get out there, but it’s not worth getting a ticket over. Here are the approximate fishing dates for Pennsylvania in 2018.

PA Fishing Season-Important Dates

  • End of March-first Regional Mentored Youth Day, applicable to 18 counties.
  • Beginning of April-regular opening day for 18 counties in the southeastern corner of the state.
  • Mid April-Mentored Youth Day for rest of the state.
  • Mid April-opening day for rest of the state.
  • First week of May-Trout derby in Kennett Square.
  • Second week of May-special needs fishing derby at Hibernia.
ridin hy ranch fishing
Brian getting his fishing pole ready in the Adirondacks.

I hope that is enough to get you encouraged and get you started. Hope to see you out there! {this was originally published in 2015 but was recently updated}

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