SPRINGFIELD -- An Illinois think tank says the state shouldn’t be spending money on its Urban Fishing program – especially in light of the state’s bleak budget picture.

SPRINGFIELD -- An Illinois think tank says the state shouldn’t be spending money on its Urban Fishing program – especially in light of the state’s bleak budget picture.


But the Illinois Department of Natural Resources says Urban Fishing helps train the next generation of anglers – the people who support conservation programs by buying licenses and stamps.


The program, which cost $365,000 this year, has come under criticism from the Illinois Policy Institute, a conservative, free-market think tank.


“Teaching fishing skills is not a core government service,” the institute said in a recent report.


Instead, volunteers and non-profit groups should take over programs like Urban Fishing to “address the demand for this type of social good,” the institute said.


However, IDNR spokesman Chris McCloud said money for the clinics comes from a fund supported by hunting and fishing license fees, and use of those dollars is restricted – the money can’t be used to pay the state’s bills.


$1.2 billion


Besides, people who hunt and fish spend $1.2 billion a year in Illinois, he said.


“If the Illinois DNR does not recruit the next generation of outdoor enthusiasts through programs like Urban Fishing, that economic impact will evaporate,” McCloud said.


But first, the basics must be mastered.


“You have to tug first,” volunteer John Dyer tells a young angler at Washington Park. “You keep forgetting to tug.”


The bobber disappeared beneath the surface, but the youngster did not react quickly enough.


Dyer has been volunteering to help with DNR’s Urban Fishing Clinics since he retired about 10 years ago.


The clinics, which are intended to help kids and families learn how to fish, especially if they don’t normally have the chance, are held all over the state during the summer months.


Instruction includes a brief session of fish identification and basic fishing skills.


“They usually catch on pretty fast,” said instructor Sara Rauch, who teaches during the school year at Washington Middle School.


“For the younger ones, we have to do the casting and taking fish off the hook,” Rauch said. “Depending on how brave they are, they may even put the fish back.”


McCloud said the Urban Fishing program is paid for by the Wildlife and Fish Fund, which in turn gets its funding hunting and fishing licenses and other fees charged to sportsmen and women.


Clinics statewide


Because the fund also receives a share of a federal excise tax on sporting goods, Wildlife and Fish Fund dollars can’t be spent on things other than fish and wildlife programs. The Illinois General Assembly has tried to sweep money from the fund before and been forced to put it back.


“Hunters and anglers who pay for licenses know exactly what they are paying for,” McCloud said. “The Illinois Policy Institute’s claim that this program is funded by the general taxpayer is completely false.”


A spokeswoman for the institute said the group correctly reported that the Urban Fishing program is paid for by the Wildlife and Fish fund.


The Urban Fishing program started in Chicago in 1985 and has expanded statewide, holding or sponsoring 1,724 fishing programs last year, McCloud said.


Rauch has just started her summer job teaching kids to fish.


“I enjoy it,” she said. “We did catch a turtle the second day. That’s about the most exciting thing so far.”


Sarah Allen of Springfield attended a clinic at Washington Park Thursday with her children and a nephew and a niece from St. Louis.


“We come a couple of times every year, and the kids love it,” she said.


Her daughter Emma, 4, found her niche getting wax worms for family members and helping to release fish.


“I just like holding them and throwing them back in,” says Emma.


Dyer says he enjoys when the kids finally get it.


“It’s fun to see the eyes of the little kids when they catch a fish,” Dyer says.


Chris Young can be reached at (217) 788-1528.