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Grab your gear - it's free fishing weekend

TROPHY TROUT: Kaleb Giese caught the largest fish at last year's Free Fishing Day Derby at Morgan Lake. The fish measured at 19 5/8 inches. (Photo/MARK GOMEZ, USFS).
TROPHY TROUT: Kaleb Giese caught the largest fish at last year's Free Fishing Day Derby at Morgan Lake. The fish measured at 19 5/8 inches. (Photo/MARK GOMEZ, USFS).

- Dick Mason

- The Observer

No Oregon fishing license? No problem.

At least if you plan to fish this weekend in Oregon.

No licenses will be required for fishing throughout the state Saturday and Sunday during Oregon's annual Free Fishing Weekend.

The annual event is designed to get young people hooked on fishing.

Events will be conducted locally to promote fishing as a youth and family activity. Mark Gomez of the U.S. Forest Service is one local organizer of

La Grande Free Fishing Weekend activities, which will take place Saturday at Morgan Lake.

"I remember fishing with my father and grandfather while growing up in New Mexico," Gomez said. "I cherish those memories and I want to help others have experiences like them.''

Free Fishing Weekend activities will also be conducted Saturday at Marr Pond in Enterprise and at the Highway 203 Pond near Baker City. At each site, opportunities will be provided for everyone to fish, including children from families who can't afford fishing tackle. Rods and other tackle will be loaned to all children who need them.

"We want to give the less fortunate a chance to fish,'' Gomez said.

People will be at each site to provide angling instruction. Each site will also have fishing derbies for those age 14 and younger with prizes awarded. Free lunches will be another enticement for anglers at each site.

Following is a detailed look at the activities offered.

• Morgan Lake

Activities will run from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. The age divisions for the derby will be: 8 and younger, 9-10, 11-12 and 13-14. Prizes donated by Wal-Mart will be awarded to anglers landing the largest fish. Beginning with the youngest, anglers will be able to chose from the available prizes.

Anglers must register before they can participate in the derby. Someone who catches a fish before registering can't enter that fish.

Representatives of the Blue Mountain Chapter of Trout Unlimited will be present to provide angling instruction, including fly tying tips. The La Grande Ranger District and the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife will also have representatives at Morgan Lake.

The odds of success Saturday will be good since 500 11- to 14-inch trout weighing at least half a pound were put in the lake this week in preparation for Free Fishing Weekend, according to Bob Becker of the ODFW.

Free Fishing Weekend activities at Morgan Lake drew 147 youths age 14 and younger a year ago.

Morgan Lake is about two miles southwest of La Grande.

• Marr Pond

Activities will run from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.

U.S. Forest Service biologists will be present to teach people about aquatic ecology. Representatives of the Forest Service, the ODFW, the Nez Perce tribe and Wallowa Resources will also be present to assist anglers.

Five hundred trout were put in the pond this week in preparation of the Free Fishing Weekend. One hundred of these fish are trophy trout 16 to 18 inches long and weighing about 1.5 pounds. The other 400 trout are 10 to 13 inches long and about half a pound.

Enterprise ODFW Biologist Bill Knox believes that fishing will be good there because the weather has been cool and the pond has just been stocked.

To reach Marr Pond, turn south off of North Street (Highway 82) on to Depot Street and drive south to the old grain growers building. Then drive west past the Wallowa County shop buildings to Marr Pond. Signs will be up Saturday to direct people there.

• Highway 203 Pond

This site's activities will run from 9 a.m. to noon. Every child fishing in the Highway 203 Pond derby will receive a bag of souvenirs and prizes provided by sponsors. Sponsors include the Wallowa Whitman National Forest, the ODFW, the Baker City Herald and the Blue Mountain chapter of Trout Unlimited.

The Highway 203 Pond is five miles north of Baker City. The pond is just off Medical Springs I-84 exit.

The pond has been stocked with 640 trout this week. The total consists of 190 trophy trout 16-18 inches long and weighing about 1.5 pounds and 550 trout 8 to 12 inches long.

Some trout were stocked with the helps of funds from the ODFW's Youth Angling Enhancement Program.

Many youth taking part in Free Fishing Weekend activities Saturday will be hooking the first fish of their lives. Gomez, who has helped lead Free Fishing Weekend activities in Union County for seven years, said the most enjoyable part of the experience is looking at the excited expressions on children's faces when landing their first fish.

"That's why I keep doing this,'' Gomez said.

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