There are so many activities to squeeze into the Fourth of July – parades, picnics, concerts, fireworks – that it may seem hard to find a few hours for anything else. But the state Fish & Boat Commission is promoting a different way to spend time on Independence Day.

Go fishing. Take advantage of the numerous waterways in Lebanon County where fish are plentiful – and not just the creeks, runs, lakes, and dams stocked with trout.

July 4 is the commission’s second Fish-for-Free Day, which allows any Pennsylvania resident or nonresident to legally fish on state waterways with no fishing license required. The first Fish-for-Free Day was May 30, over Memorial Day weekend.

There are over 85,000 miles of streams and rivers in the commonwealth, as well as 4,000 inland lakes and ponds covering 160,000 acres, plus 470,000 acres of Lake Erie, according to the commission’s webpage.

“Fish-for-Free Days are the perfect opportunity to try fishing for the first time, reconnect with the water, or share your passion for fishing with someone new,” Amber Nabors, director of the commission’s Bureau of Outreach, Education, and Marketing, said in a release. “Many people will be enjoying the holiday weekend together for picnics at state parks, campgrounds, and other places near the water. Now you can spend some time fishing at no cost, other than the bait you choose.”

Doug Deppen, the commission’s waterways conservation officer for Lebanon County, told LebTown that there really aren’t favorites among the fishing spots that get stocked with trout. “They all get crowded,” he said.

Those 12 waterways are Bachman Run, Conewago Creek, Hammer Creek, Indiantown Run, Lions Lake, Marquette Lake, Mill Creek, Quittapahilla Creek, Snitz Creek, Stoevers Dam, Trout Run, and Tulpehocken Creek. State parks, such as Memorial Lake State Park, get fished heavily as well, Deppen said. Two other popular fishing sites are Swatara Creek and Lakeside Quarry, he added.

Lebanon County’s waterways are also home to an impressive variety of fish species, Deppen said. That list includes largemouth bass, smallmouth bass, chain pickerel, northern pike, muskellunge (or muskie), carp, yellow perch, channel catfish, brown and yellow bullhead, bluegill, sunfish, rock bass, fallfish, and creek chub.

Deppen said there’s really no hour of the day where fishing is better. The most popular bait is nightcrawlers or other worms, and they’re good for whatever fish you’re trying to catch, he said.

The Fish & Boat Commission has plenty of online resources for anglers. “Fishing Fundamentals” is good for beginners.

For a novice fisher, Deppen said he recommends patience and time. “One day you could spend four hours and get nothing,” he said, and the next day is just the opposite. “Fish have moods, too.”

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Paula Wolf worked for 31 years as a general assignment reporter, sports columnist, and editorial writer for LNP Media. A graduate of Franklin & Marshall College, she is a lifetime resident of Lancaster County.