Les Winkeler is sports editor and outdoors writer for The Southern Illinoisan.

Through my life I’ve eaten a lot of crappie, bluegill, walleye and catfish because the fish unwisely opened their mouths before considering the jig, worm, minnow or other bait might not have appeared in front of their faces randomly.

They opened their mouths before thinking and a few hours later found themselves breaded with corn meal and sizzling in a vat of oil.

The fate of those unfortunate fish reminds me of the caterwauling about the $285,000 allocated to the Urban Fishing Program in the budget recently passed by the State of Illinois.

I have two objections to their complaints.

First, and by far the most important, the Urban Fishing Program is not funded by tax revenue. If you don’t purchase an Illinois hunting or fishing license, not a shekel of your hard-earned cash went toward the program.

The Urban Fishing Program is funded by the Illinois Fish and Wildlife Fund.

The recent complaining about the program jogged a thought loose from a cobweb-laden area of my brain. It took just a couple key strokes to find a story I had written in 2013.

Jim Herkert, who was then the director of the Office of Resource Conservation at the Illinois Department of Natural Resources, explained that all of the money received from the purchase of fishing licenses is deposited into the Illinois Fish and Wildlife Fund.

“There are actually six statutes that put regulations on that money,” he said. “It can only be used for the purposes of fish and wildlife activities.”

The Fish and Wildlife Fund also gets money from the Dingell-Johnson and Pittman-Robertson funds — federal excise taxes on hunting and fishing equipment. The federal excise tax is redistributed to states based on number of licenses sold, population and area of the state.

The bottom line? This program doesn’t affect the bottom line of taxpayers.

Secondly, many of the complainants also object to the very worthiness of the program.

It’s speculation on my part, but I’d be willing to bet many of the people dissing the Urban Fishing Program also complain that today’s youth spend too much time sitting on the couch playing video games.

The state’s Urban Fishing Program provides an alternative to being a lifelong couch spud. It also teaches youngsters a skill that they can enjoy for the rest of their lives. Some of these youngsters will literally, and figuratively, get hooked on fishing.

They are the future of the sport. The license fees they pay throughout their lifetimes will fund similar programs for my grandkids and great-grandkids. That’s pretty important stuff in my book.

Finally, some have commented that it is the parents’ place to teach a kid to fish. That is the ideal. Unfortunately, we don’t live in an ideal world.

About 10 years ago I participated in a fishing clinic sponsored by the Harrisburg Park District. The clinic attracted a number of youngsters, who spent an enjoyable evening catching fish at the park lagoon.

But, I was surprised at the number of single mothers who were hungry for knowledge about equipment, baits, line and even tying knots.

A wasted $285,000? Hardly. It seems like a great investment.

LES WINKELER is the outdoors writer for The Southern Illinoisan. Contact him at les.winkeler@thesouthern.com, or call 618-351-5088 / On Twitter @LesWinkeler.

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