John E. Pechmann Fishing Education Center

The ponds are well-maintained and have walkways all the way around, providing sure-footing for visitors. (Photo by Brian Cope)

Recruiting, retaining, and reactivating NC’s angling community

The John E. Pechmann Fishing Education Center in Fayetteville, NC sits atop a hill overlooking a series of ponds that once made up a fish hatchery. But instead of raising fish like it once did, it now educates anglers on a variety of fishing topics. 

Inside the center, anglers get classroom training. And at the ponds, they put that training into practice.

And all the programs are offered at no charge.

Classes at the center include such topics as Introductory Fishing for Women, Introductory Fishing for Adults, a Basic and Intermediate Fly-tying Workshop, and Family Fishing Workshops.

Other courses are more specific, such as Introduction to Kayak Fishing, Topwater Bass Basics, Catfishing Basics, and an Introduction to Crankbaits. Participants even learn how to build their own fishing rods (and leave the class with the very rod they built), tie their own flies, and make their own plastic lures.

The start

Tom Carpenter, Fishing & Aquatic Education Manager at the Center, said the property first started out as a private game farm and fish hatchery in the 1920s. The NCWRC came into possession of it sometime before the 1960s.

“And throughout the 1960s and into the 1980s, it was used by NCWRC as a hatchery for striped bass and channel catfish,” he said. “Then the Commission purchased the fish hatchery in Watha, which had much better water quality. And at that point, what is now the Pechmann Center became basically an equipment depot until some point in the early 90s.”

At that point, the stocking ponds remained intact, however, the NCWRC wasn’t using the ponds at all. A request from a local Ducks Unlimited chapter prompted a new direction.

A dock offers more access to this pond. (Photo by Brian Cope)

“What got it all started was that Lee Warren, who was the Cumberland County Ducks Unlimited president at the time, was trying to build up a Green Wing event for his chapter. They went to the Boy Scout camp down in White Oak. A hundred and twenty kids showed up, and they caught one bluegill all day,” he said.

It was a promising start to such an event, with 120 kids showing up, but obviously did not have the type of success Warren was hoping for. So he reached out to the NCWRC.

“As we all know, most kids won’t stay interested for very long if they’re not catching anything,” said Carpenter.

John Pechmann was the Chairman of the Wildlife Commission at the time. Warren contacted Pechmann to see if the Commission would allow them to use the ponds for their next event.

“Even though the ponds here weren’t being used as a hatchery any longer, plenty of fish were still in the ponds. The Wildlife Commission allowed Warren to hold his next event here, which was much more successful than his first attempt at the White Oak location,” he said.

This was an eye-opener for the NCWRC.

“They realized the potential for this facility as an education center, and they started bringing school groups and things like that in the mid 90s,” said Carpenter. 

As more and more people showed up for the events, the need for an education center became more obvious. And in 2007, construction began on the building that now houses classrooms and offices overlooking the ponds.

“The grand opening in 2008 was dedicated to John Pechmann. Unfortunately, John passed away suddenly before he could see it be dedicated to him,” he said.

Oversized displays make it easy to engage visitors. (Photo by Brian Cope)

Carpenter was hired at the Pechmann Center the following year. He served as an educator through 2013, and was then named director. He said it’s really been a dream job for him.

Carpenter works with a handful of educators at the Pechmann Center, and he said the dozens of volunteers that help out are invaluable.

“We really couldn’t do everything we’ve been able to do without the many volunteers that have worked with us over the years,” he said.

Year-round program

Each year, the employees and volunteers add more programs to the Center’s list of class offerings, and in recent years, they’ve begun to push some programs out to other areas of the state, including to the Marion State Fish Hatchery in the western part of North Carolina.

The Pechmann Center is open year-round, with classes taking place every month. They focus a little more on trout fishing during the winter time, but they don’t abandon trout altogether during other seasons. And while they promote fishing to families year-round, they have a bit of a renewed focus on it during the spring and summer, when it’s more enjoyable for families to be outside together.

“We are engaged year-round. In the spring and summer, we really begin to emphasize the family fishing programs, and introductory fishing for adults, and stuff like that. And in the wintertime, a lot of our focus is on flyfishing, because we bring trout down from the mountain hatcheries,” he said.

The trout will live through March, then the weather heats up a bit too much for them to survive. One of their courses is on the preparation and cooking of fish, and these trout come in handy as the days warm up. 

Fish attractors like this one keep fish close by, giving anglers a target area for casting. (Photo by Brian Cope)

Carpenter said the state’s main focus for the Pechmann Center is on what’s known as the 3Rs among anglers.

“Recruitment, retention, and reactivation have become part of the national conversation. This is an effort to attract new anglers, keep the current anglers, and get former anglers interested in fishing again,” he said.

The ultimate goal is to improve the participation rate among anglers, and Carpenter said they learn how well that’s working through surveys and questionnaires.

The Center fills a role that was once filled by other people that were influencial in the lives of children. While some folks are lucky enough to still have family members and neighbors who teach them how to fish, the changes in society have left many out of luck when it comes to learning how to fish.

“Most of us who identify as current anglers had family members and neighbors. But as we’ve become a more urbanized society, huge swaths of people – maybe even two or three generations – never had that support,” said Carpenter. “So part of our job is to look at the social support currently available, and how do we enhance that, or even create it where it doesn’t exist.”

Many first-time students at the Pechmann Center’s courses are adults who want to show their kids the ropes of fishing, but they never had the opportunities to learn all the details themselves. That’s one reason the Introductory Fishing for Adults classes are so popular. 

The surface rings on this pond allow fly-fishermen to test their casting skills. (Photo by Brian Cope)

Who pays for it?

Carpenter stressed that these programs are all free to the public. Even the rod building class is free, including all materials needed to make your own rod. So where does the money come from to pay for all this? The funds come from the Dingell-Johnson Sport Fish Restoration Act, a federal law passed in 1950. 

The Dingell-Johnson Act provides funding to state fish and wildlife agencies to support recreational fishing, with funds generated by the sale of fishing gear. Every sale of fishing-related items has a small tax levied on it, and those taxes are funneled into the coffers that fund the Dingell-Johnson Act. States are given some leeway into how they use those funds, as long as they are used to support recreational fishing opportunities. North Carolina uses a portion of theirs to fund the Pechmann Center. 

Instead of taxes on fishing tackle going to pay for highways, or instead of taxes on gasoline going to pay for fishing education, it’s anglers themselves who fund programs at the Pechmann Center. That’s a win-win situation for anglers and taxpayers alike. And that’s a tough combination to find these days.

For a full list of events held at the Pechmann Center, visit ncwildlife.org/Learning/John-E-Pechmann-Fishing-Education-Center. 

2024 Fin-Tastic Fishing Festival

The NCWRC is giving families with children 15-years-old and younger an opportunity to celebrate National Fishing and Boating Week, which runs June 1 – June 9.

This is the Pechmann Center’s biggest event of the year, featuring more than a dozen hands-on, interactive exhibits and demonstrations that will help participants learn more about fishing, and about the importance of fishing throughout North Carolina.

Dick’s Sporting Goods has donated a Family Fishing Package worth more than $500 to the winner of the event’s photo contest, along with a Fin-Tastic Fishing Festival t-shirt to the first 100 registered participants to arrive. 

The NC Wildlife Federation is pitching in with a Unified Sportsman License, which will be awarded to a youth angler participating in the event.

The event takes place at the Pechmann Fishing Education Center in Fayetteville on Saturday, June 8 from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m.

Activities and displays at the festival include:

  • Electrofishing by NCWRC staff
  • Casting contests
  • Kayaking
  • Luremaking
  • Boating simulator
  • Fly-fishing
  • Fly-tying
  • Fishing knots
  • Rod building demo
  • Bowfishing
  • Leave No Trace Program
  • Fishing, and much more.

Fishing combos and worms will be available to loan, and participants are welcome to bring their own medium-action fishing equipment and bait (natural bait only, no minnows allowed).

Food trucks will also be on hand, and the event is catch-and-release only. Registration is required, and registration is open through June 7 at 8 p.m.

For more info, visit ncwildlife.org or call 910-868-5003. 

About Brian Cope 2783 Articles
Brian Cope is the editor of Carolina Sportsman. He has won numerous awards for his writing, photography, and videography. He is a retired Air Force combat communications technician, and has a B.A. in English Literature from the University of South Carolina. You can reach him at brianc@carolinasportsman.com.

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