Rodney Behrens stood at the edge of Encanto Park’s lake, attaching bait to a fishing pole not far from one he had already cast in hopes of hooking catfish.
At the beginning of the year, he paid $18.50 for an urban fishing license, which limits him to 21 lakes and ponds at parks in the Valley, Tucson and Payson, as well as $6 for a two-pole stamp.
When his license ends on Dec. 31, though, he’ll have the opportunity to pay $37 to gain access to all Arizona waters under the Arizona Game and Fish Department’s new simplified license system. That means he’ll be able to join his neighbors on trips to Bartlett Lake without having to pay $23.50 separately for a general fishing license.
“If I could go up there with that kind of license and it’d be covered, I’d go,” Behrens said. “That’d be a lot easier.”
Bundled hunting and fishing licenses are coming in January under a new law giving the Game and Fish Commission authority to change licensing without having to go through Legislature.
Among the other changes: The price of a youth license for hunting and fishing will drop from $26.50 to $5. And licenses will be valid for a full year from the date of purchase instead of to the end of the year.
Kurt Davis, one of the commission’s five members, said the ability to react quickly to market needs and customer concerns will help the agency operate more like a business.
“We’re going from basically more than 40 different kinds of licenses to eight,” he said. “It simplifies things for our customers in a very serious way.”
The old system required changes sought by the Game and Fish Commission to go through a three-year legislative process at the State Capitol.
The new law provides flexibility beyond bundled licenses. For example, the commission voted to raise the price of a big-game tags and a combination hunting and fishing license, both of which hadn’t gone up since 2007, as of Jan. 1.
The urban fishing program will also be renamed the community fishing program and will now include Tempe Town Lake.
The department receives no state funding and gets most its revenue comes from hunting and fishing license sales.
“It’s frustrating because customers will come in and they’ll have really good ideas and you basically tell them, ‘Four years from now we may be able to implement it,’” Davis said. “We have to be able to function very quickly with the people who pay to have an effective Game and Fish Department.”
Scottsdale resident John Harper, who has hunted in Arizona for 40 years, said he doesn’t mind seeing the combination hunting and fishing license increase from $54 to $57 or the varying increases on big-game tags.
“In the big scope of things that’s the cheapest part of the whole fishing and hunting experience,” Harper said. “I don’t feel like it’s an issue.”
However, he said he anticipates that it will be a “nightmare” for individuals to keep track of when their licenses expire.
“Remembering when you purchased the license would be more difficult than just remembering that your license ended at the end of the year,” Harper said.
The goal of reducing the price of the youth combination license is exposing children early to fishing and hunting, said Tom Cadden, a department spokesman.
“There are fewer people passing hunting and fishing traditions down to their kids,” Cadden said. “What we want to do is get people outdoors.”
Davis, the commission member, said America’s continuing urbanization has reduced the numbers of hunters and fishers nationwide.
“To counter that, you have to make it as cheap and easy as possible,” he added.
New license options:
• General fishing, $37: Valid across Arizona.
• General hunting, $37: Applies to small game, fur-bearing animals, predatory animals, nongame animals and upland game birds. Valid tags for big game and migratory game birds still required.
• Combination fishing and hunting, $57: Combines privileges of general fishing and general hunting licenses.
• Youth combination, $5: Combines general fishing and general hunting licenses for ages 10-17.
• Short-term combo: $15/day for combination fishing and hunting license privileges.
• Community fish, $24: Allows fishing in all community (formerly urban) waters.
• Migratory bird stamp, $5: Allows hunting of band-tailed pigeons, moorhen, coots, doves, ducks, geese, snipe and swans.