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Occoneechee plays host to Northam, Governor’s annual fishing challenge

South Boston News
Gov. Ralph Northam poses with officers from the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries Saturday at Occoneechee State Park. The officers were there to promote National Hunting and Fishing Day and to handle registration and safety checks for the nearly 200 anglers participating in the Governor’s second annual Fishing Challenge. / October 02, 2019
Gov. Ralph Northam kicked off his second annual fishing challenge at Occoneechee State Park on Saturday as part of his five-day tour of Virginia’s state parks.

The event was open to state employees, their families and retired state employees. Last year, the challenge took place at Claytor Lake State Park near Radford.

Northam spoke of how proud he was of the more than 100,000 people employed by the State and explained that he created the fishing challenge and “On the Square” events as a way to thank the employees by offering a variety of social, recreational, and educational activities.

Ahead of Saturday’s tour, he issued a proclamation recognizing Sept. 28 as Public Lands Day in Virginia. Across the Commonwealth, Virginia State Parks joined the celebration of National Public Lands Day with special programs, free parking, and volunteer events.

Dena Potter, who oversaw the governor’s fishing challenge as part of the On the SquareVA employee engagement program, said they were expecting approximately 200 anglers at the park Saturday morning starting around 6 a.m.

She and officials with the Department of Game and Inland Fisheries (DGIF) and Department of Conservation and Recreation were there starting at 5 a.m. to begin checking in challenge participants and to conduct safety checks on the boats before sending anglers out on the lake.

Occoneechee Park Manager Scott Shanklin said he was excited and honored that the governor and his staff chose Occoneechee State Park for their second annual fishing challenge.

He was equally happy that the governor was able to tour the park, enjoy a picnic dinner, and discuss tourism and economic development issues with Clarksville Town Manager Jeff Jones on Friday, ahead of the fishing challenge.

Several of the challenge participants chose to stay overnight in the park’s cabins.

Participants had the option of fishing from the shoreline, a boat or kayak. Since the event took place during the Department of Game and Inland Fisheries (DGIF) free fishing days, participants did not have to buy a fishing license or pay the usual park entrance fee.

While Saturday’s event at Occoneechee State Park was for state employees, their families and state retirees, there was free fishing for everyone on Virginia’s public waterways around the state on Sept. 28-29, hosted by DGIF in conjunction with National Hunting and Fishing Day.

Dan Michaelson, the biologist for Buggs Island Lake, explained that the anglers were primarily fishing for large-mouth bass, but the reservoir is teeming with several fish species, including striped bass, catfish, sunfish, gars, grass carp, drum fish, crappie and more.

In a statement released ahead of the fishing challenge, Northam, himself an avid fisherman, said he was looking forward to joining the anglers. He and wife Pam were on the lake at 7 a.m. to start the challenge.

Northam used the tour to focus attention on the “exceptional landscapes, wildlife, culture, and environmental stewardship that make this Commonwealth great for residents and visitors alike” and to meet with more than a dozen outdoor recreation business owners and local economic development officials to discuss outdoor recreation, a key driver for Virginia’s economy, contributing nearly $22 billion annually and supporting 197,000 jobs

Earlier this summer the governor announced the creation of an Office of Outdoor Recreation to lead efforts to promote the outdoor recreation industry in Virginia and recruit new outdoor businesses to the Commonwealth.

“Each year millions of Virginians use state parks to pursue their outdoor recreation passions and to appreciate the paramount beauty of the natural resources of the Commonwealth,” said director of the Virginia Department of Conservation and Recreation Clyde Cristman. “We thank Gov. Northam for his commitment to both promoting the benefits of outdoor recreation while moving forward with strategic and forward-thinking actions that protect Virginia’s natural landscapes and environment for future generations.”

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