Utah anglers will likely be paying $2 more for the pleasure of dipping a line in state creeks and ponds come 2003.

The Natural Resources Appropriations Committee Wednesday approved the fee increase, which if approved by the entire Legislature, would raise the price of a fishing license to $26.

The increase met little opposition. Most sportsmen lined up in support of the increase inasmuch as the revenue generated would go to improve fisheries and create urban fishing ponds to get youngsters hooked on the sport.

"Angling in Utah is one of the best things going," said Jim Carter of the Strawberry Anglers Association. "We are being discovered. Angling is going to be growing and growing."

Only a couple of people, including the manager of a sporting goods store, opposed the increase, saying his customers complain every time the state passes along increases. But even he agreed that anglers stand to benefit from the two programs that would be funded by the increase.

Byron Gunderson, president of Fish Tech in Salt Lake City, summed up the feelings of most when he said youngsters need to be exposed to fishing before age 14 or they don't usually take to the sport later in life.

The fee increase would raise more than $1 million a year.

Over the past decade, lawmakers have been reluctant to raise any taxes, but they have consistently raised user fees under the philosophy that those who use a service should pay for it. But lawmakers have no illusions they will escape the fee increase unscathed politically.

"I am going to get hammered in my neighborhood for supporting a fishing license fee increase," said Rep. Fred Fife, D-Salt Lake.

E-mail: donna@desnews.com