Saturday, January 28th, 2023
Saturday, January 28th, 2023

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Sportsmen Since 1967

Recruiting nontraditional anglers

When I started fishing, on the home waters of Illinois and while vacationing to the Wisconsin’s northwoods, fishing seemed like an activity strictly for white males. All the guides and experts fell within that demographic – as were we, the next generation of angling leaders.


That trend has held true into recent years, although with some cracks in the armor.  Along the way, we’ve witnessed women taking up fly fishing in particular, with some becoming successful guides out West and on the saltwater flats.


A series of bass tournament circuits for women, like Bass’n Gal, also propelled some to star status, and it likely inspired more girls to become avid anglers, though the organizations didn’t thrive.


About 10 years ago, fishing participation was declining, for a variety of reasons. Organizations involved with the sport, such as the American Sportfishing Association and the Recreational Boating & Fishing Foundation became naturally concerned, as the sportfishing industry and its millions of jobs depends on strong participation.


They started initiatives known as R3 programs: to recruit new anglers, retain present ones; and reactivate former anglers, often in conjunction with state resource agencies.


Agencies are understandably concerned about lost revenue through license sales, user fees, and federal funds from Wallop-Breaux excise taxes that are based on numbers. Moreover, fewer anglers and hunters tends to mean less involvement and support for conservation, since resource users have been the strongest supporters of efforts to maintain healthy lands and waters for 100 years.


These efforts have shown progress, according to a July 2019 report by RBFF and The Outdoor Foundation of Colorado. It found that African Americans have the most positive view of fishing of any racial minority and that participation by women anglers has grown in the past three years, and has ranged from 15 to 18 million over the last decade. 


But I was most surprised by the dramatic increase in participation by Hispanic anglers. Their anglers numbers hit 4.4 million, more than twice the participation of 10 years ago. Moreover, they tended to be very avid anglers, averaging 22 trips a year, the highest of any ethnic group!


Caucasians were second at 18 trips, followed by African Americans (17), “Other” (14), and Asian (10). A larger percentage of Hispanic anglers were female (37 percent) and young (6 to 17 years old) than other groups, suggesting plenty of potential for growth, especially given the recent increase in the nation’s Hispanic population.


During this research, RBFF personnel have discovered ways to market fishing to non-traditional audiences. They suggest portraying fishing as an activity that’s strongly associated with family, friends, and nature. Images of families having fun make more of an impression, they say, than an angler hoisting a big fish when it comes to persuading people to try fishing.


In due course, of course, participants may become avid trophy seekers, but the important part is getting women and racial minorities to try it. For example, the survey found that 10 percent of female non-anglers had been thinking about trying the sport. Not surprisingly for reaching foreign-born potential anglers, communications in their language are important.


They also found interesting geographic trends. Female participation is highest in the South Atlantic region, followed by the Midwest. 


For Hispanic anglers, by far the highest participation is in the western states. I was surprised by some of these results, which clearly show the changing demographics of the United States, and with it the changing interests and activities of our diverse population. 


I urge readers to encourage and help non-anglers discover this great sport. It can be personally rewarding, as well as benefiting the future of our fisheries and the industry that it supports.

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