Gone fishing? More Americans did in ’09

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, March 24, 2010

MONTGOMERY (AP) — At a time when the economy has shaken big-time sports from the PGA to the NFL, the low-key pastime of fishing has enjoyed a quiet resurgence.

A pair of recent studies indicate that families have been turning to fishing, which can be as simple as standing on the shore with a rod and reel, as a good way to spend time together without wrecking the household budget.

A report commissioned by The Outdoor Foundation found that, in a decade during which the number of anglers generally dropped, 2009 bucked the trend and saw an increase of 1.6 percent or 630,000 participants. A separate study found one of the largest bumps since the 1970s in fishing license purchases, based on a 12-state index.

Tim Bodine owns a painting and wallpaper business in Saint Charles, Mo., but he only worked 42 days last year. That meant he had the time to pull his young son out of preschool.

“I stayed at home with him and said ‘What are we going to do? Well, let’s go fishing,'” he said.

Americans already fish in big numbers (almost 41 million, according to the Outdoor Foundation), but the sport has been declining among young people.

“The most exciting thing that happened out of this whole economic nightmare that we’re in is fishing license sales nationwide have gone up,” said Skeet Reese, one of the country’s top professional anglers.

“For a family experience, people can’t travel, they can’t go to Disneyland, they can’t go to Mexico. They can’t afford to go to these places, so they go, ‘Let’s just go camping this weekend.'”

And fishing.

A Southwick Associates study reported a 4.7 percent increase in fishing license sales in 2009, based on a 12-state index — though previous studies had been based on all 50 states. Eight of the states included in the survey, ranging from Florida to New Jersey, had sales increases from the previous year, said Rob Southwick, an economist who specializes in wildlife and environmental consulting.

Mike Nussman, president and CEO of the American Sportsfishing Association, is pragmatic about the boost in fishing amid tough times.

“I think it’s always good to remind people of activities that they enjoy, so that certainly is a positive for us,” said Nussman, whose group commissioned the fishing license study along with the Recreational Boating & Fishing Foundation. “I certainly anticipate some of this will carry on.

“Is it going to last forever? Certainly I wouldn’t say that, but I think it resets where we are as a nation in regard to this particular activity. It can remind you of the enjoyment you can have with your family and your friends.”

David Matagiese runs classes and clinics on fishing as the education director for the International Game Fish Association.

“We’ve seen a fairly large surge in single mothers who are trying to get their kids out fishing,” Matagiese said. “To do real basic fishing, fishing from the shoreline, it’s fairly cheap. All you need is a rod and reel, find some water; bait’s easy to come by.”

Matagiese said companies have taken a hit on higher-end tackle sales and focused on pitching more modestly priced equipment instead to casual hobbyists.

“At places like Wal-Mart, you see a little bit nicer rod-and-reel combo for $40 or $50 where normally that store would be pushing an $80 combo,” he said.

The biggest dip in fishing in recent years had come among youth. The Outdoor Foundation’s study found that 22.7 percent of kids aged 6 to 17 fished in 2008, down from 30.7 percent in 2006. The figures haven’t been compiled yet for 2009.

There have been localized efforts to slow that downward trend.

The Illinois High School Athletic Association expects to have 231 schools field bass fishing teams this year, said IHSA assistant executive director Dave Gannaway. He said 2,496 students and 198 of the 700 IHSA schools participated in the first year the organization sponsored the sport, which was 2009.

A group in Alabama is trying to coax the Alabama High School Athletic Association to follow suit. The Alabama High School Bass Fishing Club Tournament Series held its first tournament this month. Organizer Tim Tidwell said 32 competitors from 10 schools from as far as suburban Montgomery — about three hours away — participated.

Frank Peterson, head of the Recreational Boating & Fishing Foundation, said that until the mid-1990s the number of people fishing typically grew in close proportion to the population. His group spearheads a campaign to promote fishing, including the Web site www.TakeMeFishing.org, which provides tips on the sport and links for getting licenses in different states.

Peterson cites factors such as technology offering more entertainment options, and noted that some families have less spare time because of households with single parents or both parents working.

“I think maybe more people are trying to simplify their lives and find ways for relaxing, stress relief, and family fun,” he said. “I think fishing provides all of that.”

Missouri’s Bodine even started a Facebook page — “The economy tanked so I might as well go fishing” — after business slowed down. In his state, fishing licenses cost $12.

“If you’ve got fishing in your blood, you’re going to do it,” he said. “It is cheap and it’s easy.”