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Ellis photo - July 31 column

"Ask anyone who spends time on the water this summer and I’m betting they are seeing an increase in boating and fishing," says Chris Ellis. "In my small circle of friends, we certainly are."

Ask anyone who spends time on the water this summer and I’m betting they are seeing an increase in boating and fishing. In my small circle of friends, we certainly are. It is noticeable at the boat ramps, near-capacity parking lots, and even on the shelves of tackle stores. Outdoor recreation in the form of responsible recreation activities, like fishing, only makes perfect sense during this worldwide pandemic.

I received a note from the Recreational Boating & Fishing Foundation (RBFF) on the subject of fishing participation that may help us understand more on the subject. From their 2020 Special Report on Fishing, an Outdoor Foundation and RBFF-produced report now in its 10th year provide insights into demographics, the “leaky bucket,” perceptions of fishing, and more.

“Thanks to the strong improvements in recruitment and reactivation, fishing participation is up again this year,” said RBFF President and CEO Frank Peterson. “Better yet, the key audience segments we feel are tantamount to the future of fishing continue to see gains in overall participation and participation rate.”

Key findings:

  • Participation is up to the highest rate since 2007.
  • 17% of the total U.S. population participated in fishing in 2019.
  • That equates to a total of 50.1 million Americans ages 6 and up.
  • A net increase of more than 700,000 participants.
  • 3.1 million Americans tried fishing for the very first time in 2019, making up 6% of all active participants.
  • Youth participation is up over the last year.
  • Hispanic participation continues to rise — 4.4 million participated in 2019.
  • A participation rate of 12%, the highest ever recorded in the Special Report.
  • Hispanics go on an average of nearly three more trips per year than the general population.
  • Female participation grew to 17.9 million.
  • Third straight year of growth.
  • The gender gap is continuing to close.
  • “Leaky bucket” still an issue.
  • Fishing lost 9.3 million participants in 2019 — a loss of 19% of the 2018 participant base — and nearly double the 5.6 million lost participants in 2017.

Peterson continued, “Despite losing 9.3 million participants, fishing is still making gains. We are pleased with the increases among newcomers and key growth segments but are again reminded of how important effective angler retention efforts are in safeguarding the future of fishing and boating. To that end, we are continually working on ways to keep participants better engaged, including developing programs and resources for our state agency and industry partners, as well as assisting them in developing their own R3 plans.”

I applaud the efforts and the research behind the report and there is some great information in their findings. Who knows, but maybe, just maybe, a bright side of the COVID-19 pandemic might just be a return to more traditional outdoor recreation like hunting and fishing. I, for one, welcome all new and returning members back into our hunting and fishing club with a smile.

One sentence in the report hit home to me — Prioritizing youth participation continues to be a theme in preserving the future of fishing; 91% of currently anglers first participated before the age of 12.

Take a kid fishing.

Chris Ellis is a veteran of the outdoors industry. He is a lifelong outdoorsman who has pursued his passion all over the world; however, he prefers to hunt on his hillside farm in West Virginia. Contact him at

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