68 Percent of All Fishing License Holders Do Not Renew

ICAST always does a lot to inspire me. I just can’t be around that many talented industry people without getting fired up about what we’re doing and where we’re going. Once in a while, though, I hear or see something that frightens me.

This year’s scary moment came at the State of the Industry Breakfast on July 15. If you’ve never been to one, it goes something like this. You reserve a large room and fishing industry people pay a hefty sum to eat scrambled eggs and drink coffee and orange juice. While they eat, they pass around business cards to people they see once a year and listen to speeches that run the gamut from mind-numbingly dull to positively electrifying, depending on who’s delivering them.

Somewhere in that mix, I heard this statistic: 68 percent of all fishing license holders do not renew the following year.

Sixty-eight percent!

The number surprised me. Had you asked me after the scrambled eggs, but before the orange juice, I’d have guessed a little under 50 percent — still way too high for my liking, but not nearly as scary.

I immediately started thinking about what that means to a retailer, to a licensing organization and to our industry. It means we are mostly starting over every year — year after year — when we recruit anglers. It means that less than a third of us are good ol’ dependable, died-in-the-wool anglers who are going fishing come hell or high water.

It means that even among anglers, we “avids” are a small minority.

And it changed the way I think about our sport and how we need to approach it as businesspeople.

I must admit I thought that a lot of what we do is to fine-tune and churn what anglers use and buy. We tweak a crankbait, add a new color to the soft plastic lineup, put an extra ball bearing into a spinning reel — all in hopes of triggering a sale or three.

It’s not a terrible approach. I’m sure that the 32 percent — the avids, the perennials — are buying most of the tackle anyway. But maybe we should put more emphasis on recruiting and retention. Maybe we have to think of each angler not like a tree we’re trying to grow but like a frail summer grass that disappears each winter. Sometimes it comes back in the spring … but sometimes it doesn’t. If you want to see it again, you’d better re-seed.

I wonder if we’re doing enough re-seeding. I wonder if we need to adjust our aim a little and zero-in on converting the occasional rather than on tweaking the avids. I certainly don’t want to ignore the hardcore — they’re our base, and you and I are part of that base — but the hardcore are mostly self-inspired and coming back anyway.

I’m imagining a recruiting poster for fishing. Uncle Sam has replaced his blue coat and red bow tie with chest waders and sunglasses (strangely, he still wears the top hat). He’s pointing right at us, and the cutline says, “I want you … to go fishing!”


What’s more patriotic than that?

A rising tide lifts all boats. Let’s be that tide.