Is Sportfishing Ready for a New Generation?

Peyton Manning won’t enjoy it. Michael Jordan can’t have it. It’s the hallmark of the game we call sportfishing. And make no mistake … it is a game. Fishing is a game you play against nature, against other people, against yourself. But unlike professional football or basketball or almost any other stick-and-ball sport, most fishermen never truly have to retire. Fishing is a lifelong sport. That is its gift.

A professional bass fishing career can last, on some level, from your teens for the rest of your life. Don’t believe me? Ask Rick Clunn or Denny Brauer or Guy Eaker. Go to YouTube and find Bill Dance and Jimmy Houston and Hank Parker. Here, in our industry, the legends live on. Maybe their stars don’t always shine as brightly as often, but they shine. They’re there in the ever growing constellations of sportfishing’s sky. And there, they may always be.

Yes, fishing is a lifelong gift. Research shows that most adult anglers started when they were kids. They grew up putting shrimp or crickets or shiners on a line and casting it into the unknown depths. Most likely, they grew up walking the banks of a local farm pond or inlet with someone in their family. Most likely, they grew a little taller and picked up a few friends to bring with them along the way.

Many of those kids are now Rick Clunn’s age (70); many more are Kevin Van Dam’s age (48). But fewer and fewer are my age (28). That’s not conjecture. That’s a fact. Even as the sportfishing industry is enjoying a resurgence thanks to lower fuel prices and a growing disposable income among its primary audience, the average age of that audience is increasing. It’s no secret. The American Sportfishing Association (ASA) will tell you that.

But the ASA also tells you that it’s long past time for a discussion to begin about the problem. It seems incredible to believe that people in their 40s, 50s and 60s enjoy fishing more than people in their teens, 20s and 30s. The fun factor hasn’t changed.

What has changed is the way younger generations spend their time. For decades, the popular narrative from baby boomers seemed to point towards technology and video games as the downfall of outdoor activities. Generation X got sick of hearing it; millennials have done the same. But it is possible that the boomers had a point. Perhaps the decline in young anglers is due to technology, but there are two sides to that story.

Studies say that 61 percent of them find technology to be de-humanizing. Those same studies also suggest that millennials are the least excited about technology of any generation. As technology oversaturates our daily lives, will millennials reject its invasive creep and fight back? Studies suggest they will.

If they do, will sportfishing be there to take advantage of the solitude they seek? It certainly should be, because fishing is one game anyone can play alone. And it’s a game that can last a lifetime.