By now it’s been well established that a lot of new anglers took to the water in 2020. During a challenging year, many Americans turned to fishing to have fun in a safe, outdoor environment. But you don’t have to take my word for it. Let’s explore some fishing license sales records, which Southwick Associates collects and analyzes on a regular basis as part of a partnership with several state agencies and nonprofits.
Based on 24 states that have provided license data as part of this effort, fishing participation was up 13% nationwide in 2020 over 2019 levels. While that figure is impressive, the number of newly recruited anglers was up an astounding 36% in 2020! To put that into perspective, more than 30% of those who went fishing in 2020 were newly recruited anglers. We define a “newly recruited” angler as someone who bought a fishing license in 2020 but who had not purchased one in any of the previous five years. So, while these are not all first-time anglers, they are people who decided to fish in 2020 after not doing so in previous years. Research from the Recreational Boating and Fishing Foundation (RBFF) indicates that 4.4 million anglers went fishing for the very first time in 2020. The remaining new recruits came back to the sport after taking many years off.
What do these new anglers look like? Well, they don’t necessarily resemble what we’ve come to think of as “typical” fishermen (white, middle-aged men). Nearly a third of the anglers recruited in 2020 were female. Female participation in fishing was up 21% in 2020 over 2019. According to the RBFF, 19.7 million women went fishing that year.
There was also a more diverse group than what we’re used to seeing on the water in 2020. In all, 4.8 million Hispanic anglers wet a line in 2020, along with more than 3.1 million African-American anglers, according to RBFF.
Newly recruited anglers were also younger than the overall sportfishing community. Eighteen- to 24-year-olds comprised 20% of recruited anglers in 2020, despite making up just 13.5% of all fishing participants. Fishing participation is up 19% among this group in 2020 compared to 2019. In many states, anglers younger than 18 are not required to hold a fishing license to fish. But according to RBFF, 13.5 million anglers aged 13-17 fished in 2020, showing the highest rate of participation since 2007, according to RBFF.
The statistics above suggest that sportfishing appealed to a broader and more diverse audience in 2020 than in previous years. The question of why really isn’t that important. Yes, it’s likely that many of the people who fished in 2020 did so at least in part because they did not have as many recreational options as in a normal year. With restaurants, movie theaters, and countless other businesses closed for at least part of the year due to the pandemic, many people turned to outdoor recreation as an alternative. The key point is that the sportfishing industry has a tremendous opportunity to convert these new anglers into lifelong participants. How can that be accomplished?
New anglers are only going to remain in the sport if they have fun and find some success. Although success doesn’t mean the same thing to every angler, at the end of the day they all want to catch a fish.
We recommend sharing as much advice on fishing technique as possible with new anglers. Engage with them, and make sure you are answering their questions. This can be done at your shop, through regular face-to-face interactions, or even classes and clinics. You might also consider creating digital content (FAQs, instructional videos, etc.) to share on your website as another path to engage new anglers. Social media is yet another easy and effective way to interact with both your new and longtime customers on a regular basis. No matter how you go about it, engaging, entertaining, and educating new anglers is a great way to ensure that they keep fishing and remain loyal to your business.
As always, there is much more information available on new anglers and the greater fishing tackle market than can be shared here. To learn more about the tackle market via detailed market reports, or to gain custom research to help your business grow, please visit Southwick Associates.com.
Editor’s Note: This article initially appeared in the September 2021 issue of Fishing Tackle Retailer.
Ben Scuderi is a Senior Research Analyst at Southwick Associates, a market research and economics firm, specializing in the hunting, shooting, sportfishing, and outdoor recreation markets. For more than 30 years, Southwick Associates has helped the private sector and natural resource agencies make better decisions.