New Anglers and How to Keep Them Hooked

It’s not exactly a well-kept secret that after a whole year of life on a pandemic planet, many people have changed their habits and attitudes towards the outdoors. Left with little else to do in many cases, more people than ever have engaged with outdoor activities, opening up new demographics and expanding different ones in many market sectors.

Fishing has been at the forefront of that movement with incredible numbers of people either trying fishing for the first time or returning to fishing for the first time in long time over the last year. But now—after the dust has settled on the last crazy year—and it seems as though some kind of normality is returning, we have to ask ourselves as an industry how much do we really know about these new participants? Who are they? What makes them tick? What are their motivations?

In a recent study entitled The New Outdoor Participant (Covid and Beyond) the Outdoor Industry Association (OIA) has set out to answer some of these questions.

Who are new anglers?

The headline results, which have interesting takeaways for any company in the fishing tackle industry, say that people trying new outdoor activities largely chose ones close to their homes and with low barriers to entry (examples include running, walking or cycling). It also discovered that an increase in screen time for many people, which normally leads to a reduction in time spent doing outdoor activities, did not do so last year.

The theory is that outdoor activities replaced things people normally do in their spare time such as shopping, going to bars and restaurants or cinemas. This may seem obvious, but as a business there are things we can do to cater to these findings. As a tackle retailer, what are you doing to remove perceived barriers around fishing for newcomers? Show your local audience that they can go fishing in nearby places and offer them simplicity when it comes to products – try selling more rod and reel sets or offering basic tuition and explanation. You will do no harm to your existing and experienced customers by offering some beginner friendly products and services. 

New faces to fishing

The new outdoor participant that this study uncovered also has a different demographic than the one we are used to in the fishing tackle industry.

Compared to data from a 2019 study, new anglers from 2020 are more likely to be female, have a younger average age of about 45 (compared to 54), are more ethnically diverse(66% white compared to 71%), more likely to live in urban areas (36% compared to 29%) and in a slightly lower income bracket (41% in $100k+ compared to 46%).

Again, all of this can be interpreted into tangible changes you can make within your store or business. Making things more accessible, more affordable and easier to understand are key changes we can all make. One of the main barriers to people surveyed in this work was a lack of information about where to go, how to participate, and whom to participate with – all things that can be offered by the local fishing tackle store. Whether that’s having some simple explanations on posters or your website, or organising beginner days where newbies can fish together under supervision and learn together – there is plenty we can do to retain these new anglers and attract further new ones.

The report has some fishing-specific information within in too. Of those surveyed, about 15% said that fishing was the activity they either started for the first time or returned to during the pandemic. And an impressive 62% of those people said that they were likely to continue doing that activity once the pandemic was over. The report also asked people how much they value certain outdoor activities during the pandemic – fishing scored well here with 39% saying it was important and 32% saying it was enjoyable. 

Retention rumblings

One startling outcome from the study was that about one quarter of new participants questioned said they didn’t want to continue their outdoor activities after normality returns. This brings the retention problem into focus and the OIA has some suggestions about how we can tackle that, which I’ve elaborated on with some fishing-specific thoughts:

  1. Create more outdoor recreation opportunities close to people’s homes – parks and open areas. From a fishing standpoint, this could be done by simply making information on local waters available in your fishing tackle store.
  2. Help new participants make their new activities more social when restrictions allow. For fishing tackle stores, organising some beginner fishing days could be a great way to do this. Two people starting to fish at the same time might well become new fishing friends for life.
  3. Develop programs and services with the specific goal of diversifying the participant base. This is something fishing is already working hard at with examples like the RBFF’s work on communicating to the Hispanic population. You could get involved too by marketing in new channels you wouldn’t normally to show that fishing can be fun for anyone.
  4. Develop strategies for encouraging people to start small. This is a great opportunity to run some workshops to show that fishing can be simple, easy and not stressful. Maybe you could even produce some educational video content for your website or social media to show that fishing can be as simple or as complicated as you want to make it.
  5. Position outdoor recreation as an antidote to the mental health consequences caused by the pandemic, or a method to maintain focus on what is important in life. Most companies in the fishing industry already do this, but perhaps there’s more we could do. Maybe work with a local charity or a local good cause that deals with these issues. We’ve seen Casting For Recovery prove that fishing is great for recovering from the physical and mental turmoil of cancer, so it can work for a great many other problems in modern life too.