Fishing license sales are up nationwide since the COVID-19 outbreak. Many bait and tackle stores are reporting positive traffic and steady sales. Fishing, it seems, has been one of the few approved pandemic activities in most states. The result has been a surge of new anglers and reactivated anglers that are teaching their families to fish.

But how can you encourage those anglers to keep fishing when the world returns to something close to normal? And how can you make sure they return your store?

“I’ve had several men come in and tell me that fishing was always a solo activity for them. Whether the family didn’t have interest or because so many other activities competed with it, they didn’t fish together,” said Scott Rook, manager of Southern Reel in Little Rock, Arkansas. “Since COVID-19, they’ve started fishing as a family. Some are surprised at how much their spouse and kids enjoy it. After this, they may not get to fish alone again,” he laughed.

This brings up an industry-wide question: will families continue to fish together when group and team sports return or will fishing become a top answer when parents ask, “What do you want to do this weekend?”

Several industry organizations are currently stepping up to answer that question.

Online Resources for Retailers

The Recreational Boating and Fishing Foundation (RBFF) is a nonprofit organization whose mission is to increase participation in recreational angling and boating, thereby protecting and restoring the nation’s aquatic natural resources. RBFF has been running a national marketing campaign to grow the sport for more than 20 years. 

“We’ve always provided how-to and where-to information and encouraged people to connect with family and friends to make great memories fishing and boating,” said RBFF President and CEO Frank Peterson. “This year, we had to shift our focus to acknowledge the challenges people are facing in light of COVID-19. The health and well-being of anglers and boaters is RBFF’s top priority, so we’re creating new messaging to inspire newcomers, occasional and lapsed participants alike to make their way to the water this summer in a safe and responsible way. We’re also giving anglers and boaters through our website content, blog and YouTube channel some activities they can do at home.”

RBFF’s Take Me Fishing campaign is geared towards recruiting newcomers to the sport and also offers a wealth of information for first-time anglers and boaters including how-to videos, information on how to get a fishing license and boat registration, and an interactive state-by-state map that allows visitors to find local boating and fishing spots.

“Since the COVID-19 crisis took hold, TakeMeFishing.org has implemented a map to help anglers and boaters navigate state closures and restrictions. We’ve also just introduced our Angler Academy, where kids and families can bring the outdoors indoors with interactive fishing and boating games.

In addition, RBFF in partnership with the National Marine Marketing Association (NMMA), has just announced a summer marketing campaign to help Americans get back out on the water safely and responsibly,” added Peterson.

Peterson says engaging with parents is key to youth participation. “If a child wants to go fishing, but their parents aren’t interested or won’t take them, it’s not likely the activity will catch on. Peterson added that retailers should ask for and collect the parents’ email address when they purchase a license or make a purchase. The retailer should follow up and email helpful information including tips on how to fish and where in the community to go. Research shows families need at least three fishing experiences to get hooked. Set them up for success by providing safe and helpful information they can use on their outings.”

According to Robert Cartlidge, The Bass Federation (TBF) and Student Angler Federation (SAF) National President—two organizations that provide online fishing courses—the demand for fishing related information has certainly increased lately. Federation Angler, is the largest group of fishing, youth and conservation organizations under one roof in North America, including TBF and SAF. Federation Angler hosts hundreds of tournaments for both adults and youth each year. 

In addition to tournaments, Federation Angler owns and operates The Faculty of Fishing (FOF). The Faculty of Fishing is the first and only dedicated online fishing school. The development team behind Faculty of Fishing combined research, expert advice and time-on-the-water experience to offer a comprehensive program to help any freshwater angler catch more and bigger fish. Some schools have been using the online curriculum for home studies for physical education classes and outdoor recreation classes. FOF has seen a significant uptick in traffic and courses taken.

Many schools across the country offer junior high and high school fishing clubs. Children can compete in tournaments and college scholarships are available. Bait and tackle stores should pass along this information to excited new fishing enthusiasts. This new sport children and young adults are learning during COVID-19 could translate into school activities and possible college scholarships when the country finds its new normal.

Increase Your Odds of Retaining New and Reactivated Anglers With This Checklist

  • Gather email addresses or the email addresses of parents.
  • Consider using a service like Constant Contact or MailChimp to manage your database.
  • Follow up with information about local fishing areas as well as entertaining and instructional videos like those provided by RBFF and FOF.
  • Encourage participation in tournaments.