Stats and Memories

We’re a couple of weeks past ICAST, and I’m still fixated on the Industry Breakfast I wrote about last time. No, the food wasn’t that good, but the event was interesting in a way that a lot of those functions usually aren’t. The thing I liked most was the stat sheets on every table from the Recreational Boating & Fishing Foundation.

One side had “Year in Review.” The other was “Top Learnings.” Since I know what “Year in Review” means, I focused my attention on “Top Learnings.” (Hopelessly awkward titles draw me in. I guess that’s an occupational hazard for editors.)

In particular, I kept looking at three numbers — 85 percent, 72.4 percent and 66.8 percent.

The first (85 percent) refers to the percentage of adult anglers that fished when they were kids (before the age of 12). The second and third numbers refer to the motivation that sends young people out fishing. For the great majority (72.4 percent of those aged 6-12 and 66.8 percent of those 13-17) spending time with family and friends is the main reason to go fishing.

I think those numbers are important to retailers and manufacturers, publishers and membership groups and anyone else trying to make a living in the fishing industry because they tell us a lot of what we need to know about feeding the angler pipeline.

First, they tell us that if we don’t get them early (probably 12 or younger), we’re unlikely to get them at all. Only 15 percent of adult anglers had no fishing experience before they were 12. Apparently, fishing is not a sport with a lot of adult self-starters. It’s too complicated … or at least it’s perceived as too complicated.

Second, those numbers tell us that the majority of young people who fish, do so to be around friends and family. That makes sense on a lot of levels. For most of us, our earliest heroes are our fathers, mothers and grandparents. If they fish, we want to do it, too. It’s also true that young people need the guidance of older anglers to get started in the sport. Someone has to teach them. Someone has to take them.

As B.A.S.S. founder Ray Scott wrote in 1968, “Kids don’t go fishing — they are carried fishing.”

It’s just as true nearly 50 years later.

When I see numbers like those above, I tend to apply them to my own experience. It’s a personal litmus test of their accuracy and value.

Young Ken Duke + Chuck Taylors

When I was a kid, growing up in south Florida, no one in my family fished other than my maternal grandfather. He was a fly fisherman who lived in Birmingham and waded the creeks of Alabama for panfish and the occasional bass. He fished, and I wanted to do it, too. Fortunately, he and my parents made it happen. They “carried” me fishing and indulged my interest in the sport.

I had a passion for it. Before I was a teen, I was fishing long days by myself, walking the banks of Miami canals or casting in ponds on summer vacations. A lot of those days, I never got a bite, but I was learning and loving it. Most kids aren’t that excited about any one thing.

And I was lucky. Even though my parents didn’t care for fishing (my dad would fish only if they were fighting to get on the hook and my mom prefers eating fish to catching them), they made sure I had the opportunity to go. I was also fortunate to live in Florida, where good fishing water of some kind is seldom more than a cast away.

I didn’t fish to spend time with family and friends. I fished because I loved it. If family and friends wanted to come along, that was nice but hardly essential. I’d see them later at home or school. In that sense, maybe I was different from most of today’s young anglers.

But the stats still ring true. Eighty-five percent of adult anglers fished before they were 12 years old. More than two-thirds of young anglers go fishing to spend time with family and friends.

What are you doing about that, and what can be done about that? Should you package rod and reel combos to encourage parents to take their kids fishing? For every high-end baitcaster you sell, should you give away a spincast combo? Should you create complete tackle packs that take some of the guesswork out of gear selection for beginners? Should you sponsor youth fishing programs or team up with the local fisheries office to support their youth efforts?

Yeah, you probably should.

And you should check out the efforts and programs of organizations like KeepAmericaFishing,, the Recreational Boating & Fishing Foundation, Hooked on Fishing Not on Drugs and others to see what they’re doing and how you can get involved — how you can support them and how they can support you.

I’m not suggesting you do it because it’s the “right” thing to do or because it’ll give you the “warm fuzzies” … although it is and it might. I’m suggesting you do it because it’s good business, because you need to do it and because if you don’t do it it’s going to cost you in the long run.

The numbers are staring us in the face. If we don’t get young people fishing early, they won’t be fishing later — when they have jobs and money to spend.

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