Fishing is far from our minds right now, but in a few days we will rediscover why fishing became so popular in 2020.
The Recreational Boating and Fishing Foundation, based in Alexandria, Va., recently released a study that showed millions of new and lapsed anglers took up fishing or resumed fishing in 2020. Particular increases were seen among nontraditional participants, signaling the activities' increasing appeal among new audiences, the report said.
The coronavirus pandemic is the reason, and also the reason why fishing will continue to surge in 2021. Because of unemployment and social distancing mandates due to covid-19, people could fish relatively unhindered, allowing them to spend time outdoors near home and away.
According to the study, new anglers and boaters are younger, more urban and more diverse. They are also highly socially connected.
Common reasons for taking up fishing included canceled vacations and summer plans, more flexible schedules while working from home and inspiration from family and friends.
New anglers overcame a variety of barriers including inexperience, lack of equipment and not having a fishing companion. Those barriers were the basis of the Beginner's Fishing Series that ran in this section last summer.
Survey respondents said the things they like most about fishing and boating nature's serenity, and that fishing contributed to their mental wellness.·
Among boaters, 94% say they'll continue, and among anglers, 90% plan to continue in the future.
Respondents said they were motivated by social connection with loved ones, the challenge of the activities and their connection to nature.
Arkansas demonstrably saw the benefits of accelerated fishing activity in 2020, especially among nonresident anglers. Jennifer Feltz, a human dimensions biologist in the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission's fisheries management division, recently conducted a nonresident angler survey that targeted 4,500 nonresident anglers. The response rate was 35.7%.
The average age of respondents that bought nonresident annual fishing licenses was 52 years old. Fifty-one percent were college graduates, and 99% were white.
The average age of those that bought seven-day trip licenses was 49, and 49% were college graduates. The average age of those that bought three-day trip licenses was 46, and 55% were college graduates. Of seven- and three-day fishing license buyers, 94% were white.
Also, 75% of three-day license buyers live in states that border Arkansas.
Nonresident annual fishing license buyers spent an average of 5.46 nights in Arkansas, and they fished an average of 4.45 days. Also, 49% of annual license buyers fished for trout, and 22% fished for black bass. In contrast, most Arkansas residents target black bass primarily
Seven-day license buyers spent 6.27 nights in Arkansas and 4.88 days fishing, mostly for trout (45%).
Nonresident anglers spent more than $73 million and had a total economic impact of $94 million. They supported 931 jobs and paid $6.6 million in state and local taxes. Most nonresident annual license buyers said they would be willing to spend $376 more per trip, and the seven-day license buyers said they would be willing to spend an extra $487 per trip.
Three-day license buyers invested more in hiring fishing guides and on gear and equipment.
Rob Finley of Mountain Home, part owner of Cranor's Trout Lodge, said that covid took a bite out of the trout fishing business early in the pandemic, but business improved substantially.
"In April, we were down 50 boats, but for the year we were up over 780 boats," Finley said.
Many anglers traveled long distances to fish for trout in Arkansas, Finley said.
"One of the big surprises is that we were pulling more and more people out of Montana and Wyoming," Finley said. "March and April were horrible, but we had a 60-percent increase for the year. And that's just us." Other White River lodges enjoyed superb years, as well, Finley said.
Another notable trend is the popularity of kayaks on the White River, Finley said. Finley said kayakers used to be rare on the White River because the water is so cold, but they are very popular now. That's a new challenge for trout boat pilots because of the thick fog that often blankets the White River. Power boaters and kayakers must be extra vigilant to avoid accidents, but Finley said everybody seems to be sharing the river peacefully.