In a year marked by instability, families nationwide increasingly found time to connect by picking up a rod and reel. Research conducted by the Recreational Boating and Fishing Foundation found that fishing promotes wellness, fosters bond with family members, and forges a deep connection with nature that many Americans strive to achieve together.
Across lakes, rivers, streams, and seas; from shore and aboard boats; 54.5 million Americans (ages 6+) went fishing in 2022 – a four percent increase from 2021. This is all just slightly below the records set in 2020 when Americans took to fishing in masse as a safe, outdoor pandemic activity. (To note, the 2022 figures still outpaced the pre-COVID participation in 2019.)
While the overall participation numbers are good news, we have our work cut out to continue welcoming youth to the sport. After this COVID bump in 2020, fishing’s national participation rate among children ages 6 to 12 dipped to one percentage point in 2021, then another in 2022. This is the wrong direction. On the brighter side, participant numbers grew by 3 percent to 7.8 million child participants, over one million higher than a decade ago.
As with younger children, fishing’s national participation rate among teens (children ages 13 to 17) also fell a percentage point in 2022. Actual participant numbers increased slightly to 4.9 million but remained above the 2019 level of 4.3 million. This represents an average annual increase of 6 percent in adolescent participation between 2019 and 2022.
However, the kids who are going fishing are going more often. Total annual outings among children 6 to 12 have increased five percent to 105 million in 2022, the second highest level on record. That is a lot of kids fishing! It is the teens who are falling off. Not only were children more likely than adolescents to say they wanted to fish more, but outings among adolescents also fell two percent to 82 million.
Engagement of youth anglers reaches across family ties. Adults with children, particularly younger children, participated in fishing at much higher levels than adults without children. In fact, over the past three years, the participation rate in households with children ages 6 to 12 and adolescents ages 13 to 17 reported annual growth averaging 6 percent and 5 percent, respectively. Comparatively, participation in households with no children grew by only 3 percent during the same period.
The fad catches on, and kids see their friends take to the water. Fifteen percent of non-participating American youths ages 6 to 17 expressed interest in fishing in 2022, up from 11 percent in 2020. However, fewer Black and Hispanic children and adolescents expressed an interest in fishing than participated in 2021, underscoring the need for expanded outreach to engage underrepresented populations. All the kids are waiting for an invitation, which is where we come in.
The momentum exists, we need to capitalize on it. Hispanic participation rose from 4.7 million in 2021 to 5.1 million in 2022, and women’s participation approached the pandemic/2020 all-time high, representing 36 percent of total anglers.
The data underscores the importance of introducing fishing early, as 86 percent of current fishing participants fished before age 12. Participation rates fall sharply after a child turns eighteen, making families with young children the key to growing future participation.
RBFF is at the helm of these efforts. By understanding participants’ demographics, motivations, and barriers, the entire fishing industry can better nurture a new generation of fishing enthusiasts while retaining those new to the sport. Connecting women, youth, and people of color to fishing will ensure that our nation’s waterways are protected, our communities are healthy, and our industry is thriving.