Ending Angler Churn in 2023

As we kick off 2023, many professionals may be setting new goals, trying new tactics or taking on new projects. But for the fishing and boating industry, keeping the same record-setting wave of participants actively fishing should be a top priority.


As the 2022 Special Report on Fishing highlights, fishing participation in the U.S. has been on a steady incline over the past decade, with the COVID pandemic spurring a significant additional jump. In 2021, 52.4 million Americans ages six years and older went fishing. While that number was slightly lower than the previous year (54.7 million), it was still higher than in pre-COVID years, making 2020 and 2021 consecutive years with the highest participation numbers yet on record.


The increase in individuals picking up a rod can be seen across demographics, not just the stereotypical male population. The number of women who fish has increased by 16 percent over the past five years. Even more impressive, Hispanic fishing participation has increased by 24 percent since 2016. Children ages 6 to 12 compose the fastest-growing age demographic of those who cast a line.


Retaining these additional active anglers will be critical to the success of the fishing industry this year and beyond.


The Special Report highlights this challenge through its ‘leaky bucket’ analysis – a breakdown of how many joined or returned to fishing compared to those who quit. In 2021, 11.7 million individuals tried for the first time or returned to fishing, while 14 million were lost. These numbers are significant because they showcase that the activity still struggles with losing more individuals than it is bringing in.


At the end of 2020, RBFF and Ipsos conducted a study to help determine who dropped out of fishing and boating and what the best tactics were to retain them.


Lost participants range from newcomers to long-time anglers and boaters. They tend to be older, wealthier, and more educated. When asked why individuals stopped fishing and boating, reasons include lack of enjoyment, insufficient time, limited access to waterways and interest in other activities such as jogging, biking, or hiking. In addition, women tend to stop fishing at a higher rate than men due to added barriers such as stereotyping, disrespect, and under-representation.


As pandemic restrictions have been lifted, the battle for Americans’ time and money has returned in full force. A consistent, directed effort to retain active anglers and boaters will be necessary to combat an increase in competition. The fishing and boating industry now needs to strengthen its efforts to keep those who picked up a rod last year on the water in 2023. How can the industry do this?

  • Present fishing and boating as welcoming, inclusive activities for all audiences – Rising audiences such as Hispanics and females offer a significant opportunity for growth and retention. Removing barriers that turn off women and creating a welcoming environment through marketing and community opportunities can ensure that women and Hispanics get out on the water and stick with the activity long-term.
  • Highlight the mental and health benefits of a day out on the water – Audiences will need to be reminded of the benefits they gained from time in nature and with family while fishing or boating. Continuously reminding people of the benefits of ‘unwinding’ amid the fast pace of life can keep being on the water relevant in a non-pandemic world and keep anglers on the water.
  • Make fishing and boating convenient and accessible –Embedding RBFF’s Places to Boat and Fish Map onto your website can help your audience find close and convenient locations to get on the water, and programs like Mobile First Catch Centers bring fishing, boating and conservation education to underserved communities.