Special Report Spotlight: Youth Participation Over the Decade

From 2011 to 2021, fishing participation increased by more than 6 million people according to the 2022 Special Report on Fishing, and more than one-third of those new participants were youth between the ages of 6 and 17. As adults with children are much more likely to go fishing than their childless peers (21% to 13%), children truly bolster participation in recreational fishing. Here’s how fishing has changed among youths over the last decade (2021 to 2011).


Youth Fishing Participation Trends  

Today, youths (ages 6 to 17) make up nearly a quarter of total fishing participants, with children ages 6 to 12 composing 15% of total participants.


The national participation rate among children ages 6 to 12 has seen a notable increase in the past few years. At the start of the decade in 2011, the participation rate was 23% and remained relatively level until jumping to 29% percent in 2020. Even as pandemic restrictions began to lift and vaccines became more available, this rate remained higher than pre-pandemic levels at 28% in 2021.


As for adolescents (ages 13 to 17), their participation rate has grown from 18% to 24% in the last decade, adding one million participants. Excluding 2020, more teens fished last year than any other year on record.


Breaking Down Participation by Gender

While a participation gap between genders continues to persist across fishing, it has become less pronounced among youth participants. In 2021, participation amongst girls ages 6-12 and 13-17 grew 5% and 10%, respectively, while participation amongst boys of those same ages declined.  


The Leaky Bucket: Youth Participation

The “leaky bucket” model measures the annual churn of fishing participation, both those joining and rejoining the activity compared to those quitting. In 2021, fishing lost 14 million participants while only adding 11.6 million new and returning anglers.


However, the data shows these losses are primarily with adult anglers—children over-index among new participants and under-index among lost participants.  


When mapped out using participation rates by age, the lifecycle of an angler shows a sharp decline in participation amongst young adults, and a steady decrease after age 44. The former has become even more prominent over the past decade, while the latter has become less severe.

Based on this research, a prime opportunity to plug the leaky bucket is to focus on retaining young adults who were involved in fishing during their adolescence. 


Types of Fishing

While freshwater fishing remained the most popular style of fishing amongst youth participants throughout the past decade, fly fishing added almost as many participants as freshwater fishing did during that time. In 2021, one million more children and adolescent went fly fishing than in 2011, as nearly 1 in 4 fly fishing participants were under the age of 18.


Additionally, youth composed 19% of saltwater fishing participants (compared to 16% in 2011) with 2.6 million enjoying the activity in 2021.


Final Thoughts

With more than 8 out of 10 current participants reporting they fished before the age of 12, the Special Report on Fishing shows the importance of introducing fishing at a young age; yet the severe drop in participation after the age of 17 demonstrates the desperate need for the fishing community to better retain young anglers as they transition into adulthood.


Young anglers are the future of fishing, but they must be engaged and nurtured into lifelong participants. To explore tools your organization can use to bolster your retention efforts, visit the RBFF Resource Center.