Thursday, March 09, 2006

Fishing's Worrisome Problem: Small Fry Aren't Biting
By Hugo Martin, Los Angeles TimesFebruary 22, 2006
LONG BEACH, Calif.
The bright yellow and gray fishing lines perform slow-motion shimmies in midair before whipping out onto a shallow pond in front of the clubhouse of the Long Beach Casting Club.


It’s early evening, and overhead stadium lights illuminate half a dozen middle-aged and elderly anglers practicing fly casts. The light gives the dancing lines a magical glow.
Former club president Jeff Sadler stands on the porch of the Craftsman-style clubhouse and points out the obvious: "The occupation of the average member is ‘retired.’"
Inside the clubhouse, where a fly-tying class is in session, the demographics aren’t much different. Seth Averill Murphy, 11, is the only youth among two dozen or so adults hunched over wooden tables, wrapping thread and feathers around insect-size hooks.
It’s also a common scene at lakes, streams and ponds. Fishing is losing its appeal to America’s youngsters. As a result, the sport is foundering, dropping in popularity behind bowling and working out at the gym.

Fishing once was a venerable pastime, passed on from father to son and grandfather to grandson. Today, desperate lake operators, fishing clubs and tackle manufacturers are funding youth fishing programs in a losing effort to reel in the next generation of anglers.
Blame the 70-hour workweek and the proliferation of two-income households, trends that cut into fishing time. Blame after-school activities and part-time jobs that keep youngsters away from the serene sport. And blame teens who are bored by the prospect of landing a bigmouth bass from a secluded lake cove or hooking a feisty brown trout from a rock-lined creek in the Eastern Sierra.

"What’s going on? You name it, it’s going on," said Mike Nussman, president of the American Sportfishing Association, a Virginia-based trade group that funds several programs for young anglers. "Look at the way people live their lives these days. There is tremendous competition for their time."

At the Long Beach pond, Sadler, a retired computer processor with salt-and-pepper hair, watches the graceful casts and recalls how his father and grandfather taught him to fly-fish in the lakes and streams near his boyhood home in Kansas.
But when Sadler became a father, he said, he couldn’t pass his love of fishing on to his son, who preferred fast-paced pursuits like water skiing and mountain biking.
"Fishing never came up high on his list," Sadler said.

President Hoover once described fishing as "the great occasion when we can return to the fine simplicity of our forefathers." Norman Rockwell memorialized fishing with paintings that depict a doting father, a fishing cap on his head and a pole in his hand, teaching his eager son to fish.
But after a boom in popularity in the four decades following World War II, sport fishing began to fall out of favor, according to surveys and fishing license sales.

A 2004 survey by the National Sporting Goods Association found that participation in fishing dropped 10 percent from 1994 to 2004 and was surpassed in popularity for the first time by camping, bowling and exercising with gym equipment.

In 1994, 45.7 million Americans said they fished at least once. That number dropped to 41.2 million in 2004, according to the survey. By comparison, 52.2 million Americans said they worked out with gym equipment in 2004 and 43.8 million bowled that year, the survey found.
Freshwater fishing, the sport in which most youngsters learn the basic skills, has suffered the steepest decline, while saltwater fishing has remained relatively stable. Fishing conditions ebb and flow each year, and industry officials say there is no proof that the sport’s decline is due to a lack of fish.

Some anglers secretly celebrate the sport’s decline, rejoicing in the smaller crowds they encounter at the best fishing spots. But fishing clubs and park rangers warn that the long-term effects on the sport could be devastating.

A drop in fishing license revenue and tackle sales means less funding for government-run habitat restoration programs and state hatcheries that stock lakes and streams. Sport fishing, a $116 billion industry, is also the economic engine that sustains many small towns in California’s Eastern Sierra.

The decline has varied from state to state. California, second only to Florida in generating retail sales and tax revenues from fishing, has had one of the steepest declines, with license sales dropping 15 percent from 1994 to 2004.
Fewer anglers also means fewer outdoor activists.

"People who fish care for their lakes and streams," said Bob Wiltshire of the Federation of Fly Fishers, a Montana-based nonprofit group. "We will lose that direct connection."
And then there are the social consequences of the decline. Surveys show that the top two reasons people fish are to have fun and to spend time with family and friends. Catching a fish is near the bottom of the list. Fishing, then, is a social event, a family bonding experience that is on the wane.

In hopes of drawing young people back, fishing groups, lake operators and park rangers are sponsoring free children’s fishing clinics and fishing gear loan programs, among other activities.
At Lake Casitas, 80 miles north of Los Angeles, lake manager Brian Roney and his staff try to entice youngsters each year with a Kids’ Fishing Day. The event includes a casting contest, fishing lessons, raffles and a free hot dog lunch.

Despite the declining numbers, most youngsters are not averse to picking up a rod and reel if given the chance, said Mark Damian Duda, executive director of Responsive Management, a Virginia-based survey research firm that has conducted studies on sport fishing’s decline. The problem, he said, is that parents and children have such busy schedules that few have time for fishing.

"A lot of kids want to fish and want to be with parents," he said. But "without Dad grabbing them and saying ‘Let’s go fishing,’ it’s not going to happen."
But Duda’s research also finds that a segment of youngsters — about 20 percent of those polled — say they don’t fish because they consider it a bore.
This attitude may explain why other outdoor activities, such as camping and hiking, continue to grow in popularity while fishing declines. Lake operators and club leaders wonder if fishing’s methodical pace is too slow for today’s multi-tasking youngsters.
Such a theory rings true to Jill Grigsby, a Pomona College sociology professor and expert on families and population trends.

"Today’s young people grew up with a lot of stimulation and seeing images that appear on the screen for only a couple of seconds, and that is not the way fishing works," she said. "Fishing requires a great deal of patience."

Inside the wood-paneled clubhouse at the Long Beach Casting Club, Seth Averill Murphy is the embodiment of hope for a sport that is aging out. The 11-year-old sits in the front row at the fly-tying class as a gray-haired man with bifocals shows how to tie copper-colored thread and peacock and pheasant feathers around tiny hooks. Seth’s tongue arches out of his mouth as he concentrates on his work in progress, a fly called a pheasant tail nymph.

His father, a high school art teacher from Los Angeles, is a longtime club member. But Seth said he asked his father to bring him to the class because he fell in love with fly fishing after a family vacation in Utah a couple of years ago. He was enthralled, he said, when he first duped a trout into striking a fly he had created by hand.

Seth is like many children his age. He plays soccer and swims at school. He has a PlayStation 2 at home and a GameBoy in his pocket. But he said no computer game compares with the thrill of catching a thrashing fish, its weight drawing in line and bending the pole.
"I have a friend who might like to try fishing," he said, looking up from his nearly completed fly. "I think I can teach him."

But when the fly-tying class resumed the next week, Seth was again the only youngster in the room.

37 Comments:

Blogger john montana said...

interesting read J. I posted a link to westfly, hope you don't mind.

i hadn't really thought about this at all, as fishing seems so alive and well due to the circles I travel in and my own passions. I take elia out all the time, and a selfish part of me really wants her to take to fishing so that i can spend time doing what i love with who i love. while I enjoy the solitude of fishing, it is nice to share the sights and sounds we come across. i look forward to our annual spring MN trip more and more each year for that reason, and hope that someday soon elia and james will eagerly accompany us to the limestone creeks and valleys of SE Minnesota. we might even catch a fish or two.

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Blogger MN Justin said...

I'm glad you posted this on Westfly... I saw via Sitemeter that a lot of folks read it, which is good.

The big question is: fewer anglers good or bad? Some would say good, as it means more resource and better experience for those who are out there... others would say bad, as it means fewer folks who care about the resource, and thus fewer people and dollars to protect and enhance our lakes and streams.

As for our trip - it's always a highlight of my year. I can't wait to see the little ones tagging along...

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