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A 2022 Report on Fishing Participation Shows Participation Remains Above Pre-Pandemic Numbers

The 12th iteration of the report shows that fishing participation across the board has dropped below pandemic numbers but remains at a high compared to 2019.

The 2022 Special Report on Fishing from The Outdoor Foundation and the Recreational Boating and Fishing Foundation was released with the fishing participation numbers in the United States for 2021, showing a slight decrease in participation from 2020.

Research shows that 17 percent of the U.S. population ages six and up went fishing at least once during 2021. This is one percent less than in 2020 but still 2.3 million more people than the pre-pandemic numbers in 2019.

The pandemic in 2020 locked down indoor activities and had people changing gears to find ways to get outside in a safe way, boosting outdoor activity participation numbers across the board.

“It seems like the participation increases are sticking around, and that is what we are interested in, and that is going to be really important for boating and fishing to find out if the increases in participation that happened because of Covid are going to stick around once Covid is gone,” said Outdoor Industry Association’s Research Director, Kelly Davis.

The research was then broken down by category to gauge the type of fishing people participated in and who participated. The study kept track of age, ethnicity, gender, education, and income to better understand what makes up the U.S. fishing community.

The report collects the participation data for recreational fishing throughout the United States. It tracks the trends of who is participating in the sport, allowing companies to better understand how the market has changed and could potentially change in the future.

“It is important to understand how big your market is,” said Davis. “You need to be able to understand what is going on with your participant base. Is it growing, is it shrinking? What are the demographics of the participant base? Considering, for instance, the accelerating diversification of the U.S. demographic. It would be really important to know if your participation base is not matching the diversity of the current demographic, especially if it is accelerating, and you need to know if people are dropping out of what you are selling into.”

To conduct the study, there were 18,000 online interviews conducted throughout 2021 from a nationwide sample from online panels representing the U.S. population.

There were two parts to the study. First, the online surveys which included over 122 outdoor activities, and then the OIA went back and did a supplemental survey of people who said they participated in fishing.

“Once we get the data from that, then for the RBFF custom study, we go back and survey supplementally, a supplemental survey. We did survey people who said they did participate in activities we were interested in for the report,” said Davis.

The three types of fishing the study covered were saltwater, freshwater, flyfishing, and variations of those three.

The study found that in 2021:

  • 62 percent of anglers only fished freshwater
  • 13 percent only fished saltwater
  • 10 percent fished both
  • 7 percent participated in fly fishing
  • 4 percent fished freshwater and did fly fishing
  • 3 percent did all three
  • 1 percent fished saltwater and did fly fishing.

Even though fishing participation numbers dropped by a small margin, anglers in the 6-17 age group and the 55 and over age group continued to grow, with one in four participating in the sport compared to the one in five number from previous years.

There were 19.4 million women who fished in 2021, which is the second-highest number since participation tracking began 15 years ago. Participation increased to 37 percent, up five percent from 2010.

There was a 3.7 million increase in first-time participants, and 8 million people returned to the sport in the same year.

For saltwater fishing, the popularity remains centered on coastal areas like here, in Southern California. On the west coast, 15 percent of the 13.8 million people who participated in saltwater fishing did it here.

The numbers have fallen slightly below pandemic numbers as we readjust to post-pandemic life, but so far, it looks like the popularity of the sport will continue to hold.

To read the full study, see

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