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Fishing participation in US dips after 2020 boom


It’s common knowledge that in 2020 the COVID pandemic sparked the single largest increase in fishing participation. Newcomers and returnees took advantage of the perfect opportunity to isolate – and the tackle industry boomed. But what happened the following year?

Southwick Associates has the answer, at least in the US. The research company collects licence sales data from state agencies on behalf of the American Sportfishing Association (ASA) and the Recreational Boating and Fishing Foundation (RBFF).

And it reveals that while numbers grew approximately 14% in 2020, the largest single year increase in 30 years of tracking, people purchasing fishing licences in 2021 declined by 6%.

Despite the drop, the US still had higher levels of anglers than it had seen in years. It was inevitable that some 2020 anglers would not return, says Southwick, but the net result is that licence sales are still well above their 2019, pre-pandemic levels.

And that is still good news for manufacturers and retailers, with a larger pool of anglers providing a better sales environment than two years ago.

Probably the best news in 2021, points out Southwick, was the continued high level of first-time licence buyers. While the 31% increase in these first-timers in 2020 dropped in 2021, there were still 10% more people entering fishing than in 2019 and prior.

What does this all mean for tackle sales? Well, the news is even better reports Southwick. In addition to the benefit of newcomers, regular customers fished more often, and average annual spend increased significantly.

The outcome was that tackle sales in the US increased by nearly 50% in 2020. Figures for 2021 will not be available from Southwick until early summer, but given the current trends and data there is surely reason for optimism.

“It is incumbent upon us [the industry] to properly welcome and serve these new anglers if we are to maintain and grow business,” says Southwick, while urging retailers to identify these new, often hesitant, customers when they enter your store.

“Talk to them about their experience and the methods, gear and bait used. Try to help them catch more fish next time. If we all do this, our future will grow even brighter.”

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