Most who fish started as children younger than 12. That's confirmed by a "2015 Special Report on Fishing" from the Recreational Boating and Fishing Foundation that pegs the number at "more than 85 percent."
More often than not, a parent, grandparent, or some other relative took them, not once but regularly. They developed passion for the sport because it was fun, as well as a challenge. It was a connection to a mysterious underwater world inhabited by wondrous creatures. But they also embraced it because they shared those experiences with loved ones and, over time, wonderful memories accumulated.
Of course, there are exceptions, and I am one of them. No one in my family fished. But at age 8, I went with my Cub Scouts pack on outing to a farm pond. I didn't catch a fish, but I was hooked for life. Two years later, we moved to a subdivision near a small lake, and the first thing on my wish list that Christmas was a rod-and-reel set that I saw in a comic book ad. I can't help but wonder, though, if I would have found my way to fishing if we had not made that move. And what about other kids on other Cubs Scouts trips who never had a second opportunity to wet a line?
On the other hand, I made it a point to take my nieces fishing when they were young, yet none of them have much interest in the sport today. Either we embrace the sport, or we don't, for a myriad of reasons. But the more opportunities that we provide for participation, the better the future of fishing will be for all of us. As the study suggests, starting when kids are young is the best strategy. But we're also finding other ways, including high school and college fishing programs, such as those sponsored by B.A.S.S., and how-to classes, such as the Discover Nature series offered by the Missouri Department of Conservation. These activities benefit not just children who grew up fishing with family but those like me, who hunger for mentors to fish with them and share their knowledge of the sport.
And I'm not just saying that. The report reveals that 4.3 million kids want to try fishing.
Trevor Lo, meanwhile, is someone who learned young from his father, but was hungry for more. "I started competitively fishing local tournaments around the age of 14. I got involved in a local tournament trail hosted by other Hmong fishermen."
Later, he joined the University of Minnesota bass fishing team "in hopes of learning more about fishing different parts of the country, as well as seeing how I could do against other fishermen around my age."
And it's not just boys who want more opportunities to fish either. The study reveals that half of first-time anglers are female, which is not a surprise to Laura Ann Foshee or Allyson Marcel.
Foshee helped start the Gardendale Rockets Bass Fishing Club in Georgia after seeing a high school competition at Smith Lake. "We had 60 people to show up at our first information meeting and ended up with a team of 18 anglers," said the only female member of the Bassmaster High School All-America Fishing Team.
"I love the challenge and the rush I get when I hook into a bass," she said. "In fishing, you are constantly trying to figure out the ever-changing patterns of the fish and learn new lakes, seasons, and techniques."
Thanks to her father, Marcel started fishing as soon as she was old enough "to hold a pole," and she was a charter member of the Nicholls State University's bass fishing team in Louisiana.
"I just love being on the water," she said. "There's no place I would rather be.
"Usually I fish with my Dad, brother, or boyfriend so not only am I doing something I love, but I'm doing it with someone I love."
And what do young anglers say is the best way to grow the sport?
"I would encourage parents to take their children fishing, as well as educate them in regards to wildlife and the outdoors," said Lo, who also urged students to join fishing clubs.
Foshee added, "When it comes to girls getting into fishing, I think the biggest obstacle isn't physical strength . . . but a perception that fishing is a boys sport . . . I can't tell you how much of an inspiration it is to see female anglers like Trait Crist catching the big bass in the Open and Allyson Marcel win the College National Championship. My dream is to be the first to win the Bassmaster Classic!"
(This column appeared originally in B.A.S.S. Times.)