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Mike Stevens – KNEE DEEP

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Thursday, May 23, 2019
The Eastern Sierra sans trout
Friday, August 23, 2019
Falling up

Looking beyond kids for angler recruitment
Getting kids fishing as early as possible is a no-brainer as far as what we can all do to maintain sustainability, but we really should take advantage of all the possible new blood out there.

It feels like we’re doing a pretty good job getting kids in the game. In many respects, fishing has become “cool,” which makes it easier for teens to recruit their own, and social media has a lot to do with that. Say what you want about social, it’s definitely resulting in more young anglers.

CALICO BASS MIGHT be the ultimate “gateway fish” to usher a freshwater angler over to the saltwater side. WON PHOTO BY MIKE STEVENS

It’s even to the point kids who were fishing all along are feeling this influx of “kooks” and some are cool with it, some are not. I recently saw a young angler wearing a red hat that said “make fishing lame again.” It took me a second, but I soon realized exactly what that meant.

That’s actually a good way to look at the current state of angler recruitment in a “big picture” format. Think about your reaction when you find someone on your spot at the lake, a couple trucks already at the trailhead, 70 heads on an open-party boat or a dozen private boaters on “your” bluefin spot 40 miles offshore.

Fishing author John Gierach might have put it perfectly when he wrote, “There are only two types of anglers: those in your party and the a—holes.”

It’s the perfect way to describe the slippery slope that exists between our responsibility as sportsmen to fill the ranks with new anglers and our disdain for running into humans who beat us to our honey holes.

I’d never suggest we back off on the “take a kid fishing” mantra, but it’s adults who are the untapped resource that can make a more significant impact in a shorter amount of time.

Money has a lot to do with it.

Along with being the stuff that buys fishing licenses, money buys gear. That of course supports the mom-and-pop shops, but those purchases reverberate well beyond that. Thanks to the Dingell-Johnson Act — also known as the Sport Fish Restoration Act — funds derived from a 10 percent excise tax on fishing tackle as well as 3 percent on electronics and trolling motors and even a portion of boat fuel taxes go back to each state as Federal aid for “management and restoration of fish having material value in connection with sport or recreation in the marine and/or fresh waters of the United States. In addition, amendments to the Act provide funds to the states for aquatic education, wetlands restoration, boat safety and clean vessel sanitation devices (pumpouts) and a non-trailerable boat program.”

Many column inches have been churned out on all that almost 70-year-old piece of legislation brings to table, but for these purposes, it doesn’t take much to make the connection between more anglers and better fishing, fish habitat and wildlife conservation.

Who is going to put more of a charge into that equation — the eager 12-year-old kid, or your buddy well into full-time employment? The kid’s an interest-bearing investment in the future, but the adult is a low-risk, all-reward windfall for the present.

When it comes to showing the light to non-fishing adults, varying degrees of interest might already be there. “Giving fishing a try” is the type of idea that might rest in the back of someone’s head for decades without budging. If that is the case, pitching something local, low-maintenance and non-intimidating is all it takes to get that snowball of interest rolling downhill and evolving into an avalanche of obsession.

Speaking of untapped resources, increasing participation and injecting more cash into the hopper, we don’t even have to look beyond existing circles of enthusiasts. As the owner of the marketing agency I used to work for used to say, “sell the sold.”

Last fall, I attended an event put on by Strike King and Lew’s on Kentucky Lake, and I spent about an hour on the water with each of the pro staffers in attendance. We’re talking elite-level, household-name bass guys, and you know what they ALL wanted to talk about with the lone writer from California? Calico bass fishing.

I think that’s due to a number of factors topped off by the fact that they not only look and act like largemouth, but they can be targeted using similar rods and reels they already use, and a calico will eat just about anything a largemouth will. These guys just want to check it out in a massive marine environment they have little or no familiarity with.

There are dozens of possible scenarios in which an experienced angler may very well be already well equipped to hit the water running on another type of fishing he or she may have never considered.

Hard-core bass guy probably has all he needs to take on inshore saltwater stuff. Drop-shot rods are perfect for fishing harbors, bays, lagoons and for throwing a Carolina-rig for surf perch or corbina. That 9-foot noodle of a Pacific Northwest salmon stick has jerkbaits-for-surf-halibut written all over it.

I have found that the fresh-to-salt conversion is pretty easy: everything (fish and otherwise) is bigger and pulls harder pound-for-pound, rigs are simple, entry-level gear is reasonable and every cast can connect to a fish of a lifetime. It’s a simple matter of experiencing it first hand.

As for getting a non-angler into the mix, the presentation of a custom-built starter kit followed by a backyard-swimming-pool seminar and a few beers can stand as the ultimate launch ramp toward recruitment.

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