Program luring new fishermen

Think back to the first time you went hunting or fishing. Can you remember who took you? Was it your father, grandfather, an uncle or a friend of the family?

Research shows that most hunters and anglers are introduced to the sports by someone else, a mentor who introduces us to the joy of the activities.

Looking back, I was one of the lucky kids because it was my dad who first introduced me to the outdoors, but it was probably my uncle Ted who actually taught me how to catch fish. (Just don’t tell my dad I told you so.) Either way you look at it, I had a mentor. Unfortunately, there seem to be fewer outdoor mentors today than there were a generation ago.

That’s part of the reason why the Recreational Boating and Fishing Foundation (RBFF) created Angler’s Legacy, a program I wrote about two years ago after it was unveiled during the 2006 edition of the International Convention of Allied Sportfishing Trades (ICAST). Angler’s Legacy is more than a program, it’s an invitation — an invitation for avid anglers to take a pledge to introduce at least one other person to the sport of fishing each year.

By the time ICAST 2007 rolled around, the number of anglers who took the Angler’s Legacy pledge that first year was 8,000. But when ICAST 2008 opened this month, that number had swelled to more than 60,000. And each mentor is considered to be an ambassador for fishing.

“There are seven to eight million avid anglers. These guys are out there fishing 30 times or more a year. They’re passionate about the sport. They understand that their participation leads to the protection of that resource,” said Frank Peterson, RBFF president and chief executive officer. “Today, we have 60,000 ambassadors. By March of next year, we hope that number to be 130,000. The ultimate goal is to get that number to a million.”

Four companies are credited with 40 percent of the total pledges taken to date. Those four companies — Bass Pro Shops, Cabela’s, ESPN and North American Fishermen — were recognized by the RBFF during ICAST for their support of Angler’s Legacy.

“They’ve gotten behind this program 100 percent,” Peterson said. “We also have about 246 other organizations that help us. We get about 2,000 pledges a month now. I think it’s going to start growing exponentially.”

While anglers who take the Angler’s Legacy pledge are asked to introduce just one person to fishing each year, the average is 4.5 people per ambassador. That equates to almost a quarter million new fishermen.

“I really believe that the avid angler is a unique individual. They understand almost better than anyone else what participation means to this sport,” Peterson said. “So they are doing it because they want to make sure the sport is there for future generations. It’s really mind-boggling. Over 85 percent of the people we surveyed said they would do this simply because they understand why it’s so important to the sport.”

The next step is to create a program through which Angler’s Legacy ambassadors can be rewarded for their efforts. Peterson said this is in the works and should be launched within six months.

The success of Angler’s Legacy is good news to the American Sportfishing Association, host of ICAST and a sponsor of the RBFF. Now in its 75th year, the ASA represents the interests of the sport fishing industry.

“In the early ’90s, we realized that more needed to be done to promote not only the sport of angling but also an understanding of angling and everything that goes with it — the family, the friendship, the tradition and the conservation. So the RBFF was created,” ASA vice president Gordon Robertson said.

Robertson thinks the ASA and its membership are unique because “we believe if you have healthy fish populations, you’ll have more people that want to fish. And, of course, if you have more people that want to fish, you’ll have more people that want to purchase fishing equipment.”

Of course, when you have more people fishing and buying fishing tackle that creates more funding for fisheries management. And when more people are boating, there is more funding to provide and maintain boating access.

You can learn more about Angler’s Legacy or take the pledge at takemefishing.org.

Doug Nielsen is an award-winning freelance writer and a conservation educator for the Nevada Department of Wildlife. His column is published Thursday. Contact him at doug@takinitoutside.com.

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