Do Fishermen Need Fish?

Why do YOU go fishing?

Do Fishermen Need Fish?
Does anyone really believe these anglers and guides, getting ready to try to catch live bait, will then head out the inlet strictly to spend the day socializing and relaxing?Doug Olander / Sport Fishing

OPINION

Many years ago, I penned an ­editorial titled, “I Go Fishing to Catch Fish!”

Well, duh: I mean, that’s a no-brainer, isn’t it?

Apparently not.

I wrote that editorial in response to a study that intended to understand the reasons why people fish. To my surprise, catching fish was far down the list. Mostly, according to the surveys, people fished to relax and socialize.

Maybe I put too much of myself into my response, but I had a hard time accepting those “real” reasons people fish. I mean, if I just want to relax and socialize, I can find plenty of (often closer, less expensive) opportunities. I don’t have to go fishing to do that.

But I do have to go fishing if I want to catch fish.

And, by God, I want to catch fish!

How about you?

I suspect most SF readers would say the same. I have no idea of the universe sampled for the study that got me riled up, but I don't think they're the same kind of fishermen as me, or probably as you.

More recently, a column by Rob Southwick ­entitled "Why Do People Fish" (Jan/Feb 2018, Fishing Tackle Retailer) showed the top three reasons people fish: to have fun (40 percent), relax (33 percent) and socialize (19 percent).

Of course “have fun” is pretty general, as Southwick acknowledged when I spoke with him, and might mean anything from hooking trophy fish to sleeping on the bank with a line in the water.

So what? What does it matter why we go fishing?

Anglers catch red snapper off west coast of Florida
Is this the kind of action most anglers truly want? Or are they just as satisfied with a day simply relaxing on the water with friends?Doug Olander / Sport Fishing

There are many reasons why better understanding that question can be useful. I think of particular importance is that knowing what people want when they go fishing could impact how fisheries managers allocate resources among main user groups.

Other than anglers, the main user group means the commercial industry.

On the one hand, citing anglers who just want to relax when they fish could help emphasize just how different recreational fishermen are from commercial fishermen.

But on the other hand, that could be ­interpreted as: Recreational fishermen don't need fish to be satisfied.

So maybe more resources should go to commercial fishermen. After all, they're not going to be satisfied with a day of fun or relaxation. Fun doesn't pay the bills. Fish — poundage and tonnage — does.

I agree that the great majority of anglers in the United States don't need to fill a fish box to consider a fishing day a success. I have to believe that what we do need — whatever studies might suggest — is a reasonable expectation of catching fish.

If there’s a lovely lake just down the road where the launching’s easy and the crowds are light, but where it’s well-known that no fish live, would you go fishing there? Great place to relax and socialize, but it would attract few anglers because there is no reasonable expectation of catching anything.

The Recreational Boating and Fishing Foundation has launched a campaign to grow the number of licensed anglers in this country from 47 million to 60 million. A laudable goal, but I suspect many would-be new (particularly younger)anglers would likely perceive a sport characterized mainly by “relaxation” as boring, and bail for more-rewarding leisure pursuits.

While I am sure anglers do fish to chill out and enjoy friends, I think we must be careful not to be lulled into accepting that as enough. I hope the recreational-fishing community never fails to emphasize the need for a reasonable expectation to hook and even catch fish, and that fisheries managers never lose sight of that need.

Doug Olander is editor-in-chief of Sport Fishing magazine.

Sport Fishing welcomes opportunities to share a variety of perspectives from prominent or influential participants in issues related to recreational fishing and fisheries.