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Outdoorsmen fishing for more participants

The fishing industry is making a move to reel in more participants.

Americans are not hanging out the "Gone Fishin'" signs like they used to and this is impacting the tackle industry and local economies.

One of the country's most popular recreational activities is in trouble. In Virginia, the number of people purchasing fishing licenses has declined over the past three years. Across the country, fishing retailers have been reporting declines since the peak of the industry in 1993.

The drop in interest is attributed to the changing family lifestyle.

"A big part of the decline of new fishermen is the fact that it's much easier for a parent to carry his child to soccer or t-ball than it is to teach a kid to fish," said Ronnie Bache, promoter of Virginia's largest fishing expo, BASSARAMA. Shows like BASSARAMA, coming to Richmond Jan. 26-28, provide families with an opportunity to learn about fishing together at a variety of seminars and exhibitions.

The Future of Fishing Report, the first major national study to identify specific strategies for increasing the number of anglers as well as reasons for their recent decline, points to 12-15 year olds as the market most receptive to fishing. The study identifies fishing as a social activity that provides "quality time" with family or friends.

A disturbing statistic shows that 58% of Americans have fished, but not recently. The Recreational Boating and Fishing Foundation, based in Alexandria, is launching a major media campaign this spring to target the 24 million adults who own fishing rods, but haven't fished in the past year. The Richards Group (famous for their Home Depot and Corona Beers ads) has created ads that are emotionally compelling. Family members, especially children, are featured asking to be taken fishing to remind people of how time spent on the water builds connections with family and friends. A child's request to fish has been identified as the most powerful inspiration to go fishing, while the lack of nearby fishing spots was cited as the biggest impediment.

Even though the Potomac River is a visible waterway, there is still very little shoreline public access. The FishAmerica Foundation, also in Alexandria, is providing urban fishing opportunities by building and renovating fishing ponds in communities nationwide so families won't travel far to catch fish.

The Bass Anglers Sportsman Society (B.A.S.S.), the country's largest professional fishing organization and perennial visitors to the Potomac, is pitching in as well. In 1991, B.A.S.S. created the Casting Kids program, designed to involve America's youth in fishing. The competition, similar to footballs' punt, pass, and kick contest, has involved 1.2 million youngsters and awarded more than $1.5 million in cash and scholarships. Another B.A.S.S. program, BASSMASTERS University, coming to Richmond on Jan. 27th and 28th, promotes fishing knowledge and skills with some of the top fishing pros in the country like Hank Parker and Classic Champion Woo Daves.

"Parents are not spending enough time with their kids - they have instant babysitters - video games and TV. Fishing teaches (kids) concentration, keeps them out of trouble, and tunes them into Mother Nature," according to Virginia native Woo.

The Future Fisherman Foundation, in Alexandria, created the "Hooked on Fishing, Not On Drugs" program. This program gets more kids involved in fishing to build self-esteem, while offering an alternative to the dangers of the streets.

Fishing tackle manufacturers are aware of the industry setback and are seeking opportunities to reach the next fishing generation. "At this point, it is a business decision…tomorrow's business will come from today's children," said Ted Sakai, General Manager of Lucky Craft Lures. Silver Buddy Lures President Kendall Banks added, "Take a kid fishing, but don't overlook the women in our lives."

Fishing's next generation is attracting a lot of attention and support from our local community. With both parents working, single parent homes and the fast pace of life, those involved in the business of fishing are seeking to keep the sport alive by reaching area youth.

"Our future and the future of fishing depends on our kids." As a mother and member of the Bass Snipers Bass Club of Woodbridge, Susan Robinson said her club is educating and training kids to prepare them for the BASSMASTERS Casting Kids contest coming to the Chantilly Outdoor Show in February. "I believe it is important to keep your kids occupied to keep them out of trouble, and fishing allows parents to spend quality time in a quality environment with their kids."

"Parents come into our store and are interested in getting their kids started in fishing, but don't know where to start", according to Bill Pearl of Mike's Bait & Tackle in Fairfax. "Moms and dad's are trying to offer their kids something to keep them out of trouble." Pearl says even though he is full service tackle provider, he stocks moderately priced, easy- to-use equipment to meet the demand of the beginner, to help parents get their kids started.

Sporting goods retailing giant, Galyan's Fair Lakes is very aggressive in reaching out to the community. Galyan's is a corporate sponsor of local fishing events, including the BASSMASTERS Casting Kids contest, providing equipment, publicity and other resources to promote participation among local area youth. "If the kids get involved early, then they can become independent. It's our job to educate the parents and to generate excitement about the sport that can last a lifetime," said Chris Smith Galyan's Department Manager of hunting and fishing. "We are dedicated to getting youngsters hooked. We even have Snoopy and Mickey fishing kits for the youngest, and affordable and easy-to-use outfits for the older kids…while we stock the high end tackle, we are committed to the entire family and kids are the future of the sport."

It's more that just passing a tradition from father to son. Vienna father of two teenage boys, John Metzger, said the time he spent fishing with his dad was when they really got to know each other. "Fishing is still important in my relationship with my father and I am hoping that fishing will be as important in my sons relationship with me."

Another father of two boys, Professional bass fisherman Richard Wader, with National Bass Guide Service in Falls Church, said fishing brings kids in touch with the environment. "Participation in fishing is key to protecting and preserving the environment. The future of our environment is in the hands of today's kids." Wader gives free seminars at outdoor shows, tackle shops and clubs. "I want every child and every parent to have the opportunity to be successful, not just for the enjoyment, but for the confidence building."

Virginia State Police 1st Sgt. Randy Redden in Springfield, concurs. "The time I invested in fishing with my kids is paying tremendous dividends now that they are grown, keeping our family and our values in tact." Sgt. Redden also said that he sees a lot of broken homes and single parent homes, and it's up to all of us to get involved and take a kid fishing. "Kids who fish develop a respect for the environment, for others and for themselves." Sgt. Redden is extremely proud of his son who takes other dads and their sons out fishing to pass the torch of fishing to those who might not have the opportunity.

Charities benefiting children are often supported by the fishing community. The St Judes Research Hospital mid-Atlantic fund-raising office in Arlington is sponsoring the 5th Annual St Judes Bass Tournament, July 5th on the Potomac River. The proceeds benefit children with catastrophic diseases. Every year, area fishermen support this event. "When the guys find out that the money goes to help kids, they come out and show their support," according to Dana Delong, St. Judes Regional Representative.

Fishing builds self-esteem, gives kids something to do, allows parents to spend quality time with their kids, and provides an understanding of the environment. Fishing becomes more important when considering the other influences competing for the time of our children. The Executive Director of The Future Fisherman Foundation, based in Alexandria, Anne Glick says a Northern Virginia member of the National Guard has recently completed training for the "Hooked on Fishing, Not on Drugs" program. The program reaches out to troubled youth and gives them an alternative to "hanging out".

"Grades improve, class attendance improves, and attitudes in general improve. Once a kid gets involved with fishing, it gives them something else to do."

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