The great outdoors has been a respite for many during the COVID-19 pandemic, and the fishing industry is poised to take advantage. The main thrust of the ICAST show-opening State of the Industry welcome was to gain those anglers for life.
“There’s been very few positives from this pandemic, but getting out and fishing and connecting with the outdoors is one,” said Chris Megan, board chairman of the American Sportfishing Association, which puts on ICAST. “It’s where our country and the world have gone in solace from the pandemic. Never have so many turned off the evening news, put down the cellphone and instead went for a walk … or made their first cast. While much of the country was closed for business, the outdoors was always open.”
Megan, publisher of the On the Water Media Group, said fishing is in a unique position, kind of a worst-of-times, best-of-times scenario. An influx of 8 million anglers have joined the 50 million people who fish regularly, and keeping them is mission No. 1.
“We have to embrace these new anglers. We have to provide them with entry level opportunities so they can meet with success,” Megan said. “It’s simply the bend of a rod and a photo to go with it that says, ‘Look at me, I caught something.’ Today those 8 million new anglers can become consumers. More importantly, they can became voices if we reach out and show them the way.”
The ASA’s Take Me Fishing campaign to Get On Board has proven a great success, said Stephanie Vatalaro, marketing and communications VP for the Recreational Boating and Fishing Foundation. She said angling participation is the highest since 1991, continuing a 12-year upward trajectory. Interest in fishing has created a 270 percent increase in state license sales.
“We went into the pandemic with some uncertainty with how fishing would fare,” Vatalaro said. “After a few weeks of sheltering in place, we started to see a huge interest in boating and fishing. Visits to the Take Me Fishing digital properties is at an all-time high. I believe we have a tremendous opportunity this summer to recruit newcomers and lapsed anglers alike.”
The industry has the ear of Secretary of the interior David Bernhardt, who spoke of how the administration is working through the excise taxes to improve fishing access and conserve habitat.
“President Trump and I know that America’s anglers are among our greatest conservationists. Every time you purchase a rod, reel or tackle, you help fund wildlife conservation,” Bernhardt said, adding that last year more than $1 billion was granted toward those efforts.
Keynote speaker Brian Mast, a U.S. Congressman from Florida’s Treasure Coast, said he well knows the value of fishing. The former Army technician, who lost both legs in Afghanistan, said he focuses on veteran issues and water quality, like stopping toxic runoff from farming and having clean water going into the Everglades. Mast enumerated the importance of fishing, with 100,000 anglers in his district contributing $349 million to the economy each year.
“My standard is simple, if I wouldn’t put something in the bathtub with one of my four children … it definitely doesn’t belong in our waterways,” he said. “Fishing is more than a business, it’s a way of life. The sport fishing industry is a catalyst that drives our recreation and tourist economy.”
One cool feature on the ICAST website comes from the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. Coinciding with its popular lunker program, the TrophyCatch Eyeball Challenge asks viewers to click through a handful of bass photos and guess the weight, with immediate responses.
The Daily Limit was proud to be only .1 of a pound off the first guess, but we won’t talk about the rest. It’s kinda fun, and a bit tricky. Do note the possible size of the angler, if you can. Yeah, one of those guys, or gals, must be rather large, or really small, and a couple might have held it far away from their body.
Depending on how you fare, you can be ranked a Bass King, a Hawg tamer, Back-Seat Angler or last and least, a Bent Rod. No, we won’t discuss that either. That’s why I’m a writer.
Look for the TrophyCatch Eyeball Challenge on icastfishing.org. Good luck.
Coverage from across the pond
How media members are covering this virtual ICAST is a curious question. Some might enjoy sitting home in their PJs while others are heavily lamenting not being able to physically be there. (See John Mazurkiewicz.)
Mel Bagnall, consultant editor for Angling International magazine, was introduced to the Daily Limit a few years back on one of his team’s dozen or so British Invasion forays at ICAST. He offered his take from Peterborough, England.
“We’re going to miss being in Orlando — particularly the opportunity to savour some of those Florida ales!” he wrote. “We’ll all be engaging with the online format as much as possible to try to dig out some good industry stories.”
They will feature some key new product stories in the industry magazine, although most of their product content will be published on tacklestream.com to get manufacturers' products in front of retailers.
“We’ve written some copy up front to try to give us a head start and to anticipate the complexities of accessing what we want online,” he said. “It’s going to be harder online and on the telephone than face-to-face, but it’s the same for everyone and we’ll make the best of it.”