Fishing for anglers

Good catch
Dalton Berndt catches a fish at a recent outing in Shakopee.
MPR Photo/Tom Scheck

It may get a little lonelier on Minnesota's 10,000 lakes. That's because the angling population is getting older and not as many young people seen to want to fish.

The DNR says 1.1 million people have bought fishing licenses in recent years in Minnesota --about the same number as 10 years ago. But it's who *isn't* buying a fishing license that worries the DNR - young people between the ages of 16 and 44.

Casting lessons
Adam McDonald with the Shakopee Lion's Club teaches a child to cast a fishing pole.
MPR Photo/Tom Scheck

DNR officials say they're concerned about the trend. Young, active adults aren't fishing as often, and they aren't taking their kids to fish.

At a park in Shakopee, dozens of kids are learning about fishing. They run from station to station learning about biology and how to cast a line. The kids take turns casting a line into a plastic bass that burps when you land the lure in its mouth.

Once the kids get some practice, they head down to the local pond to test their skills.

"Fishy!" exclaimed Paige Berndt as she reeled in a fish.

It isn't that difficult for the 100 or so kids to catch a fish, since the DNR stocked the pond.

"You caught a fish!" exclaimed Paige's mom, Heather.

"We're setting the hook. We're trying get them hooked on the outdoors."

Other adults encouraged the kids as they baited their hooks, cast their lines and reeled in a catch.

Scott Phippen of Shakopee watches as his two children, ages 7 and 4, toss their lines into the water. Phippen says he isn't surprised that there are fewer young people fishing these days. He says the state is becoming more urban, and people are losing their connection to the land and water.

Phippen gave two reasons as to why he brought his kids to the program.

"It's fun. Kids love fishing. I loved fishing when I was a kid," Phippen said. "There's a certain sense of excitement about what's under the water. Is it a weed? Is it a little fish? Is it a big fish? It's that sense of excitement of the unknown."

Phippen adds: "The long answer is that it's important because if the kids don't learn an appreciation for the outdoors now -- they're going to be the ones making decisions on quality of water and air and environment issues. It's important that they understand the role it plays."

Officials with the DNR and other outdoor groups are hoping more parents think like Phippen. If they don't, they're worried the state's fishing license sales will drop at a time when they say more conservation dollars are needed.

John Schroer
John Schroer of the Minnesota Outdoor Heritage Alliance.
MPR Photo/Tom Scheck

"We're setting the hook. We're trying get them hooked on the outdoors," said John Schroers with the Minnesota Outdoor Heritage Alliance.

Schroers says there are several reasons for the decline in young anglers. Parents are too busy to take their kids fishing, and are reluctant to allow their children to fish without adult supervision.

Another reason, Schroers says, is that many kids have a greater fascination with video games and electronics. If younger generations don't replace the aging anglers, Schroers is worried that less money will go to fisheries management and the preservation of lakes and streams.

"We are required by law to be licensed, and of course those dollars go back into the resource," Schroers said. "If you have declining participation in fishing or hunting or any other outdoor activity, the revenues generated by that licensing process won't be captured or returned to the resource."

The trend may also be why hunting and fishing groups are pushing so hard for a provision in the state Constitution that would dedicate a portion of the state's sales tax collections to conservation funding.

C.B. Bylander
C.B. Bylander, chief of the outreach section of the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources.
MPR Photo/Tom Scheck

C.B. Bylander with the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources says the "hook and bullet" crowd believes the current conservation funding model is broken.

"They recognize that if you look years ahead, the potential numbers of hunters and anglers is going to decline, and also our population is going to grow," Bylander said. "So the needs are going to expand, and the base in which to fund these needs is going to decline. That is a model that is not going to be sustainable."

Bylander says the DNR is spending $15,000 this year on a postcard campaign notifying anglers who didn't renew their licenses that they want them back.

The DNR has also spent $20,000 on a billboard campaign to promote fishing. The hope is that the advertising and the other programs provide enough bait for young Minnesotans to rediscover fishing.