Fishing Quandary

Is fishing Canada’s most popular pastime, or isn’t it?

I read a study four years ago that stated in no uncertain terms recreational fishing was more popular in this country, in terms of participation, than golf or hockey. This statistic floored me — as I knew from experience that organizing a mid-summer golf day is as easy as picking up the phone, but trying to convince more than one die-hard buddy to take off fishing for a weekend can be like pulling teeth.

What gives?

Certainly given this stat, which implies sport fishing to be Canada’s number-one pastime, one could also assume that if Sportsman ran a fish on the cover of every magazine issue we would increase our newsstand sales exponentially.

Would it surprise you to know that I am already predicting the May/June issues — with their beauty, huge walleyes on their covers — are usually the underachievers in terms of newsstand sales?

Why? Because we track what sells on the newsstand, and we’ve learned, in no uncertain terms: hunting outsells fishing, sometimes 2:1. Of course, this is more than a game of dollars and cents; as we can only assume that when an issue is a low-seller, it’s not well-loved and our ultimate goal is to make a magazine you — the reader — loves.

Call us corny if you want.

I took some time to look into these conflicting pieces of data. If fishing is so popular, why do hunting issues outsell fishing issues? Why do most people I talk to at the trade shows seem more interested in hunting? Why is the annual SHOT show five times the size of the ICAST show?

What I learned is that fishing is simply not as popular as the statisticians think it is. Let me break it down for you: when one buys a fishing licence, one is counted as an angler. At year’s end, we have a statistic that reads thus: “Canada has 2.4 million anglers.” (Source: Survey of Recreational Fishing in Canada, 2005)

That is a lot of hooks in the water! Especially when you consider this great country has only 1.8 million active golfers and 1.5 million active hockey players (according to a Sport Canada survey released in 2001).

But here’s the hidden truth about fishing numbers: they lie. Simply put, to put the same importance on a sold fishing licence as a sold hunting licence — that is, to put the “active” nature of an average hunter against the “active” nature of an average angler to compare apples to oranges.

Think about it: Dad wants to take junior fishing on Father’s Day. Dad rents a canoe and two fishing rods. Dad buys a fishing licence. Dad heads out for two hours, and never fishes again (until next Father’s Day). Dad is counted as an angler.

I would suggest that of the 2.4 million fishing licenses sold each year, perhaps 20 per cent are sold to regular, active anglers.

Hunting is a bit different that way. You don’t just wake up one day, decide to be a hunter and go out and buy a gun, bullets, a licence, camo gear and find hunting grounds by mid-morning. No — it takes dedication and persistence. You’d better believe every one of those hunting licenses was sold to a real hunter.

All this said — I am an angler first and foremost. It’s my pastime of choice during the summer months. Fly fishing, salt water angling — no better way to spend a hot day, of this I’m sure. And it confuses me when I notice that a lot of other people don’t share this passion, especially readers of Sportsman.

So, to all you once-a-year anglers out there, give fishing a real try. Spend a few weekends this summer learning to fly cast. Take a canoe onto your local lake. Rent a boat. Involve your family and friends. Once out there, in solitude or in good company, you’ll agree: fishing is hard to beat, and worthy of being Canada’s number-one pastime… for real.


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