Gone fishing? More Americans did in '09

MONTGOMERY, Ala. — At a time when the economy has shaken big-time sports from the PGA to the NFL, the low-key pastime of fishing has enjoyed a quiet resurgence.

A pair of recent studies indicate that families have been turning to fishing, which can be as simple as standing on the shore with a rod and reel, as a good way to spend time together without wrecking the household budget.

A report commissioned by The Outdoor Foundation found that, in a decade during which the number of anglers generally dropped, 2009 bucked the trend and saw an increase of 1.6 percent or 630,000 participants. A separate study found one of the largest bumps since the 1970s in fishing license purchases, based on a 12-state index.

Americans already fish in big numbers (almost 41 million, according to the Outdoor Foundation), but the sport has been declining among young people.

"The most exciting thing that happened out of this whole economic nightmare that we're in is fishing license sales nationwide have gone up," said Skeet Reese, one of the country's top professional anglers.

"For a family experience, people can't travel, they can't go to Disneyland, they can't go to Mexico. They can't afford to go to these places, so they go, 'Let's just go camping this weekend.' "

And fishing.

A Southwick Associates study reported a 4.7 percent increase in fishing license sales in 2009, based on a 12-state index — though previous studies had been based on all 50 states. Eight of the states included in the survey, ranging from Florida to New Jersey, had sales increases from the previous year, said Rob Southwick, an economist who specializes in wildlife and environmental consulting.

Mike Nussman, president and CEO of the American Sportsfishing Association, is pragmatic about the boost in fishing amid tough times.

"I think it's always good to remind people of activities that they enjoy, so that certainly is a positive for us," said Nussman, whose group commissioned the fishing license study along with the Recreational Boating & Fishing Foundation. "I certainly anticipate some of this will carry on.

"Is it going to last forever? Certainly I wouldn't say that, but I think it resets where we are as a nation in regard to this particular activity. It can remind you of the enjoyment you can have with your family and your friends."