According to statistics from the National Surveys of Fishing, Hunting, and Wildlife-Associated Recreation, which are published every five years, the number of anglers in the U.S. is in a steady decline. The number of anglers has dropped from 35.6 million in 1991 to 33.1 million in 2011.
Though the number of anglers has increased about 10 percent over the last five years, the long-term trend in fishing activity is down 7 percent over 20 years. That saddens me. Some of my fondest memories are daddy-daughter fishing trips.
When my daughters were little girls, they loved to go to a nearby creek and catch a few bluegills. They squealed with delight whenever they hooked a palm-sized fighter. Of course, we always had to get over the "ick" factor (no pun intended) of getting worms on hooks.
So why are fewer people fishing today than they did 20 years ago?
A big part of the problem is how our lives have changed over the last 30 years.
The outdoors is no longer a playground for many children. Fewer people live in rural areas. Electronic devices and rigidly scheduled extracurricular activities control the lives of many young families. And even more important, many young parents today may have little experience in the outdoors.
In fact, I suspect many of today's young parents only got outdoors as children for recess, baseball and soccer. They are products of a generation dominated by indoor activities and electronic gadgets.
When I was a boy, there was always a relative, neighbor, or family friend going fishing. Kids tagged along and learned. (Hope I don't sound like an old fogey.)
I wonder how many of today's parents younger than 40 missed out on fishing trips with family and friends. If they never learned to fish, they may feel unable to teach their own kids.
Of course, trying new activities is often awkward and uncomfortable; no parent wants to be seen as incompetent by their children. My memory, however, is that my daughters and I had more fun when we learned something new together. The girls loved when they could master a new skill faster than I could. I might have looked silly, but they gained confidence by besting me.
A terrific book makes fishing easy for anyone who has never fished. "The New Fishing Fundamentals: Fishing Fun for Everyone" (In-Fisherman, 2013, $12.95) by Chuck Nelson presents a simple formula for having fun: Fish + Location + Presentation = Success. It covers the most popular freshwater fish in North America, where they live, how to hook them, and even how to prepare the catch for dinner. Engagingly written and beautifully illustrated, "Fishing Fundamentals" is a great introduction for anyone just getting started.
The book introduces the most common fish beginning anglers are likely to encounter -- sunfish, catfish, trout, bass, and others. By understanding the habits of various fish, readers learn how their habitat preferences differ. Then the book illustrates different types of equipment -- rods, reels, lures, and baits. And it explains how to present baits and lures. The mysteries of casting, jigging, and trolling disappear.
Before you hit the water, familiarize yourself with the equipment. Practice casting and tying knots in the backyard, and get the kids and grandkids started there, too.
And when you finally get to a pond or stream, minimize expectations. Anyone can catch fish. It just takes time, practice, and patience. I am not an avid angler, but it's hard to beat a warm day on the water when the fish are biting.
And some days you just get lucky. I've caught bonefish and mahi mahi in the Florida Keys, striped bass in Lake Texoma, largemouth bass in farm ponds, and smallmouth bass in Lake Erie, and not once was it because I was a great fisherman. It was because I was lucky and enjoying myself with friends.
Inexperience is no excuse to deprive your kids of the fun of fishing. The title of the book is, after all, "Fishing FUNdamentals."
Send questions and comments to Dr. Scott Shalaway, 2222 Fish Ridge Road, Cameron, WV 26033 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.