Report: Early fishing can lead to lifetime appreciation for outdoors – The Spokesman-Review

A raucous yell signaled that someone had a fish on.

Roughly 25 beginner anglers, mostly kids, craned their necks to see whose rod was bowed on the shore of a public fishing lake.

Pulling back on a tight line, James Hanna, 7, whooped and hollered as he landed a small bass, the first fish he had ever caught. Roaring and flexing as if fishing were a World Wrestling Federation event, he raised the squirming fish in the classic angler’s pose while his grandfather held a First Fish certificate over his chest and a couple of quick photos were taken. Radiating pride, confidence and mostly a sense of body-slam triumph, James returned the bass to the water.

Pennsylvania has a program to give “first fish certificates” to kids at special events and it’s been a roaring success.

Like Idaho, the state fisheries agency also has traveling trailers with fishing gear to loan to entry level anglers.

“We seek in our programming to get people involved with (the outdoors) rather than just reading about it or seeing it in the distance,” said Pennsylvania State Parks environmental education specialist Natalie Simon. “They see the splash in the water as they release the fish, they touch the water in a kayak, they hike right into places that people wouldn’t have if it wasn’t for the state parks.”

In terms of creating new connections with the outdoors, Simon said there’s “something special” about catching the first fish that’s hard to put into words, something about “holding a living thing that lives right there in that water.”

Stephanie Vatalaro of the nonprofit Recreational Boating and Fishing Foundation suggested the connecting element is the visceral sensation of feeling life at the end of the line.

“I think it varies from family to family, person to person, but there’s a moment of pride – everybody’s cheering and egging them on,” she said.

There’s evidence that catching that first fish can lead to doing more things outdoors. In its 2016 Special Report on Fishing, the foundation suggested the experience of fishing can become a gateway to the outdoors.

The report found that 75 percent of fishing participants age 6 and over participated in an additional outdoor activity.

Vatalaro said that in the context of helping kids develop a greater appreciation of the outdoors, the act of fishing can include the requisite crayfish catching, rock throwing, splashing around and water-related unstructured play.

Among the 45.7 million people who fished in America in 2015, 2.5 million had their very first fishing experience, about the same as in 2014. The report found that 44 percent of new participants were age 6 to 17, and 46 percent were female. Among outdoor participants age 25-plus, fishing was the No. 2-rated activity after running, jogging and trail running.

Freshwater fishing remained the most popular type of fishing – almost 38 million participants – and included the highest rates of females (34.4 percent) and youth (33 percent). Among youth, according to the report, 6.7 million were age 6-12 and 4 million were 13-17.

Vatalaro said that the report’s most significant finding was that nearly 83 percent of adults who participated in fishing in 2015 learned to fish as a child.

“We’re looking to increase fishing participation because it so often leads to other outdoor activities, which have a great benefit on health and well-being, as well as being an economic driver,” she said. “People who participate in the outdoors often have a different perspective on the environment, a greater appreciation of conservation and their role in it.”