The US Recreational Fishing Industry in Numbers: How Many People Fish? 

Tackle Village is reader supported. If you buy a product through links on the site we may make a small commission

Updated on:

The US Recreational Fishing Industry in Numbers: How Many People Fish? 

Tackle Village is reader supported. If you buy a product through links on the site we may make a small commission

Updated on:

As a business that is part of the recreational fishing sector, we keep a close eye on trends and data on participation in fishing in the United States.

Some of the best recent data on participation in fishing and the scale of the industry comes from the 2021 Special Report on Fishing published by the Outdoor Foundation and the Recreational Boating and Fishing Foundation.

Some quick facts from the report (2020 numbers):

  • Number of Americans who fished at least once: 54.7m 
  • Fishing participation rate: 18% of the US population fished during the year
  • Freshwater Fishing: 42.6m people went freshwater fishing
  • Saltwater Fishing:  14.5m people went saltwater fishing
  • Fly Fishing: 7.8m people went fly fishing
  • Female participation in fishing: of the 54.7m people who fished, 36% were female

Recreational Fishing By The Numbers: Stats in More Detail

We’ve taken a more detailed look into the findings of the 2021 report, which is part of an annual series that’s been running for more than a decade.

How Many People Fish Each Year?

In total, 54.7m Americans fished at least once during 2020. This was the highest number recorded since this report began in 2007. The participation rate of 18% was a big gain over the 2019 participation rate of just 9%, heavily impacted by COVID restrictions.

How Much is the Recreational Fishing Industry Worth?

According to Statista data, the recreational fishing industry is worth $10.6bn in the United States. There are more than 55,000 businesses in the industry and the average household in the US spends almost $55 a year on hunting or fishing gear.

What Percentage of Anglers are Women?

Angling among women is becoming more and more popular with 19.7 female anglers fishing at least once during 2020.. For the past three years, the female participation rate has grown by an average of 5% a year with women now accounting for 36% participants. 

What Are Some Trends in Recreational Fishing?

Some of the key trends this study has brought to light include:

  • The frequency of fishing trips has continued to decline, falling from an average of 22 per year in 2008 to 18 in 2020. This is perhaps a reflection of time poor, busy lifestyles.
  • Fly fishing is the fastest growing type of fishing with participants growing from 5.5m in 2010 to 7.8 m in 2020. The participation rate went from 1.9% to 2.6% over that period.
  • Sport fishing is popular: almost 45% of anglers released the fish they caught on their most recent trip
  • Fishing is attracting new participants with 4.4m people trying fishing for the first time in 2020
  • Most people stick to the same type of fishing (saltwater, freshwater or fly fishing) with only 19% of anglers mixing it by doing two or more types.

How Much do Anglers Spend on Fishing Gear Each Year?

The average household spends $55 per year on fishing and hunting gear. The American Sportsfishing Association says anglers spend a total of $50bn a year on gear and trips – that’s about $910 per participant.

What about Young People? Are They Still Attracted to Fishing?

Yes, for sure. Overall 8m children (aged 6-12) fished in 2020, an increase of 15% on the previous year.

What Types of Fishing Are Most Popular or Growing Fastest?

Freshwater fishing is the most popular form of fishing, followed by saltwater fishing. As discussed, fly fishing was the fastest growing category of fishing. Overall, 18% per cent of people who fly fished in 2020 were first timers.

Photo of author
AUTHOR
Rick Wallace is a passionate angler and fly fisher whose work has appeared in fishing publications including FlyLife. He's appeared in fishing movies, founded a successful fishing site and spends every spare moment on the water.