Where have all
the fishers gone?

In a recent conversation Charles Salter, now retired sports writer from the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, and I discussed various fishing issues. Charles recalled that just prior to his retirement he had begun to research the decline of fishing licenses sold in Georgia. He suggested that topic to me for a future article. Here it is.

We live in a VERY complex society. In Georgia and most of the south, the rural lifestyle enjoyed by so many for long has given way to the hustling, bustling lifestyle filled with traffic nightmares, tall buildings, too little space, and too many people. Technology and gadgets notwithstanding, our quality of life is not improving! Many would argue it has gone down the toilet!

Atlanta has grown dramatically to become "Big League". We are a massive metropolitan area. We have a huge impact on the south and Georgia. We have BIG LEAGUE problems, too. We enjoy massive traffic, a heat dome, a polution ring, gangs, drugs, overbuilding, loss of green space and wetlands, and the loss of most of the character of a city that 30 years ago was a pleasure to stroll the streets of, day or night. Yes, we are "BIG LEAGUE" with all of its problems, and it impacts our everyday lives. We are losing our personal space!

What is it about the outdoors? When I was a child growing up in Atlanta, I played little league baseball, and among other things, I LOVED fishing! I remember hopping on my trusty bicycle and riding about two miles to a quiet inner city pond (that is still there) to fish for bluegills. On occasion, I would bring a few gills home, and my mother would cook 'em up for me. Now it is probably too dangerous to turn a child loose to do that. A parent is needed to go along.

I still remember the excitement and anticipation that I felt getting ready and peddling to that pond. I still feel that way when I am getting my gear ready to go fish and I'm making the drive to the water.

Many years back when I was a teen, most fathers took their sons hunting and fishing. Some still lived on active farms and respected the land and animals that inhabited it. It was a tradition to teach the hunting and fishing sports and pass them down from generation to generation. Now, sadly, many parents are working just to generate money to pay for their "modern" lives, and that generational link is lost. Children's "modern" lives include a host of trinkets and gizmos: personal stereos, personal cds, computers, dvds, and computer games. They are left alone to play "virtual" fishing games, they fly "virtual" airplanes, they go on "virtual" hunts, and I submit they live "virtual" lives. They comprise one of the MOST OBESE groups to come along. What ever happened to ACTUALLY doing things with one's children? What happened to actually being children? What happened to reading and firing one's imagination?

I have introduced several children to fly fishing. I've seen their eyes light up, the excitement on their faces and the glee on their lips. I always enjoy my joy at showing them a new experience. Sadly, most of the children I've given an introduction to fly fishing don't have the ongoing opportunity to enjoy it. As simple as it is to fish, their parents "don't have time" to see that they get to fish.

When children are not exposed to fishing activities, the activities are missed. After two or three cycles unless something changes, the potential interest may be lost forever. That impacts participation, and that impacts the very existance of the sport and experience.

In the graph left, the first column (in blue) represents the number of resident fishing licenses sold in 1985, the highest sales year from 1980 to 1989. I included it for comparison to the last ten year's sales. The leftside columns represent Georgia resident fishing licenses sold in 100 thousand increments. This data was provided to me by Chris Martin, Georgia DNR's Aquatic Education Program Coordinator.

The years from 1991 to 2001 show a constant decline from just under 640,000 in 1985 to just over 490,000 in 2001. It is this decline of 150,000 licensed fishers or the over 24 per cent loss of fishing license sales that concerns those of us who enjoy fishing and want to see it remain viable in our society.

Why are fewer people involved in fishing? We are in a new day of entertainment. 20 years ago, there weren't so many choices. Now the list is almost endless. I have dealt with businesses in many categories over the past 38 years. Most of them have been impacted by the proliferation of choices of what to do with one's "entertainment" time. Entertainment doesn't just mean tv, a movie or a concert any more.

According to Chris Martin, "There is more competition for a youth's time than ever before. However, even sports like soccer and baseball are experiencing declines in participation. Bottom line, there is a definite decline (in fishing license sales), but Georgia is not as bad off as some states."

I am very fortunate to be able to spend time by myself in the outdoors. Yes, it is still possible to do that! By carefully choosing the time, and place it is actually possible to spend time with no other human being near. To me, this time is soul food. This is my time to reflect and reconnect. This time makes it possible for me to do all of the other things I have to do in my modern life.

Since most people work longer hours to pay for their "modern lifestyle" they have far less time for their spouses, children, and themselves. They do not have the space to truly escape the pressures of the big city and modern life. The price is great.

In the outdoors we can escape our big city problems. We can watch redtail hawks circling overhead, or see a flock of Canadian geese flying their highways in the sky. We can breathe fresh air, enjoy the gurgle of a mountain stream, and enjoy mountain laurel growing on a steep bank. We can witness the marvels of tall mountains and the valleys they stand guard over. We can breathe the salt air on our Georgia coast, and absorb the tranquility that hides in the dunes. We can sit by the vast Atlantic ocean and let our troubles wash out with the tide. If we visit these areas with care and respect, they just may be there the next time we want to visit.

There are many entertainment choices competing for our time today. Among your choices, take time for yourself in the quiet healing spaces of Georgia's natural resources and great outdoors. Do something to help preserve them for your future and for others. Otherwise, these resources will continue to disappear quietly and will be lost. If you fish, enjoy your sport every time you can. Then take a child fishing and pass along your love of the outdoors and this special activity. It may be one of the most precious gifts you will ever give.