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The study is part of the Department of Natural Resources’ efforts to reach out to user groups to better understand their needs and barriers to enjoying Wisconsin’s outdoors.
“The primary reason for angler drop out -- and this is consistent with what we’ve seen across outdoor recreation -- is lack of time, or more specifically, how anglers choose to allocate their time,” says Jordan Petchenik, the DNR researcher who was the principal investigator in the study.
Time constraints was cited by over one third (35 percent) of the former anglers as their primary reason for not trout fishing. Old age, poor health and lack of companions was ranked first as by 21 percent; the quality of fishery of their favorite trout water was named as the top reason by 13 percent, and trout regulations were cited by 12 percent as their most important reason for no longer fishing for trout.
The survey can be found by searching for “trout review” on the the DNR website.
The survey is part of Wisconsin's ongoing review of inland trout fishing; in spring 2011, participants at public meetings got to tell DNR fish biologists what they like about trout fishing now and what they think could be improved. Meeting participants also filled out a survey to give more specific feedback, nearly 2,000 completed the same survey online, and a companion mail survey of randomly selected active trout anglers was sent out last fall and Petchenik is analyzing results now.
Petchenik says the survey of former trout anglers was aimed at learning why people left the sport, whether DNR could do anything about those reasons, and whether regulations were causing people to drop out.
“For quite a while, everyone from DNR administrators on through our regional field staff would hear anecdotally, ‘we have too many regulations and the ones we have are too complex,’ and that people were dropping out of trout fishing as a result,” he says. “Good science should not be based solely on anecdotal information, so one of the reasons behind the study was to find out, ‘how critical are our regulations in helping explain angler dropout?’”
Petchenik mailed out surveys in October 2011 to more than 800 randomly picked fishing license holders who had once been avid trout anglers but who had not bought since 2008 an inland trout stamp that would allow them to fish for trout in Wisconsin's inland waters. Sixty-eight percent returned the survey, a good rate particularly given that people who had given up a sport were asked to take time now to reflect on their reasons for leaving the sport.
Petchenik says that encouragingly, the vast majority of former anglers indicated a willingness to return to the sport. “The positive sign is that they're not saying I’m never going to pick up a rod again. They’re saying, ‘at this time I have other priorities. But at some time, I hope to return to trout fishing.’”
Considerably more former trout anglers were satisfied than dissatisfied with their Wisconsin trout fishing experiences. More than 83 percent report they were “very satisfied” with their trout fishing experiences. Fewer than 1 in 5, or 18 percent, were dissatisfied.
Four of the seven influences on dropping out of the sport relate to DNR management and policies, Petchenik says.
“It makes us recognize there are some aspects that are under our control to a great extent – like improving access, improving the quality of the fishing experience and simplifying regs – and that if we can address those to the satisfaction of our former anglers, there is every indication some of those anglers would return."
Other major findings from the survey of former anglers: •Poor stream access and stream conditions explained why 7 percent of the respondents left the sport.
•Of the lapsed trout anglers that ranked the poor quality of their favorite trout fishery as the primary reason they stopped fishing, more than 83 percent indicated they would likely return if the quality improved.
•Former trout anglers exhibited low levels of commitment to trout fishing, which may be a predictor for their continuing to stay out of the sport.
•The average age former trout anglers started trout fishing was 21, considerably older than typical for similar outdoor pursuits.
•Over one-fourth (27 percent) cited their father as being the most influential in their trout fishing development. For those who reported their father as being most influential the average initiation age was 11 years old.
•Live bait was the most frequently cited technique used to pursue trout. One-half (51 percent) of the former trout anglers always or often used live bait when trout fishing. Though fly fishing is frequently associated with the pursuit of trout, more than one-half (57 percent) never or rarely used this method.
Petchenik says that one thing he will look for in the companion study of active trout anglers is what differences there are between the two groups.
Scot Stewart, the southern district fish supervisor leading the trout review effort, says that fisheries managers will use these results, along with those from the 2011 public meetings and web survey and the random survey of current trout anglers, “to begin crafting a straw dog proposal” to take to a second set of public meetings to develop a final proposal that will be submitted to anglers through the hearings process.
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