When I arrived in Minnesota a few years ago, I had only been fishing a handful of times and didn’t plan on doing it again. But then I married into a fishing family, so now I regularly join about 1 million other Minnesota anglers to worship at our state’s many watery sanctuaries each fishing season.
As a younger angler, I’m not following the trend in Minnesota’s angling population: Fishing in the state doesn't attract as many young people as it once did, according to an October report from the Department of Natural Resources.
Looking only at licenses by age group suggests that older Minnesotans are turning out in greater numbers, but the older age groups show similar declines when the figures are adjusted for Minnesota's population growth.
Although Minnesota's overall population has grown significantly, the total number of licensed anglers in the state has hovered steadily at about 1.1 million each year since 2000, according to the October DNR report, as a smaller proportion of Minnesotans take up rod and reel to roll the dice with Mother Nature.
Angling license sales for the 2017 season are roughly on par with year-to-date figures in the last few years, according to the DNR. However, because license sales can rise and fall with the weather, the full picture won’t be available until the end of the season.
Jenifer Wical, outreach coordinator for the DNR’s fish and wildlife division, said despite the lagging youth interest, Minnesota’s steady fishing license sales are encouraging at a time when other states are seeing sales fall.
Wical said sales are so important because they’re the main source of DNR funding for managing and maintaining fish populations, to the tune of $26.6 million in 2016.
Fishing license sales dipped slightly in 2013 when fees last bumped up to combat inflation and increased costs. Wical said some anglers took a year off or chose licenses with fewer privileges, but revenues improved and license sales have slowly recovered.
Those rates didn’t last long. They’ll increase again in 2018 under the new budget signed by Gov. Mark Dayton in May.
The most popular choice, the individual angling license, will cost $25 -- a $3 increase. The next most popular license, for married couples, will increase $5 to $40.
Anglers who choose the conservation license with a reduced daily catch limit, like I do, will see a more modest $2 increase to $17.
Fees will go up 15 percent on average and are expected to boost fishing license revenues by $3 million to $5 million over the next few years, according to Linda Kelly, fish and wildlife administration chief at the DNR.
Another helpful factor for the budget numbers? Out-of-state visitors coming to try their piscine luck in Minnesota’s lakes and rivers. Sales to non-residents have made up one-third of fishing license revenues in the last two decades.
The cost of keeping our lakes brimming with fish will probably continue to rise, but that’s future history. Even when the fish aren’t biting, having an excuse to sit still and enjoy nature is worth the price of admission for this licensed angler.