Internet shopping might be huge, but when it comes to buying fishing licenses, Minnesota anglers still prefer to go to a store or bait shop.
Though Minnesotans can buy their fishing licenses from the comfort of home on their computer, the vast majority still purchase them at the 1,500 retail license outlets around the state — from small mom-and-pop bait shops to big-box retailers. Last year, of the 1.1 million fishing licenses sold, only about 57,000, or about 5 percent, were bought online.
“People still like going to the store,’’ said Rick Nordby, Department of Natural Resources data analyst with the agency’s electronic licensing system. “They have to buy their gear anyway, so they buy their fishing and hunting licenses at the same time.’’
The top 25 fishing license retailers sold about 214,000 licenses last year — about 18 percent of the total. No. 1 on the list: the Mills Fleet Farm store in Brooklyn Park, which sold 16,566 fishing licenses in 2012.
“We just have a lot of loyal customers who find what they need here,’’ store manager Leif Petersen said.
Mills Fleet Farm stores comprised eight of the top 12 license sellers last year. The company actively promotes license sales to customers.
“It’s on our website and in our weekly fliers, and we have signs in the stores and employees have buttons. There’s no mistaking this is a place they can buy a fishing license,’’ Petersen said.
Mills, Gander Mountain and Cabela’s stores made up 19 of the top 25 license outlets last year. The top independent license seller was Joe’s Sporting Goods in Little Canada, which sold more than 10,000 fishing licenses.
“We’ve been selling licenses since at least the ’60s,’’ said co-owner Joe Rauscher. “It’s almost a tradition for people to come in and get their license.’’
Still, almost 80 percent of fishing licenses were sold at the 1,475 other retail outlets scattered around the state. None of the stores gets rich selling licenses. They’re paid just $1 per license. Most offer licenses as a service to their customers, or to drive traffic.
“We don’t make a whole lot of money [selling licenses], but it brings people in,’’ said Andrew Brinkman, manager at Christopherson’s Bait in Alexandria, which sold nearly 6,700 fishing licenses last year and ranked No. 17 on the list. “When they buy their licenses, they come in and buy their bait and tackle, too.’’
Despite late ice-out on area lakes, the store has been busy spooling line on reels, peddling fishing tackle — and selling licenses. “It gets really busy this time of year,’’ he said.
Those who buy licenses over the Internet get nicked for a $3.50 service fee, Nordby noted, which could affect those sales.
While Minnesota anglers have been slow to embrace technology, that could change. Nordby said a mobile app could be in the offing, allowing people to buy a license on their smartphone — and possibly display it there, too.
“If they were checked by a conservation officer, they’d show them their license on their smartphone,’’ Nordby said. “We’re still working on that.’’
Doug Smith • email@example.com