The Recreational Boating & Fishing Foundation’s (RBFF) 2021 Special Report on Fishing has revealed fishing grew in popularity with nearly 55 million participants, including 4.4 million first-timers, picking up a rod as Americans searched for safe activities to relieve their stress and anxiety during the COVID-19 pandemic. This latest report brings the fishing industry even closer to its goal of reaching 60 million participants within the 60-month period ending in December 2021.

The 2021 Special Report on Fishing also found that the industry continues to reach new and diverse audiences:

  • Female participation increased 10% to 19.7 million.
  • 13.5 million youth ages 6 to 17 hitting the water, a crucial indicator for the future as 88% of current anglers began fishing before the age of 12.
  • 4.8 million Hispanic Americans went fishing in 2020, an all-time high.
  • African American participation increased by 14.6% year-over-year, comprising 7.7% of all anglers in 2020.

“Over the last five years, our targeted outreach efforts and long-term planning positioned fishing well to handle the unique challenges and opportunities faced during 2020,” said Stephanie Vatalaro, Senior Vice President of Marketing and Communications for RBFF. “As Americans looked for safe ways to get out of their homes during the pandemic, fishing offered a socially-distant outlet for families and individuals to get outdoors and experience the wellness benefits of nature.”

More than 61% of first-time anglers expected their trip to be relaxing, and spending time with family was the most common motivation to start fishing according to the study.

“We are thrilled to see so many new and returning anglers enjoying our nation’s waters. Anglers have always been a force for conservation, and we appreciate their continued support to sustain aquatic resources for future generations,” said U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Principal Deputy Director Martha Williams.

While the fishing industry was able to attract newcomers, the “leaky bucket” continues to be an issue as the annual churn rate reached 17.5% with 8.8 million prior participants not fishing in 2020. Stopping the leak is dependent on the industry’s ability to convert newcomers into loyal, repeat anglers.

To retain 2020 newcomers and continue to attract a wide range of Americans to fishing, RBFF has again partnered with Discover Boating for a second year of their Get On Board campaign. This effort aims to promote the wellness benefits of fishing and boating and show The Water Is Open to Everyone. Free, customizable tools are available at

The Special Report on Fishing was created in partnership with the Outdoor Foundation and provides one of the most comprehensive looks at the state of U.S. fishing and take-out boating participation. The full report, along with an accompanying infographic, is available at The website also features beginner resources, including how-to guides for getting started and an interactive map of places to fish and boat.