Outdoor Writers Association of America
Northwest Outdoor Writers Association
This Week's View

by Deanna Lee Birkholm

September 6th, 1999

The Numbers Game

There are some 'interesting' numbers about our sport floating around. I mentioned a while back the 'official' organization for the fly fishing industry AFFTA had commissioned a survey.

Many years ago I worked as a researcher. It was in the medical field, having to do with cancer research. We were extremely careful to get our facts right, and the results of that particular study really did accomplish something very important.

On the wall in the head of the project's office was a neatly lettered, hand-made sign. It read: White Rats Cause Cancer. Those old enough to remember a cranberry scare that almost put all of the cranberry producers out of business, may also recall the testing was done on white rats. For people to have the same results the rats had, a person would have to eat twenty-two pounds of cranberries a day for several years. Unfortunately it was a long time before that fact came out! Many farmers were destroyed financially.

As I understand it, someone at the Oceanspray Company eventually came up with the idea of making breakfast juices using the cranberries and the industry was saved.

The fact is I am, understandably not impressed by surveys. I know figures can be (and are) sometimes manipulated to give the desired results.

That said, here are some of the results from the AFFTA survey. Following those numbers, I am including our current numbers obtained from our Monthly Contest/ Drawings. Our figures are incorrect. The figures only are the responses from those who responded to the questions (some always skip some), the folks answering our questions obviously do so from a computer which means it probably is a different segment of the people than those surveyed by AFFTA, and from the number of people who visit FAOL, only about 20% ever enter the drawing. (Frankly I can't figure that one out, we certainly have had wonderful prizes! - if you have an answer on that please let me know.)

"The results of a recent survey commissioned by the American Fly Fishing Trade Association (AFFTA) reveal there are 6.5 million active fly-fishing participants age 16 or older in the U.S. An "active" fly fisher is defined as someone who went fly-fishing three or more times in the previous 12 months, according to consumer and market researchers Leisure Trends Group, Boulder, Colo., which conducted the study.

The AFFTA Participation Survey reveals that 10.9 million people have fly-fished at least once in the last 12 months, and of this number, 40 percent were men age 45 and older. Some 25 percent of active fly-fishers are women, a substantial increase over the 16 percent who reported active involvement in 1995." Our figures show (those who responded) the largest percentage of our readers fished more than 40 days locally, and about the same number fished 5 - 9 days away from home.

"The study, which is available to all members of the association for $200 ($400 to non-members) indicates the average fly-fisher has participated in the sport for 16.6 years . . ."Our figures (free) show: 26% have fished over 20 years, a whopping 41% between 1- 5 years, 17% between 5 - 10 years, and about 15% from 5 - 10 years.

So instead of an average of 16.6 years, our readers seem to fall into a different slot, 58% have fished less than 10 years. Hmmmm.

Continuing on the AFFTA survey, the 'average' fly fisher "owns 2.5 fly rods, and spent an average of $278 on fly-fishing apparel and equipment in the last 12 months." 37.9% of our respondents own 5 or more rods. 21% own 2 rods, and 13.2 % own 4.

"Eighty-one percent pursued fresh water fishing, seven percent enjoyed the sport in salt water, and 12 percent did both." Almost 75% of our readers fish for trout, with panfish and salmon following for freshwater. 7.7% are saltwater anglers.

Okay, so much for the figures. I've already said ours are wrong. They are however accurate! And probably as accurate as the ones from the AFFTA survey.

Do I personally think fly fishing is on the wane? Not on your life! All I have to do is read our numbers, the bulletin board, and spend a little time in the Chat Room. Maybe instead of a 'gloom and doom' outlook the fly fishing manufacturers should get involved the providing real information to those wanting to get into fly fishing.

JC received a letter this week from Scientific Anglers, with their survey, asking what he would like to see in a website. Of course they don't know he is the editor of this website (which would have been like writing to Buick and asking them how to build a car).

Their survey is interesting in the fact they are asking some of the same questions we ask on ours. One did give me a laugh, "Why do you fly fish?" which allows at best 4 lines perhaps 3 inches long. Most of us couldn't do that in a whole page. One I found objectionable, a personal thing, they ask for your email address and then, "Would you like to receive regular product updates for fly fishing tips from Scientific Anglers via email?" Is that asking permission to send spam? Or if you check the box does that make it not legally spam?

When Scientific Anglers produces their new website, I sincerely hope they will include FLY ANGLERS ONLINE as part of their committment to "teach people the sport, . . . and share with the world the joys of fly fishing." (quoted from the SA website) instead of a tip of the month (how to clean a fly line) and real information instead of providing links to websites that no longer exist.

Fly fishing is alive and well! Maybe some of the industry has died but just aren't buried yet. If some have, it is because they have flooded the market with high-priced products which only appeal to a VERY small percentage of the real fly fishers. Add to that some get-rich-quick merchants who thought they would ride the wave of popularity and forgot little things like quality and service.

Like I said, fly fishing is alive and well - and growing, and will be with us for many generations to come. The enthusiam of those visiting these pages is proof. Maybe not because of the 'industry' but in spite of it. ~ LadyFisher

If you would like to comment on this or any other article please feel free to post your views on the FAOL Bulletin Board!

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