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Fly Fishing Is Still Ascending

A few years back, I wrote an article that focused on the rising popularity of fly fishing. That piece reported that fly fishing participation had grown substantially between 2006 and 2016 according to research conducted by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Then 2020 brought a global pandemic, economic uncertainty, and a major increase in sportfishing participation in the U.S. Did this boom in fishing translate to similar increases in fly fishing participation as well? To answer that question, I’ll dig into a special report published by the Outdoor Foundation (OF) and the Recreational Boating and Fishing Foundation (RBFF).

The 2021 Special Report on Fishing was published by OF and RBFF in June of 2021. The report focuses on fishing participation in the U.S. in 2020, presenting information on the people who went fishing and the types of fishing that they engaged in. Fly fishing was a major focus of the report, and the results indicate that fly fishing participation continued to grow in 2020. In fact, it’s estimated that 7.8 million people went fly fishing in the U.S. in 2020—up a whopping 42% from the 5.5 million who fly fished in 2010. Fly fishing participation is also up 20% from 2016 levels, indicating that the strong growth in the sort has only continued since that column.

Not only did the number of fly fishermen increase in 2020, but the number of fly-fishing trips surged as well. OF and RBFF estimate that Americans went on 97 million fly fishing outings in 2020, up 27% from 2019 levels. Did the increases in both participation and frequency of fly fishing lead to increased sales of fly fishing tackle in 2020? The answer is a resounding yes, with more than a 70% increase in fly fishing tackle and accessories sales estimated in Southwick Associates 2020 Retail Fishing Equipment Market Size Report. Fishing tackle retailers across the U.S. should take note of this trend and consider the benefits of carrying fly fishing equipment in their stores, even if the store’s overall focus is on conventional fishing techniques.

Who were all these Americans who went fly fishing in 2020? According to OF and RBFF, more than 1.4 million of them (18%) were people who picked up a fly rod for the first time. Many of these first timers also found themselves in the market for fly fishing gear, leading to substantial sales of fly rods and reels, waders, flies, and other necessities. Though many think of fly fishing as a sport for the older generation, 29% of fly anglers in 2020 were under the age of 25, and 47% were under 35. Most fly anglers were males, though females made up 30% of the fly fishing community in 2020, and that proportion is up 10% since 2010. Fly fishing is a growing sport that is becoming increasingly diverse, and fishing tackle retailers should recognize that women and younger anglers who walk into their stores might just be looking for fly fishing equipment, now or soon. Keeping these customers in your store by offering at least entry-level fly gear may be key to maintaining their loyalty.

fly fishing participation map

Of course, geography is an essential factor that will determine the amount of fly fishing occurring in different areas. Fortunately, OR and RBFF also reported fly fishing participation by region, and those results are shown in the accompanying graphic.

The South Atlantic region boasts the largest number of fly anglers, with over 20% of all participants. The Middle Atlantic region accounts for another 17%. The steady growth seen in the sport since 2010 suggests that it could only be a matter of time before fly techniques become more common in your area as well.

To learn more about the fishing and tackle market via detailed market reports, or to gain custom research to help your business grow, please contact Southwick Associates at, or visit

This article originally appeared in the April 2022 issue of Fishing Tackle Retailer which also includes an article outlining the hottest new fly fishing gear on the market.

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