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Record Editorial: Don't let fishing become the sport that got away

Fishing isn't as popular as it used to be, especially among young people, and that's bad news for tourism in Becker County.

It's not just the dismal showing for fishing opener weekend -- that was expected, with the ice barely off the lakes.

It's more troubling than that, because it appears to be part of a long-term trend across the nation.

In 1996, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service estimated the national angler population at 35.2 million.

In 2006, that estimate fell to 30 million - a 12 percent decrease in 10 years.

In Minnesota, fishing license sales are remaining fairly stable, according to the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources. But sales should be rising to keep up with the growing population, and that isn't happening.

For some reason, young people seem to be losing interest in angling.

In spite of noble efforts to reverse the trend -- take a bow, organizers of Take a Kid Fishing -- the numbers speak for themselves: A few years ago, nearly 40 percent of Minnesotans age 16 and older purchased a fishing license; today, it's about 28 percent.

That's too bad, because kids that don't fish are missing out on great outdoor fun.

And the drop in anglers coming into Detroit Lakes has been noticeable the past few years.

Opener weekend used to mean hustle and bustle at bait shops, gas stations and restaurants -- and a lot of maneuvering for position at public boat landings and fishing piers.

That doesn't seem to be the case anymore. The last few openers haven't been all that busy. Traffic on the roads and in the lakes is light. Fishing seems to have fallen off.

That hurts because out-of-town fishermen, and local enthusiasts as well, pump a lot of money into, and support a lot of jobs in Becker County.

What's behind the slump? The high gas prices haven't helped, nor has the perception that fishing isn't as good as it used to be.

Today's young people are turning to other forms of "inside" entertainment like the Internet and video games.

"Nationally, there is growing concern that everyone, especially kids, are increasingly disconnected with nature," says Jenifer Matthees, a coordinator of the DNR's angler retention project, writing on the DNR's Web site.

The DNR is developing a Web site of kid-friendly fishing locations and is working with the Recreational Boating and Fishing Foundation on a "Take Me Fishing" campaign.

The state is doing its part, but the DNR could use some help from those who love fishing: Bring a youngster along next time you hit the lake -- you could be passing along a passion that will last a lifetime.