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‘Fishing is a part of culture’ in Michigan, and interest in it keeps growing

Students compete in the June B.A.S.S fishing tournament in Bay City.
Courtesy of B.A.S.S. Fishing Tournament
Students compete in the June B.A.S.S fishing tournament in Bay City.

Interest in recreational fishing in Michigan keeps on growing, Department of Natural Resources Chief of Fisheries Division Randall Claramunt says.

According to Michigan DNR data, 180,033 people purchased their fishing license for the first time and 807,573 licenses were purchased in total from June 2023 to June 2024.

This graph shows the numbers of recreational anglers in Michigan each year since 2014. The number for 2024 reflects the first six months of the year.
Masha Smahliuk
/
WCMU
This graph shows the numbers of recreational anglers in Michigan each year since 2014. The number for 2024 reflects the first six months of the year.

“We are holding steady, if not slightly increasing ... which is really good news,” Claramunt said.

Claramunt said the increase has been evident since 2018, when license sales were low, and sales especially bumped up in 2020 because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Fishing was a big attraction,” Claramunt said. “I always tell people fishing is one of the easiest, most enjoyable things to enter into, especially in Michigan.”

Female anglers and people fishing with families have also increased, Claramunt said. For example, according to the DNR’s data, there are 161,244 female fishing license holders in 2024.

Glenn Cale, a manager for Bay City BASS Tournaments, brought over 600 high school and college students to the city to compete this summer. He agreed that more kids have been spending time outside since the pandemic and their interest in fishing has grown.

“The benefit is that you’re not controlled by indoors, and you get a chance to get outside ... to enjoy a great competitive sport out there,” Cale said.

Justin Tomei, a policy and government affairs manager for Michigan United Conservation Clubs, a nonprofit that works to conserve and protect Michigan’s natural resources, said hunting and fishing contribute $11 billion annually to Michigan’s economy and are the top job drivers in the state. That is according to MUCC’s most recent data from 2019, which show that fishing itself brought $2.3 billion to the state and created 36,000 jobs in 2019.

This graph shows the number of fishing licenses purchased in Michigan in the first six months of each year since 2019.
Masha Smahliuk
/
WCMU
This graph shows the number of fishing licenses purchased in Michigan in the first six months of each year since 2019.

Tomei said people also get into fishing because it’s an easily accessible and cost-effective activity, and a way to ethically source their own protein.

“When you buy a fishing license, you are actively contributing to the management of the fishery across the state,” Tomei said. “The fisheries division in the department needs the money, especially to make sure that the Great Lakes stay healthy.”

Claramunt said because Michiganders can buy a fishing license and fish almost anywhere in the state, there are no data that show how many people fish specifically in Saginaw Bay. But he says it attracts anglers because of its large population of walleye.

“I would say if you’re an organization that holds fishing tournaments, if you’re not fishing in Bay City ... and Saginaw Bay, you’re missing out,” Cale said.

He said the kids enjoyed the tournaments and brought in great catches. There will also be two more tournaments this summer in Bay City – Hobie Kayak Bass Series and National Professional Fishing League, both in August.

Joe Wolthuis, a marketing manager at Scientific Anglers, said interest in fly fishing has grown recently as well.

Scientific Anglers manufactures fly fishing lines and sells them worldwide and its factory is located in Midland. Next year, it will celebrate its 80th anniversary.

Wolthuis said fly fishing is unique because of the way the line is cast. He said it is mostly associated with trout fishing and requires a lot of skill and practice.

He said usually fly fishing is less popular than regular fishing, but interest in it also increased since the pandemic because of its cost-effectiveness.

“I feel like fishing is a part of the culture in general,” Wolthuis said. “Anywhere you go in Michigan, you can have an opportunity to go fishing on any given day. Be it going out on Saginaw Bay ice fishing in the wintertime or swinging flies, there’s always something.”

Editor's note: The Michigan Department of Natural Resources is a sponsor of WCMU. We report on them as we do with any other organization.

Masha Smahliuk is a newsroom intern for WCMU based at the Midland Daily News.
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