How Many Americans Go Fishing Every Year? Annual Statistics Uncovered

American flag on boat with fishing rods

Fishing has long been a cherished pastime and recreational activity in the United States. Every year, millions of Americans venture to the nation’s waterways for freshwater, saltwater, and fly-fishing activities. According to recent data, the number of Americans who participated in fishing reached an impressive 54.7 million in 2020, which corresponds to 18% of the US population.

In terms of the type of fishing preferred by Americans, freshwater fishing is the most popular, drawing in 42.6 million people, while saltwater fishing attracted 14.5 million enthusiasts. With fishing being such a popular hobby in the country, it’s evident that more people are enjoying the benefits of being outdoors, bonding with friends and family, and reaping the potential physical and mental health rewards the activity offers.

The significant number of people participating in fishing activities also highlights the importance of sustainable practices and conservation efforts to protect the various fish species and their habitats. As these millions of Americans continue to enjoy fishing into the future, the focus on ecological responsibility and the continual growth of this beloved outdoor activity are essential considerations for the health of the environment and the rich fishing tradition in the United States.

Statistics of American Fishing Participation

Numbers of Participants

In 2020, approximately 55 million Americans participated in recreational fishing activities, such as freshwater, saltwater, and fly-fishing. However, there was a 4.2 percent decrease in 2021 after the peak in the previous year.


When looking at the demographics of fishing participants, certain groups stand out in recent years:

  • African Americans experienced a 7.4% increase in participation and 14.6% growth since 2019, having the highest participation rate in the last three years.
  • Hispanic fishing participants reached a record 4.4 million last year.
  • 19.7 million females participated in fishing activities in 2020, which was a 10% increase compared to 2019.

Trends Over the Years

A few trends regarding recreational fishing participation have been observed over the years:

  • Youth participation: Fishing activities have become popular among young people, with 13.5 million youth ages 6 to 17 participating in 2020.
  • Overall growth: Despite a slight decrease in 2021, there has been a notable increase in overall fishing activities throughout the years, reaching the highest participation in the past 14 years in 2020.

Reasons for Fishing Popularity


Fishing is a popular recreational activity in the United States. In 2020, approximately 55 million Americans participated in fishing activities, showcasing the widespread interest in this outdoor pastime. The enjoyment derived from fishing can be attributed to various factors, such as:

  • Spending time in nature
  • Bonding with family and friends
  • Learning new skills and techniques
  • Experiencing relaxation and stress relief


The fishing industry plays a significant role in the U.S. economy. Commercial fishing employs 1.2 million Americans and generates over $165 billion annually. In addition to commercial fishing, recreational fishing also contributes to the economy through various channels, including:

  • Sales of fishing gear and equipment
  • Spending on fishing trips and related travel expenses
  • Employment and income opportunities related to fishing tourism


Fishing provides a unique opportunity for people to connect with the natural environment and advocate for its conservation. The increase in fishing participation has raised awareness about the importance of maintaining healthy waterways and aquatic ecosystems. A 2020 report found that catch and release was the most prominent practice across all types of fishing, demonstrating an amplified interest in conserving fish populations and preserving their habitats.

Various conservation measures associated with fishing include:

  • Limits on catch size and quantity
  • Fishing season restrictions to protect spawning fish
  • Regulations to minimize environmental impacts of fishing gear and practices

Fishing Types and Techniques

Fishing is a popular pastime in the United States, with millions of Americans enjoying various types of fishing each year. There are several different fishing techniques that cater to anglers of different skill levels and preferences.


Freshwater fishing is a common type of fishing in the US, attracting 42.6 million people in 2020 according to statistics. It is practiced in lakes, rivers, and streams across the country. There are numerous freshwater fish species targeted by anglers, including bass, trout, and catfish. Popular methods for freshwater fishing include:


Saltwater fishing, also known as ocean or marine fishing, accounted for 14.5 million people participating in the US in 2020 as per these figures. This type of fishing can be further divided into inshore and offshore fishing, depending on the distance from the shoreline. Some popular saltwater fish species include tarpon, tuna, snapper, and marlin. Techniques most commonly used in saltwater fishing are:

Fly Fishing

Fly fishing, as a specialized fishing technique, is designed for catching fish using artificial flies imitating insects or other small creatures. There were 7.8 million fly fishing enthusiasts in the US in the year 2020 according to this source. This technique requires a specific set of gear, such as specialized fly rods, reels, and lines. Fly fishing can be practiced in both freshwater and saltwater environments. Some of the most popular fish species targeted in fly fishing are trout, salmon, and redfish.

Top Fishing Destinations in America

Popular Lakes and Rivers

Fishing enthusiasts will find a variety of beautiful lakes and rivers in the United States. Many of these freshwater fishing spots provide unique opportunities and experiences for anglers. Some popular destinations include:

  • Lake Michigan, known for its abundant salmon population
  • Lake of the Woods, Minnesota, a favorite destination for walleye and muskie fishermen
  • The White River in Arkansas, renowned for its brown and rainbow trout

Other notable lakes and rivers throughout the country include the Snake and Columbia Rivers in the Pacific Northwest and the famous Lake Okeechobee in Florida.

Coastal Hotspots

For saltwater anglers, coastal hotspots provide exciting opportunities to catch various species not found in freshwater habitats. From the warm waters of Florida to the rugged coastline of Alaska, there are numerous coastal destinations to explore. Some top picks include:

  • Islamorada, Florida, often hailed as the fishing capital of the United States
  • The Outer Banks in North Carolina, where anglers can encounter a variety of game fish such as tuna, marlin, and sailfish
  • The Kodiak Island in Alaska, known for its fantastic salmon and halibut fishing

For a comprehensive list of top fishing destinations in all 50 states, check out FishAnywhere’s guide.

Effects of Fishing on the Environment

Positive Impacts

Fishing plays a crucial role in the economy, providing livelihoods and food security for millions of people. Some fishing practices, like sustainable fishing, promote the judicious use of resources and maintain the balance of the aquatic ecosystem.

Sustainable fishing methods include:

  • Selecting appropriate gear to reduce bycatch and habitat destruction
  • Setting catch limits to avoid overfishing
  • Monitoring fishing activities to improve enforcement and compliance

These practices contribute to the long-term health of fish populations, ensuring continued availability of resources for future generations.

Negative Impacts

Despite the benefits, fishing also poses significant threats to the environment. Overfishing is a major concern, leading to depleted fish stocks and disruption of marine ecosystems. Illegal, unreported, and unregulated (IUU) fishing is another major issue, with criminals gaining up to $36.4 billion each year.

Key environmental consequences of overfishing include:

  • Loss of biodiversity: Overfishing of top predators disrupts the balance in food chains, leading to an increase in smaller, less desirable species.
  • Disrupted ecosystems: When fish populations decline, it affects the entire marine ecosystem, including the abundance of prey species and the viability of habitats.
  • Economic decline: A depletion of fish stocks can lead to job losses and decreased income for fishing communities.

Harmful fishing practices also contribute to environmental degradation:

  • Bottom trawling: This method damages the seafloor, destroying habitats and killing non-target species.
  • Bycatch: Unsustainable fishing gear results in the accidental capture and death of non-target species, including endangered sea turtles and marine mammals.

Addressing these negative impacts requires effective regulation, proper enforcement, industry engagement, and increased public awareness of the importance of maintaining healthy aquatic ecosystems.

Finals Thoughts on How Many Americans Go Fishing Every Year

American flag on boat during sunset

In recent years, recreational fishing has seen a surge in popularity among Americans. According to a Statista report, approximately 55 million Americans participated in freshwater, saltwater, and fly-fishing activities in 2020. This marked the highest fishing participation rate in the past years. Moreover, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service highlights that 101.6 million Americans, accounting for 40 percent of the U.S. population aged 16 years and older, participated in wildlife-related activities, including fishing, in 2016.

The thriving fishing culture in the United States significantly contributes to the economy. A recent article informs that commercial fishing employs 1.2 million Americans and generates over $165 billion annually. Fishing also serves as an important pastime, allowing people to connect with nature, unwind, and bond with friends and family.

Despite its economic and recreational benefits, it is crucial for millions of Americans participating in fishing activities to adhere to sustainable practices. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) emphasizes the importance of responsible fishing to conserve fish populations and maintain the health of aquatic ecosystems for future generations to enjoy.

In summary, millions of Americans engage in fishing each year, not only as a recreational activity but also as a significant contributor to the nation’s economy. While the popularity of fishing continues to grow, it is essential for enthusiasts to prioritize sustainable practices for the long-term preservation of fish populations and their habitats.

Captain Tyler Brady

Captain Tyler Brady

Hi, I'm Captain Tyler Brady, founder of A Fellow Fisherman. Thank you for reading this post and visiting my site. I strive to provide the best information when it comes to fishing, whether it is myself or A Fellow Fisherman that is part of my team. Now stop reading and GO fishing!

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