The future of recreational fishing in Utah is dependent on the recruitment of young anglers. While the same is true of almost any activity, fishing is especially critical to the state because of its wide-ranging impact.

Many Utah residents might be surprised to know that fishing has a higher statewide participation rate than skiing, according to an economic report prepared by the University of Utah for Commerce Real Estate Solutions. And while skiing generates more outside revenue for the state, fishing likely produces more economic activity among residents.

In an effort to attract young anglers and provide close-to-home access, the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources is focusing increased resources on its urban fishing program. There are currently more than 40 community fishing waters across the state, and more are added each year.

The DWR website says, “Community fisheries provide a fun, easy way to spend quality time with family and friends outdoors. They offer a setting for parents and kids to talk, enhance family interaction, and keep busy Utahans in touch with the natural world. Fishing can provide families with opportunities to get away from their day-to-day problems and share time together.

“Kids benefit from fishing immensely, since they can participate solo or with others. It's a sport that builds self-esteem and confidence while enhancing problem-solving and decision-making skills.”

As part of the urban fishing program, the DWR organizes fishing clubs for children in communities across the state. Clubs are open to children 6 to 13, and the DWR provides all needed supplies to introduce children to fishing.

Wes Pearce, community fishery biologist for the northern region, said most clubs operate one night a week for six weeks. Volunteers help teach participants how to fish. Pearce said there is an urgent need for more volunteers. Hours spent helping children learn to fish meet the volunteer service hours required for dedicated hunter candidates.

A list of clubs where volunteers are needed and that offer fishing lessons is available at http://wildlife.utah.gov/cf/clubs.php. Available slots fill quickly. While most operate in the spring, there are some that have summer or fall classes.

Dale Searcy works for Roy city and is the coordinator for the Meadow Creek Youth Fishing Club. He has been involved with the club since 2005.

“Over the years, I have witnessed many of our fishing club graduates as they continue to come back to the pond and fish,” Searcy said. “These kids have become very good at catching fish. They bring friends with them to the pond and help them learn about fishing instead of spending that time inside their homes playing video games.”

Searcy said many of the youths that participate in the fishing club would not otherwise learn to fish. Many are from single-parent households or from families where neither parent knows how to fish.

Searcy said more than half of the volunteer coaches come back to help the club year after year. Many are retired and most are not related to any of the children in the club. “These adults are there because they like helping kids learn to fish,” Searcy said.

In 2005, the Meadow Creek Youth Fishing Club had 60 youths and 12 volunteers. Searcy said they quickly discovered it was too many kids and not enough helpers. Now the club limits the spots to 40 youths and 20 volunteer coaches.

The Utah Valley University Bass Fishing Club is another example of an organization helping to provide fishing opportunities for children. During the International Sportsman’s Expo, club members spent nearly 100 hours helping man the children’s fishing area.

Club adviser Clinton Martinez said members are participating in several other projects to help introduce youths to the sport of fishing. One of those projects is the DWR community fishing club at Spanish Oaks Reservoir.

Community fishing waters range from less than an acre to a few acres in size. The total combined surface acreage of these waters is about one-tenth the size of Deer Creek Reservoir.

But although the community fishing ponds are usually small, they play an ever increasing role in the mission of the DWR and in introducing new anglers to the sport. Pearce said community fisheries is among the DWR’s fastest growing programs.

“I get several calls every year from people wanting to know if a body of water is suitable to be included in the community fisheries program,” he said. Pearce said the northern region added five new community fishing waters in the past two years.

The DWR regularly stocks the water with catchable fish — usually trout and channel catfish. In 2010, the state implemented a limit of two fish per day for all community fishing waters. Pearce said the reduced limit spreads out the fishing pressure over a longer period. During peak spring and summer months, some of the ponds are stocked weekly.

A complete list of community fishing waters can be found at http://wildlife.utah.gov/cf/cf_book_12.pdf

Local communities maintain the lakes, ponds, grounds and facilities in the urban fishing program. The benefits of the work often extend beyond providing a fishing opportunity for residents. Searcy noted that after Roy created its community fishery the park got increased use from joggers, bikers and even families coming for picnics.

It also got plenty of attention from kids who wanted a place to fish — something that should benefit the state for many years to come.

Economics of Utah fishing

Because fishing is such a diverse activity, it is difficult to compile an accurate total of its economic impact. But no one can dispute that it is big business. In addition to the sales of fishing licenses, Beehive State anglers spend hundreds of millions of dollars each year on fishing tackle, boats, fuel, fees and much more.

Estimates about the total economic impact of fishing in Utah range from $500 million a year to more than $900 million. That total, however, does not include money spent by local communities in projects to upgrade lakes, streams and rivers for fishing and other types of recreational use.

For example, Highland is in the midst of an ongoing improvement project at Highland Glen Park. City workers are upgrading roads, fences, parking and lake shore access.

Meadow Creek Pond in Roy was originally a swampy baseball field. City officials decided to use the spot for a retention basin to help with runoff and stormwater control. In the process, they visited a project in St. George that was serving dual use for stormwater control and as a community fishing pond.

Roy officials decided to do the same in their city. The city purchased a track hoe and bulldozer and used city workers to build the four-acre pond. Public use of the pond turned out to be greater than originally anticipated. Searcy said the city had to double the original parking area. Searcy said surveys by the city showed many of the pond’s users said a poor economy and high gas prices helped them choose a fishing and recreation spot close to home.

For 2011, the Utah DWR budget was more than $68 million. The Utah Wildlife Habitat Council spent an additional $919,000 on fish-related projects.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service regularly conducts a comprehensive national survey of fishing, hunting and wildlife recreation. The most recent data available are from 2005. So keep in mind that current expenditures would likely be much higher. Here are some of the data (resident and non-resident combined) for Utah:

Number of anglers — 375,000

Total days spent fishing — 3.82 million

Average annual expenditure per angler — $968

Average trip expenditure per day — $48

Flint Stephens is author of "Mormon Parenting Secrets: Time-Tested Methods for Raising Exceptional Children." He has a master's degree in communications from Brigham Young University. His blog is www.mormonparentingsecrets.com