By Alex Lippa
---- — More people than ever are getting hooked on fishing New hampshire’s lakes, ponds and streams.
In 2011, the most recent numbers available from the New Hampshire Fish and Game Department, more than 151,000 people bought fishing licenses here, according to Susan Perry, licensing supervisor.
When the numbers are calculated for 2012, Perry said she expects to see an even bigger number. If she does, that would translate into the most fishing licenses sold since 2001.
The numbers have been inching up, gaining about 2,000 a year.
Some credit a poor economy for the increase, others point to the department’s Let’s Go Fishing program, designed to hook children and adults who have never fished on the sport.
“It’s cheap entertainment,” said Howie Glynn, co-owner of Dockside Marina in Salem. “It requires some gear, but it doesn’t cost a fortune to do it.”
He’s had a busy spring, he said, and already has ordered more inventory because sales have been so strong.
“Everything is up,” Glynn said. “Fishing licenses, supplies and even boating licenses.”
That’s good news for tackle and bait shop owners, but it’s also good news for the state.
Fishing generated more than $208 million in revenue in 2011, according to a report done by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. When the last report was done in 2006, revenue was only $172 million.
“It’s tremendous to see that,” said Jane Vachon, public information officer for the Fish and Game Department. “It brings in tourists and it has people spending money.”
She, too, pointed the economics for those who enjoy the sport.
“It has definitely been on the upswing,” Vachon said. “It is a good way to get out and enjoy the outdoors, and not have to spend too much money.”
There’s a new development this spring which could mean it become more competitive, too.
The New Hampshire Interscholastic Athletic Association is testing bass fishing this year in anticipation that it will be fully sanctioned next year.
“Out of all the sports that we’ve initiated, we’ve never had the phone traffic and email traffic and inquiry and interest that we’ve seen in this sport,” said Pat Corbin, executive director of the NHIAA. “It’s off the chart and incredible.”
They will host a tournament at Lake Winnipesaukee next weekend. Twenty-five schools have registered to participate, including Pinkerton Academy. New Hampshire would be just the third state to have fishing as a high school varsity sport.
But fishing derby organizers report attendance has been down.
Tracy Gerbert runs several fishing derbies throughout the state, including one in Hampstead on Big Island Pond. He said participation has dwindled.
“I think people just don’t want to travel as much because of the price of gas,” Gerbert said. “Hopefully, we’ll see that change a little this year.”
Noriko Yoshida-Travers runs a youth fishing tournament in Atkinson each year. She, too, reports declining numbers.
“We had about 35 registered kids last year, when we’ve had 65 in the past,” she said. “I think children are busier and have just more activities and things to do.”
The state has been actively trying to change that with the free classes offered through Let’s Go Fishing.
“The number of kids that participate in that program keeps increasing,” said Mark Beauchesne of the Fish and Game Department. “Tens of thousands of people have gone through this program since the late 1980s. It helps people enter the sport and stay into the sport.”
Vachon said the department is just starting to ramp up for this year’s fishing season.
Hatchery trucks were sent around the state this weekend, and more than 1 million trout will be stocked in waterways throughout the spring.
When to fish Brook, rainbow, brown trout and their hybrids: rivers and streams, Jan. 1-Oct. 15; trout ponds: April 27-Oct. 15; lake trout and/or salmon waters, Jan. 1-Sept. 30; all other waters, no closed season. Lake trout: all waters: Jan. 1-Sept. 30. Landlocked salmon: April 27-Sept. 30 (Pleasant Lake, New London); all other waters: April 1-Sept. 30; Atlantic salmon brood stock fishery (along the Merrimack and lower Pemigewasset rivers); catch and release, Oct. 1-March 31. Largemouth and smallmouth bass: rivers and streams, Jan. 1-Oct. 15; catch and release, May 15-June 15; trout ponds, April 27-Oct. 15; catch and release, May 15-June 15; all other waters, no closed season, catch and release, May 15-June 15.Fishing licenses sold in New Hampshire are on the rise, with the most being sold last year than there has been in a decade.