Amid work, school and kids’ activities, fishing isn’t hooking Iowans like it once did.
Fishing licenses in Iowa fell 14.5 percent from 2009 to 2018, according to the Iowa Department of Natural Resources. So the agency, which received $8.4 million in revenue from fishing licenses in 2018, is promoting the family focus of fishing and encouraging urban fishing by stocking city ponds and lakes.
“There are so many activities going on in the world anymore, with kids’ activities, work and everything else,” said Alex Cross, Iowa DNR customer service and licensing supervisor. “It comes down to time and it being a priority to get out.”
Caleb Moses, 33, of Fairfax, was casting for catfish last weekend near the 5-in-1 Dam in downtown Cedar Rapids. That’s where he goes when he doesn’t have time to get his boat out on the Cedar River.
“I’ve been fishing for at least 20 years,” he said. “My parents took me fishing so I’m trying to pass that on with my kids.”
Moses has children ages 8, 5 and a newborn. He’d like to see the city provide restrooms and for anglers to clean up after themselves.
“One way they could reverse the trend (of fewer licenses statewide) would be to make the fishing areas more family-friendly,” Moses said.
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He also thinks the Iowa DNR should hand out more tickets for people fishing without licenses. “I haven’t seen the DNR down there (near 5-in-1 Dam) for five years,” he said.
The Iowa DNR gets about one-quarter of its $134 million annual operating budget from fees and receipts — compared with 10 percent from the state general fund. Annual fishing license revenue has bounced between $8.4 million and $9.6 million a year since 2013, when new license types were added.
Iowa sold 359,660 licenses in 2018, down from 403,700 in 2017 and 420,800 in 2009. But 2009 was a banner year for fishing, Cross said, as the economic recession spurred more Iowans to cast about for low-cost entertainment.
Cold, wet springs can hurt fishing license sales.
“Last year, spring was pretty cold,” Cross said. “We had a snowstorm in the middle of April. Those weather events drive spring licensing sales. After July 4, we don’t have a lot of sales. This year, we’re more on pace for the 340,000 to 355,000 range.”
One of the goals of the agency and other outdoor groups is teaching young people how to fish.
“In our park master plan, we have in our mission statement that kids will learn how to do things outdoors,” said Juli Seydell Johnson, Iowa City Parks and Recreation director. These activities including swimming, riding bikes and fishing, she said.
Iowa City and Johnson County Conservation will offer a free youth fishing class from 1-4 p.m. Aug. 4 at the Terry Trueblood Recreation Area in Iowa City. Registration is required at the city’s website.
The Iowa DNR promotes local fishing with the phrase “Outdoor fun is just five minutes away!” and an online map of lakes stocked with fish including largemouth bass, bluegill and channel catfish.
Cedar Rapids metro hot spots include Cedar Lake, Ellis Harbor, Mohawk Park Pond, Prairie Park Fishery, Robbins Lake and Seminole Park Backwaters, according to the website.
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