2009 comebacks: Recreational fishing and camping

FishingMix together a huge population bubble approaching retirement with savings depleted by a sagging economy and you end up with a lot of people with free time and not much money to spend. This is sweet music to purveyors of cheap recreations like fishing and camping, especially when it comes with the added benefit of a cheap dinner.

According to the Outdoor Foundation, camping (RV, backyard, and car) is our fourth most popular outdoor recreation, enjoyed by 14.4% of the population in 2007. Backpacking adds another 2.4% to this total. However, the activity has been in decline in recent years, down from 16.5% in 2006. This decline is attributed at least in part to the lack of participation by young people, who show a troubling disinclination to take part in outdoor recreation in general. Perhaps if there were a camping video game...

While RV sales are certain to struggle through the recession and increasing fuel costs, I expect tent and car camping to gain new life. A week in a state or national park campgrounds can't be beat for value, when compared with the cost of hotels and restaurants. And a campground is a great social equalizer where casual camaraderie is a matter of course. Try that in a hotel.

The same financial considerations should drive a growth in angling, as well. According to the American Sportfishing Association, more Americans fish than play golf and tennis combined -- almost 30 million. The industry claims retail sales of $45 billion in 2006. The Outdoor Foundation reports that participation in fishing grew slightly from 2006 to 2007, primarily in salt-water angling. And while it's no difficult feat to drop $10 grand on a bass boat, a boron/graphite rod, electronic fish finders and the like, it's also still possible to catch your supper with a hook, line, bamboo pole and a few garden-dug worms.

What I love most about these recreations is that they have no time clock, no referee, no scorecard, no huge upfront costs, and no barriers to participation. As hundreds of millions of Americans cut themselves free from the tether of the workplace, isn't this an appealing proposition?

That's why I expect camping and fishing to thrive in the foreseeable future. If you see me at the campfire, stop over. We can swap fish stories.

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