By Mark Boriek, Principal Fisheries Biologist
In March 2010, a total of 830 licensed anglers participated in a telephone survey to assess fishing participation and satisfaction. The survey was conducted by Responsive Management, a nationally recognized research firm specializing in public opinion on natural resources, fish and wildlife and outdoor recreation issues. All of the anglers polled had purchased a New Jersey freshwater fishing license during 2009. The survey covered topics including, but not limited to, the angler’s participation in various types of fishing, the species for which they fish, their satisfaction with fishing in New Jersey and their opinions on regulations. The last survey of New Jersey freshwater anglers was conducted in 2003.
The recent study reveals valuable data regarding our angling public’s level of satisfaction with the opportunities offered in New Jersey, and highlighted priorities for increasing angler satisfaction.
Consistent with New Jersey Division of Fish and Wildlife’s marked fishing license sales increase in recent years, the 2009 survey indicates that anglers are purchasing a license more reliably. In 2005, 55 percent of anglers had purchased a license; in 2008, 72 percent had, and when this survey was conducted in the spring of 2010, 88 percent of anglers surveyed had already purchased their 2010 fishing license.
Although half of New Jersey’s anglers have been devoted to the sport long-term—having fished for more than 20 years—there appears to be a slight increase in newcomers to the sport compared with the 2003 study results. We learned that 18 percent of anglers have been freshwater fishing for five years or less versus 10 percent of anglers in 2003. The survey also indicates that every year more and more anglers purchase a trout stamp with their license; 30 percent did so in 2005 and 53 purchased a trout stamp in 2009.
Resident anglers fished for an average of 28 days; non-residents fished for 16 days in Garden State waters. Of the anglers surveyed, 37 percent fished for ten days or less in 2010.
Overall, 70 percent of licensed freshwater anglers polled rated their freshwater fishing experience in New Jersey as excellent or good.
Quality of Fishing
Overall, 70 percent of licensed freshwater anglers polled rated their freshwater fishing experience in New Jersey as excellent or good. A greater percentage of anglers (27 percent) thought the overall quality of fishing had improved than thought it had declined (12 percent) in the past five years. The most popular answer was that it had remained about the same (43 percent). That was also true in 2003, when anglers generally felt that freshwater fishing had improved or remained about the same over the past 10 years.
In 2009, satisfaction (72 percent) far exceeds dissatisfaction (10 percent) among all anglers regarding New Jersey’s enforcement of freshwater fishing regulations; the remainder gave a neutral answer. An overwhelming majority of anglers (86 percent) also found New Jersey’s fishing regulations clear and easy to understand, while only 10 percent disagreed. However, 78 percent of the anglers were not aware of recent regulation changes such as the three rod-limit for shoreline anglers, although 72 percent did support that limit. It is apparent that a greater agency effort is necessary to alert anglers when regulations change.
Targeted Species and Most Popular Waterbodies
As with the freshwater angler survey in 2003, largemouth bass, trout and smallmouth bass were the most popular freshwater species sought by New Jersey anglers. Specifically, in 2009, 61 percent fished for largemouth bass; brook, brown or rainbow trout (41 percent) and smallmouth bass (40 percent). Following those were catfish/bullhead (19 percent), crappie (13 percent), pickerel (10 percent), northern pike (9 percent), hybrid striped bass (7 percent), walleye (4 percent) and muskellunge (1 percent). Excluding fishing tournaments, 5 percent of largemouth bass anglers kept at least some of the largemouth bass they caught in New Jersey in 2009. In 2003, 13 percent kept some of their largemouth bass catch.
In contrast to the 2003 survey where anglers were asked to rate their general satisfaction with stocking programs for species such as muskellunge, walleye, and hybrid striped bass, anglers who indicated they targeted these species were asked to identify the specific waterbodies they fished for these species. Although this greatly lengthened the overall survey, the data provided Fish and Wildlife with more precise information about the success of specific stocking programs.
Lake Assunpink was the most popular of the state’s four Lunker Bass Lakes (lakes Assunpink, Parvin and Delaware plus Splitrock Reservoir), with 28 percent of the bass anglers having fished there.
Of the state’s nine waterbodies stocked with northern pike, Spruce Run Reservoir, Budd Lake and Cranberry Lake were the most popular.
Lake Hopatcong, Echo Lake Reservoir and Monksville Reservoir were the overwhelming favorites among muskie anglers with over 70 percent of anglers fishing at least one of these waterbodies.
Lake Hopatcong, in addition to the Delaware River, also rated highly among walleye anglers.
Spring remains the most popular season for trout fishing in New Jersey with 79 percent of trout anglers participating then. Summer and fall are equally popular among anglers with 37 percent of trout anglers fishing each of those seasons. Trout anglers who generally fish in the winter were asked to indicate in which winter month they fish for trout the most. March is the most popular month from November through March.
Nearly half of the trout anglers (49 percent) released all the trout they caught. This is slightly less than reported in the 2003 survey (53 percent). In contrast, 11 percent of trout anglers keep all the trout they catch; about one third (35 percent) keep some and release some.
Trout anglers were asked if they would support or oppose a youth-only trout fishing day prior to opening day of the season, even if slightly fewer trout would be available in the waters for regular opening day. Supportive anglers (68 percent) far exceed those opposed (19 percent). The remainder gave a neutral answer.
And finally, the survey asked fall trout anglers if they support or oppose closing streams to fishing from 5 a.m. to 5 p.m. on the day streams are stocked as is done for spring stocking. Supporters (58 percent) exceed those opposed (33 percent). The remaining anglers gave a neutral answer. A reduced creel limit for fall trout fishing due to larger trout being stocked gained the support of 47 percent of fall trout anglers.
Fish and Wildlife’s Bureau of Freshwater Fisheries appreciates the time anglers took to complete the survey. We value your input about the quality of your fishing experience in New Jersey.