WEST MICHIGAN — No bait needed! It seems West Michiganders were naturally attracted to fishing and hunting throughout the pandemic.
According to the DNR, Michigan saw a major spike in outdoor recreation as people looked to get outdoors and have fun, safely.
"We saw a really, really big jump this past fall and winter for sure in sales," said Matt Goehler. CEO of Lake Effect Lures Co. and RBM Jigs LLC. "Our website was up 3,000 percent this winter. So a huge, huge jump. As soon as we hit fall, we noticed a really big uptick in the number of businesses that were contacting us in regard to having our product on the shelves."
Goehler says like many other sporting goods businesses, his business saw a major uptick in their online sales and a demand from the bait shops that sell their products. That surge in business was likely brought on by the pandemic, he says. "Each year we've seen a pretty good level of growth. And so we weren't quite certain whether that was COVID related or not. But as soon as those shops opened up, we did notice that their orders were much larger. Part of that, I think, was that they did have the open shelf space but also that their traffic was a lot heavier."
According to the DNR, there were 1.2 million fishing customers in Michigan.
"Our fishing customers were up compared to 2019 10.6 percent, which may not sound like a lot, but given we have over a million fishing customers in any given year, that's a lot," said Dustin Isenhoff Research specialist with the Michigan DNR.
Overall, 2020 reeled in more young people versus those 65 years and older who typically make up most of the fishing and hunting population. In fact, the 65 and older group dropped by 1.2 percent in 2020.
New fishing customers, who the DNR considers people who haven't owned a fishing or hunting license in five or more years, were up by 27 percent.
In addition, women participants were up by 23 percent.
While numbers for fishing saw a major uptick, so did hunting. "That number up not quite as high, that was up five and a half percent, or a total of 675,000 people," said Isenhoff. "But again, new customers in that group was up 29 percent and female customers were up 14 percent. So, we saw younger folks and new folks come out both in hunting and fishing in 2020."
With all of those new fishermen and women, they needed some new equipment, which businesses like Goelers' and others were happy to accommodate.
"The fishing area is never short on a kind of new things that are coming out, and so lots of people were taking advantage of that and kind of just bulking up and trying it out," said Goehler. "When we lived through something like what we're going through, you would hate for your children to have to grow up and go through some of those early phase struggles, figuring out exactly what you need to do in order to find peace and happiness. And the outdoors provides that for a lot of people, and so it's cool to be able to equip our younger generations with that."