ODFW’s Greenback Hatch Peaks In May

SALEM–If your store sells resident Oregon fishing licenses, hire extra clerks for the big rush next month.

Statewide, May sees the highest sales of the year. As many as one out of every five licenses are bought now, even though one-third of the annual permit that anglers renew each January is in effect wasted.

ODFW'S MONTHLY RESIDENT FISHING LICENSE SALES 1999-2009. (ODFW)

“I can’t say with certainty why May is such a big month for license sales, but I surmise this is when the casual angler starts thinking about fishing,” says David Lane, the Department of Fish and Wildlife’s marketing coordinator in Salem. “The weather is turning for the better. They’re looking at their calendar for summer trips. Kids are going to be out of school soon, so more free time with them. All these factors and more come together in May, so they go and buy.”

SINCE AT LEAST 1999 and likely before, May has reliably posted the biggest numbers of the year.

May 2001 tops all with 58,738 resident fishing licenses sold, ODFW data shows, followed by Mays in 2009 (57,126), 2003 (55,062), 2002 (53,344) and 2007 (52,292).

Among other reasons to get out next month: general trout and halibut openers, ice-off on Cascades lakes, shad and sturgeon in the Columbia, spinyrays beginning to bite more reliably around the Beaver State, the start of the pikeminnow reward fishery, and Memorial Day Weekend.

But April’s sales are no slouch, nor are June’s, and you can still find upwards of 30,000 Oregonians buying their licenses as late as July.

In fact, for one business in 2009, two of the four best months for all license sales actually came even later – August and September – says Dan Grogan, co-owner of Fisherman’s Marine & Outdoor in Portland. That aligned with a good salmon season at Buoy 10 and in the Columbia.

An ODFW bar chart also generally aligns with Grogan’s tackle sales. He says the best months for his two stores, which stock gear for everything from Cabo to crappie, are March into September.

But bait, cure and lure sales are very touchy. If fishing on the Columbia closes for some reason, Fisherman’s can see a 20 to 25 percent dropoff almost overnight, he says.

BACK TO LICENSE sales. Since summer 2008, another factor’s been at play, one that Mike Stahlberg of the Eugene Register-Guard nailed last May when he wrote: “When the economy hung out the GONE FISHIN!’ sign, so did more Oregonians.”

Last year saw A) unemployment as high as 11.6 percent, according to the state Employment Department, and B) the highest license sales of the decade, 303,267. That’s 30,000 more than the next closest year, 2007, when unemployment bottomed out in the low 5s, and 50,000 more than the lowest license sales year, 2005, when 6 percent were laid off.

The Idaho Department of Fish & Game also reported their highest fishing license sales since 1999, nearly 473,600 last year.

This recession has come at the same time that Oregon has seen huge runs of coho and steelhead everywhere from Astoria to Hebo to Sandy to Umatilla to Wallowa.

“No one likes to be unemployed,” Lloyd Graves, a painter on furlough, told a Wall Street Journal reporter snooping around the banks of the Nehalem last January, “but this couldn’t happen at a better time.”

As one ODFW spokesman I talked to noted, there’s a sense that some of the fishing is actually for subsistence. The Journal spoke with Graves’ fishing partner, Adam Rice, an unemployed carpenter who said he’d packed away 85 pounds of salmon and steelhead fillets.

(As an aside, a friend of mine was shocked at the number of anglers out on Kress Lake near Kalama, Wash., on a mid-April Thursday morning after WDFW planted it with 2,000 trout, but could understand it because many, like himself, were laid-off construction workers.)

For the record, Oregon hunting license sales were also up in 2009. Preliminary figures show the agency sold 298,562, the most since 2001 and nearly 20,000 more than 2007 and 2008.

AS STRONG AS sales have been, ODFW and others would like to know more about the mysterious rationale of the license-buying public, which is almost as strange as the ways of the fish we all chase.
While there are large annual variations in license sales each month up into summer, interestingly they smooth out by August.

“There’s just so much that goes into why people fish or why they don’t,” Lane says. “We’re just starting to scratch the surface of that.”

The agency is looking for ways to bump up license volume at nontraditional times of the year.

“How do we start making the sales in those shoulder months either at the end or the beginning?” Lane wonders.

As he noodles that question, here’s another: Will another bumper hatch of greenbacks come off the water this year?

Already Idaho’s sales are above 2009’s, and while Grogan points out he’s not competing with Joe’s anymore, he notes that this February and March’s license sales were around twice as high as the same months last year. –Andy Walgamott

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3 Responses to “ODFW’s Greenback Hatch Peaks In May”

  1. Mixed News On Boat Sales Front « Northwest Sportsman Says:

    […] at the same time, Beaver State anglers didn’t let the recession stop them from fishing. They purchased over 303,000 licenses in 2009 , the most in the 2000s, […]

  2. WDFW Coffers Get Boost During Recession « Northwest Sportsman Says:

    […] of course, shared in much of that same fishing bounty, and ODFW also saw best-of-the-decade freshwater resident fishing license sales during the state’s Jan. 1-Dec. […]

  3. WDFW Looks At License Increases « Northwest Sportsman Says:

    […] into that fund, and just as Oregon saw a pretty good jump in resident fishing permit sales — the highest license sales of the decade — so too has […]

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