If you were on any one of the many lakes or rivers in northern Ontario this past summer, you may have witnessed a new angler having their first fishing experience. This Canadian tradition may have been making a memory for a new Canadian, a couple on a weekend getaway, or for a family with children as they learned how to drop a line as part of the Experience Fishing program.
This year was the inaugural year of a three-year Experience Fishing pilot directed at sustaining what is a maturing anglers’ market. With the average median age of anglers at 55 years, in a market that accounts for 37 per cent of Northern Ontario’s $1 billion tourism-related goods and services market, the goal is to hook new people on the sport.
“We knew the market is maturing based on a 2014 High Yield Angling study which gave us the baseline on the aging angler age range. Plus, we performed additional national and international research on anglers,” said Nicki Schiewe, Senior Coordinator, Product Development, Destination Northern Ontario (DNO). “Our fishing industry continues to do very well but we needed to look at how to sustain the future of fishing tourism and that means finding ways on how can we attract new markets and increase guest stays.”
As a pan-northern program, Experience Fishing was the result of a mini-program initially offered by four French River fishing resorts in 2017. Their results and experiences were presented at last year’s Ontario Tourism Summit. This past summer, 17 lodge owners participated in what is now a collaborative effort of industry owners, operators and stakeholders.
“The Experience Fishing program encourages operators to look inward and not just at advertising and not at huge renovations, but at how they can create packaging that will appeal to the new revenue streams,” said Nicki. “There is no cost to the operator to participate and they’re provided with everything they need including training resources, tools and resources.”
She explained that guests may book three or four nights and plan on fishing for a couple of hours. So, operators need to think about what else they can do to build on the outdoor experience. These experiences can include internal offerings such as kayak rentals or interpretive trails but operators can also work in collaboration with local attractions, gateway communities, First Nation communities and other area attractions.
Attracting a new demographic can also mean meeting different expectations by providing better-quality linens, broader food and beverage selections, or offering a pre-arrival checklist for guests. “Operators communicate with guests to ensure they pack the right clothing, help them to get their fishing license and let them know what will be provided,” said Nicki.
As one of the four original participating operators, Sue and Ed Crane, of Crane’s Lochaven Wilderness Resort on Wolsely Bay, French River are strong supporters of the Experience Fishing program.
“It is a commitment but overall it is going to increase the numbers in our industry,” said Sue. “Our location is 3.5 hours north of the GTA so we saw an opportunity to introduce new Canadians to fishing and to help take away that fear of fishing because we’re going to show you, step-by-step, how to do it.”
Sue said the Experience Fishing program is about educating people on the fun of fishing while creating new memories. And for those who have a successful catch, the Cranes will clean, package and freeze any fish caught (within limits). At the resort's fish fry, guests can even contribute their catch to the meal adding to the group experience of meeting other people.
“We saw a substantial amount of people from the GTA and they loved it and not only wanted to tell their friends about it but come back, again.”
“We offer an opportunity for people to experience the outdoors in a variety of ways including visiting the local rapids or having a shore lunch and seeing how fish is prepared,” she explained. The Lochaven Wilderness Resort experience actually starts 20 minutes before people even set foot on the lodge property.
“Our guests park and are then picked up with our water taxi which takes them on a 15 to 20 minute boat ride across the bay to the lodge,” she said. “It is a great way for people to see where they are going and the natural beauty of the area.”
Tourism operators can learn more about Experience Fishing here.
Destination Northern Ontario is funded by the Ontario Ministry of Heritage, Sport, Tourism and Culture Industries. It is the largest of Ontario’s 13 Regional Tourism Organizations Their mandate is to coordinate, align and invest in sub-regional programs and serve as the lead in pan-northern management functions.