Teasers from our 2014 Angler Attitude Survey

As most of you know, HFF conducted a survey of anglers in Harriman State Park (“the Ranch”) in 2014. The survey was identical to one conducted back in 2008, for direct comparison of angler attitudes and experiences between the two years. In 2008, the (new, improved) Buffalo River fish ladder and the Island Park Drought Management Planning process were each only two years old and so had not had time to fully affect the population of rainbow trout available to anglers. By 2014, two full fish generations had passed since implementation of these two major fishery improvement projects, and we went back to see whether anglers had noticed any difference in the fishing.

I have spent only a week or so with the data, as I have prepared it for delivery to one of my statistical assistants. But, I was so excited and intrigued by what I have learned so far, that I thought I would share some morsels to whet your appetite for the full results, which I will present at HFF’s annual meeting in June.

Survey Methods

We used the same methods in both years. Anglers were interviewed at the completion of a fishing trip, usually in the afternoon, although we did interview quite a few anglers after evening outings. HFF staff, interns, and volunteers interviewed the anglers and filled out the data form. We conducted interviews every day from the June 15 opener until mid-October. Interviews were conducted roughly in proportion to the spatial and temporal distribution of angler effort--67% of the interviews were conducted at the north Fisherman’s Access (“log jam”), 12% at Osborne Bridge, 7% at Ranch View, and the remaining 14% at all other locations combined. Similarly, 33% of the interviews were conducted in June, 34% in July, 10% in August, 15% in September, and 8% in October. Each angler was given a bird band with an ID number upon first encounter, so that individual anglers could be identified throughout the fishing season. In the case of anglers who were interviewed more than once within the year, we randomly selected one of their interviews to be included in the analysis, to avoid bias toward anglers who were repeatedly interviewed. In all, we obtained interviews from 616 unique anglers in 2008 and 356 unique anglers in 2014.

Angler Characteristics

We asked numerous questions aimed at characterizing the anglers by their level of experience and place of residence. Although I haven’t analyzed the responses to most of these questions, a quick analysis showed that in 2008, the median angler had been fishing the Ranch for 8 years, whereas in 2014, the median angler had been fishing the Ranch for 10 years. It is relevant to note that in 2014, 61% of interviewed anglers reported having fished the Ranch for at least 6 years, which means that the majority of anglers interviewed in 2014 also fished the Ranch during or prior to 2008. Furthermore, the median angler in 2014 reported fishing the Ranch an average of 7 days per year, whereas in 2008, the median angler reported fishing the Ranch only an average of 5 days per year. Thus, at least based on these two questions, the population of anglers fishing the Ranch in 2014 had more experience fishing the Ranch, both in terms of number of seasons and number of days per season than the 2008 population.

Fish Numbers

Each spring, Idaho Department of Fish and Game estimates the size of the population of wild rainbow trout in the Box Canyon. Because fish move seasonally among the Box Canyon, Last Chance, Harriman, Harriman East, and Riverside reaches, the annual Box Canyon population estimate is not a direct measure of the number of fish available to anglers in the Ranch on any given day of the fishing season. However, the estimate does serve as an index for the number of fish available to anglers in any given season and can be compared meaningfully across years. The Box Canyon rainbow trout density was 2,527 fish per mile in 2008 and 2,534 fish/mile in 2014, so the populations were exactly the same between the two survey years.

However, based on survey responses, anglers reported having much higher catch rates in 2008 than in 2014. As we all know, catch rates are extremely low on the Ranch; one or two fish landed in a typical 4-hour outing is a fantastic success rate. In 2008, the mean catch rate (total catch divided by total number of unique-angler interviews) was 1.16 fish per interview, whereas in 2014, the catch rate was only 0.63 fish per interview. In 2014, 67% of anglers interviewed reported that they had not landed a fish on that particular outing, compared to only 56% who reported not having landed a fish on the day of the interview in 2008.

Thus, although the fish population size did not differ between the two years, anglers reported landing more fish in 2008 than they did in 2014. And remember—the angling population in 2008 was, on average, less experienced than the 2014 population of anglers.

Quality of Fishing

We asked numerous questions about how anglers viewed their fishing experience. Some of these questions addressed specific aspects of the angling experience such as quality of insect hatches and condition of fish habitat. Other questions asked about “overall” quality of fishing. Here, I’ll provide responses to only two of these “quality” questions.

One of the specific aspects we asked about was “the number of opportunities you have to fish to rising fish.” Anglers were asked to rate this on a 1-10 scale, where 1 is “very dissatisfied” and 10 is “very satisfied.” In 2008, the median response to this question was “5,” whereas in 2014, the median response was “6.” Given the large sample sizes, this 1-point difference was statistically significant (i.e., highly unlikely to be due to randomness in the sample of anglers interviewed). Perhaps even more interesting is that the difference in responses between the two years was greatest in the number of “10” ratings. In 2014, 23.3% of anglers interviewed rated the opportunity to fish to rising fish as a “10”, whereas in 2008, only 13.4% rated the rising-fish opportunity a “10”. In fact, in 2008, the rating category with the highest percentage of responses was “1”, at 20%.

Anglers were also asked to rate the overall quality of fishing on the Ranch on the day of the interview. This question was posed on a 4-point scale ranging from “poor” to “excellent”. In 2008, the responses were 22% “poor,” 29% “fair”, “31% “good”, and 18% “excellent.” In 2014, the responses were 22% “poor,” 22% “fair”, 27% “good” and 29% “excellent.” Again, the greatest difference between the two years was the response rate in the highest category. Looked at another way, in 2014 56% of anglers rated the fishing as “good” or “excellent”, whereas in 2008 only 49% rated the fishing as “good” or “excellent.”

Now, remember that in 2008, anglers reported catching a lot more fish than they did in 2014, yet in 2014, they were more satisfied with the number of opportunities to fish to rising fish and were much more likely to rate the fishing as “good” or “excellent.”

Further analysis showed that in both years, anglers were more likely to rate the fishing as “excellent” and less likely to rate it as “poor” if they caught more fish. This shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone. What was interesting is that value of landing a fish was much greater to anglers in 2014 than in 2008. For example, in 2008, 20% of anglers who caught two fish rated the fishing as “excellent,” whereas in 2014, 52% of anglers who caught two fish rated the fishing as “excellent.”

Conclusions

As I mentioned earlier, I’ve just scratched the surface of the interview data, but as you can see, the results are fascinating. Biological evidence suggests that there was no difference in the number of fish in the population between the two years, yet a less experienced population of anglers caught more fish in 2008. On the other hand, anglers reported a much higher level of satisfaction with the number of rising fish they encountered in 2014 and were much more satisfied with their overall fishing experience. Moreover, that satisfaction increased at higher rate per fish caught than in 2008. And remember—most of the anglers interviewed in 2014 also fished the Ranch in 2008.

There are many possible explanations for these observations, but I am going to hold off on suggesting any of them until we fully analyze the interview data and investigate differences between the two years in environmental variables such as streamflow, weather, and macrophyte abundance. Of course, maybe it’s all psychological—you anglers were just a happier bunch in 2014, and when you caught a fish or two, you were absolutely giddy!  

Plan on attending our annual meeting in June to receive the full report.