Through the adventures of Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn, author Mark Twain perfectly portrayed fishing in Missouri as a delightful escape from the rigors of life.
Fishing also contributes to the quality of life by adding millions of dollars to the economy each year.
The average angler spends more than $1,200 each year on fishing equipment and trips, according to the American Sportfishing Association (ASA), an organization of sporting goods manufacturers, state and federal wildlife, land and water management agencies, conservation organizations and individuals.
In 2001, Missouri anglers' purchases of fishing-related goods alone totaled $832,776,355. Those purchases helped fund approximately 15,000 jobs in the state.
Anglers also have great impact on state fisheries resources. Every Missourian who buys fishing gear contributes to fish stocking, fisheries research and other programs that help enhance fishing opportunities and state streams and lakes. The contributions are made through the Federal Aid in Sport Fish Restoration Act.
That's the federal law enacted in 1950 with the blessing of anglers nationwide. Nowadays it is better known as the Wallop-Breaux Act, in honor of two lawmakers who updated the law in 1984. Their amendment provides a broader tax base and protects the funds from being diverted to pay for other programs.
Missouri receives approximately $6.5 million annually in federal disbursements for programs. The Missouri Department of Conservation (MDC) Fisheries Division has put the funds to good use on a wide variety of projects that improve fishing opportunities.
"The majority of the accesses we construct in the state are funded 75 percent by proceeds from the excise taxes anglers pay on fishing-related equipment," said MDC Fisheries Division Administrator Norm Stucky. As you travel around the state you'll find very few places where there isn't readily available access to streams and lakes, and that access is provided free of charge."
Stucky said anglers contributions through the Sport Fish Restoration Act also are helping to improve the state's aquatic resources.
"Taneycomo is back in terms of being a premier trout fishery," said Stucky. "We conducted research on the trout population to find out why fish weren't reaching a larger size. The research found there was plenty of food and good habitat, but the fish were being caught so quickly they didn't have a chance to grow to a quality size."
The research led to a regulation putting a size limit on fish taken from Lake Taneycomo in the first three miles below Table Rock Dam.
"The response has been nothing short of phenomenal," Stucky said. "Last fall's sample there revealed the population of rainbow and brown trout in this three-mile reach was the best we've ever seen. The change came about as a result of research funded by the excise tax."
Indirect benefits from the Sport Fish Restoration Act also are tremendous. The federal dollars free up state money for work that Missouri otherwise could not afford.
In addition to the many monetary benefits received from angling activities there are intangibles that make fishing important.
"I wish there was some way we could capture the true value of the fishing experience," said Stucky. "The funds it provides to help protect Missouri's aquatic treasures are invaluable, but how do you put a value on the mental and physical benefits received from a fishing trip.
"Fishing is a wonderful way to relax. It draws family and friends together and provides a way to strengthen those relationships. I hope more Missourians consider the benefits of fishing and spend more time with family and friends enjoying this wonderful sport," he said.