The New Fishing Year kicked off with the National Professional Anglers Association annual conference on January 4-6th  in Minneapolis.  The record attendance of 250 anglers, fans, tackle and marine industry leaders and dignitaries realized the truth behind executive director Pat Neu’s opening statement, “The NPAA has evolved into a big company.”

With the goal of growing, protecting and preserving the sport of fishing, Neu cited the “big” statistics.  Membership has jumped to 520 individuals, double from a few years ago; 62 total industry partners support the organization (from nine in 2008); NPAA members conducted youth fishing events in 2012 for nearly 9,000 kids and 4,600 parents; was instrumental in forming the non-profit Future Anglers Foundation; hired an association management company; and is poised for more growth.

Association board president Robert Blosser said, “We’re growing by leaps and bounds and anticipate this growth to continue.  The board charts the course, and Pat Neu as our executive director steers the ship.”  That expansion will include charter captains, guides, industry, youth, college and high school members, “The future of the sport is attracting young people,” Neu said.

Many sessions were targeted at helping members become even more professional with workshops on improving business skills, social media, power point, public relations, aquatic invasive species, insurance, writing, conducting youth programs, guiding, and seminars.  Special boat, outboard, and tackle product sessions were very educational.  A successful Saturday night fund-raising banquet sponsored by Yamaha/Skeeter benefited the Future Angler Foundation.

Attendees heard from two keynote speakers, Greg Wollner, executive vice-president and general manager of Rapala, and David Walker, BASS and FLW Champion.  Walker grew up in Detroit, but was hooked on fishing early in life.  He joked that 15 years working in a factory motivated him to chase his fishing career.  “I started with only VISA and MasterCard in my pocket as my ‘sponsors,’ but my desire made up for lack of monetary support,” he said.  “Sponsors came after fishing success, and so did the more than one million dollars I made so far.”  The Evinrude pro confirmed what most professional anglers know, “I don’t get paid to fish. I get paid to travel, promote, do social media, keep the public informed at sport shows and dealerships, and get more young people involved.”

Wollner, as board chairman of the American Sportfishing Association, shared what this powerful trade association does.   The list of past and present accomplishments is impressive.  The tackle trade group has worked on policy matters that impact the fishing industry since 1933, with a mission of more fish, more anglers and a more profitable industry.  Their annual ICAST show attracted 700 media members, 3,000 buyers and 9,000 people in 2012.  They conduct a sportfishing summit, are reaching out to attract new anglers via the takemefishing.org website which had 7,000,000 visitors last year.  This site shows people where to fish from shore, where to launch boats, etc.   Through other affiliates, they have developed a direct mail campaign to reach anglers.

“Anglers numbers are up 11 percent since 2006, and approximately 60,000,000 people fish each year,” Wollner said.  He emphasized the need for all anglers to sign up — at no charge — with keepamericafishing.org.  “This is our arm to keep public water resources open, clean and abundant with fish,” he said, “And leading the fight to preserve your right to fish.  This is the single most important focus in my tenure at ASA!  Please sign up and have your buddies do the same.”

Special honors went to several NPAA Members.  For his more than 40 years of activity in the sport as a guide and manufacturers rep and his distinguished “behind-the-scenes” work and responsibility for the NPAA website, Steve Worrall of Outdoors First Media was named an Honorary Lifetime Member.  Gary Speicher and Richard Lowe received “Look to the Future” awards for their generous financial support to NPAA Future Angler events and the Future Angler Foundation.  Greg Karch and Kirt Hedquist were honored with Outstanding Service Awards; Karch for spearheading the massive NPAA youth initiatives and Hedquist for his dedication as the association’s social media administrator.

Image courtesy National Professional Anglers Association

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