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Fishing is recognized as a lifetime sport. Most anyone can tie a hook or cast a line and hope to catch a fish.

There is some concern, however, that fewer future fishermen are coming on board. A study by the American Fishing Tackle Manufacturers Association shows that, if anything, numbers are dropping - especially among younger fishermen.In 1989, there were an estimated 69 million fishermen. In 1992, estimates were down to 60.2 million.

And nearly half of those polled report that they're fishing less than they used to.

That fact, obviously, has hook-and-line-makers worried. And has some wondering what the future will hold for fishing.

It was discovered, too, that those who learn to fish at a younger age typically keep on fishing as years pass, while those who start when they're older are more likely to give it up sooner.

A study shows in households where adults fish, there is a growing number that contain children who don't fish.

Why are fewer youngsters getting the opportunity to stand on the banks of a lake or river and cast a lure?

Time seems to be the No. 1 reason. There are more demands on free time, and fishing is but one.

Equipment, or the lack of it, is another reason, especially among the younger group. Having nowhere to fish is yet another reason. And then there's the cost of a fishing license for some.

A poll by the AFTMA showed that 74 percent of people surveyed in 1992 said not having enough time was the main reason the poles stayed in the corner, and the tackle box collected dust.

Other reasons were: Other interests/hobbies (13 percent), bad weather (11 percent), time away from family (8 percent), no place nearby (7 percent), too expensive/cost of license (6 percent) and poor health/too old (7 percent).

A Utah group, calling itself "Go Fish Utah" recently initiated a program to break down some of the barriers.

With the support of several governmental leaders - among them Sen. Scott Howell, D-Sandy; Sen. Lane Beattie, R-Bountiful; Salt Lake City Mayor Deedee Corradini; and Salt Lake County Commissioner Jim Bradley - the organization is currently offering equipment on a no-fee basis.

According to group chairman Byron Gunderson, fishing pole and reels, along with a packet containing hooks, sinkers, bait and casting plug, are available for check-out at six locations.

Those sites are: Sugarhouse Boys' and Girls' Club, 968 E. Fairmont Ave.; Redwood Multi-Purpose Center, 3100 S. Redwood Road; Copperview Multi-Purpose Center, 8446 S. Harrison Road; Glendale Youth Recreation Center, 865 E. California Ave.; Murray City Recreation at Murray Park; and Utah Division of Wildlife Resources, 1596 W. North Temple.

Youngsters, ages 14 and under, will be able to check out the equipment for up to seven days at a time at no charge.

According to Gunderson, the equipment was donated by Zebco, along with some of the accessories.

"We recognize that fishing is a great activity, one that can become an enjoyable lifetime sport. For those children that would like to fish, we would like to give them every opportunity," he says.

The group has also worked out a program with the Outdoor Resources Foundation to provide funding for licenses for those who cannot afford one. Youngsters ages 12 and older are required to have a state fishing license. Requests for license assistance should be made in writing to the ORF, 4320 W. Hidden Cove Road, Park City, Utah 84060.

"We are also working with different state and city groups to schedule some fishing derbies at nearby locations, such as one of the city parks, for example. We recognize there aren't that many urban fishing spots around for kids," adds Gunderson.

Among the Western states, Utah is the only one showing a growth in fishing activity. Between 1987 and 1992, license sales in Utah went from 394,423 to443,150, for a 12.35 percent increase. By comparison, Nevada dropped 21.8 percent, Arizona 15.2 percent and Idaho 2.2 percent.