Small Impoundment Management in North America

Chapter 13: Fee-Fishing Opportunities

Michael P. Masser and Billy Higginbotham


A 2008 report on “Sportfishing in America” by the American Sportfishing Association estimated that there are nearly 40 million anglers in the USA. These 40 million anglers generate $45 million dollars in retail sales and an estimated $125 billion in economic impact (Southwick and Associates 2007). In some states it is estimated that up to 25 percent of all fishing trips are to private ponds (Masser 1992). The increased effort at and over-utilization of public waters offer an opportunity for development of more private-water angling. Fee-fishing business opportunities consist of two basic scenarios: 1) intensively managed and specially designed small ponds normally located near urban/suburban population centers that are managed to support extremely high densities of fish, and 2) recreational sport fish lakes that are managed at an optimum level of intensity to provide quality recreational experiences to a limited number of clients. Traditional fee-fishing ponds are typically managed for a single species (e.g., channel catfish, rainbow trout), while sport fish ponds typically offer recreational fishing opportunities for multiple species (e.g., largemouth bass, sunfish, channel catfish, crappies). Another important difference between the two fee-fishing scenarios is that the traditional fee-fishing ponds generally operate via an access lease of limited duration–often charging a day or entry fee without any degree of exclusivity. However, recreational sport fish lakes typically include exclusive leases ranging from time periods of limited duration (e.g., day, weekend) to year round lease agreements.

Fee-fishing in intensively managed small impoundments is relatively common across much of the USA and is practiced in many other countries as well (Cichra et al. 1994a; Kitamura et al. 2002). In the USA these operations are often called “Fish-outs” or “Pay Lakes” and can be divided into those that charge only an entrance fee (often called “ticket lakes”) and those that charge by-the-fish or by-the-weight for fish caught. These latter operations may or may not charge an entrance fee. Regardless of how fee-fishing enterprises are structured, it is a “people” business and requires keen attention to provide a quality experience to keep customers satisfied and returning.