In the past few weeks most states across the country offered people the chance to go fishing without having to purchase a fishing license — at least for a day, a weekend or in some states for a three-day weekend. The state fisheries agencies hoped the free fishing days would be the “hook” not only for a participant to hook a few fish, but to also become hooked on fishing.

It’s a proven marketing ploy. Supermarket chains hire people to prepare samples and offer free bites to shoppers. The stores hope the taste is a tease encouraging the shopper to buy a full package. The state’s fisheries agency hopes a free day of fishing will result in a future license sale. Perhaps it will.

For many states free fishing days are just one aspect of their R3 program. R3 stands for Recruitment, Retention and Reactivation. The recruitment part is programs designed to get people who have never fished previously to pick up a rod and reel and give fishing a try.

Until recently, little was done to “retain” current anglers. The nationwide stagnation of fishing license sales was attributed to poor recruitment. Now it’s known recruitment is only one part of the problem.

When the licenses sold by state fisheries agencies became “digitized” a wealth of info about each license buyer, his or her buying history and other details became available with a few key strokes. That information was eye opening!

Previously, agencies assumed there was a small contingent of people who would buy a fishing license one year and not the next or there were those who would fish for a few years, then drop out for one reason or another. Most fishermen and women, they guessed, were solid customers for life. Once an avid youthful angler was old enough to be required to buy a license, it was assumed he or she would continue buying licenses every year, or at least until some life-altering situation caused them to stop.

Information gleaned from digital sales proved the number of on again, off again license buyers to be much greater than previously thought. In some states, as many as 40 percent of all the people who purchased a license one year, didn’t purchase a license the following year. If these “once in a while” anglers could be turned into every-year license purchasers, the increase in license sales each year would be significant.

This is why efforts focused on the second “R” — retention — can play a solid role in the achieving the Recreational Boating and Fishing Foundation’s industry-wide effort to increase the current 49.1 million U.S. Anglers to 60 million in 60 months. The countdown is on and the 60 months will end in 2021.

If you are one of these occasional license buyers, what would it take to get you to buy a license every year? If you know individuals who fall into this category, how can you get that friend, family member or acquaintence to become an every year fisherman or fisher-woman?

There are as many answers as there are reasons and every answer is important. If you are an avid angler, it could be as easy as inviting one of these “casual” fishing participants along on one or more fishing excursions. Have you considered purchasing a fishing license for someone as a Christmas, birthday or other occasion gift? What else can you do?

If you are one of these casual anglers, why? What would help you go fishing at least once each year if not more often. Would making “fishing more” a New Year’s resolution help? How about purchasing some new fishing tackle or including fishing as an activity on weekend or vacation plans? When you think about it, buy a license. They are available online, at every WalMart and many other locations. Once you have one, you’ll be more inclined to use it.

State fish agencies have a vested interest in R3. So does the fishing industry — it’s their livelihood. So does every person who loves fishing and the outdoors in general. Anglers are the core constituency keeping America’s water clean and fish healthy. Do what you can to Recruit, Retain and Reactive America’s future anglers.