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The Economic Value of Sportfishing Trips to Oklahoma Lakes

Recreation and Sportfishing at Oklahoma Lakes

As Oklahoma’s agencies and policymakers try to balance competing water uses with prolonged drought conditions, it is increasingly important to learn about the value of water resources like lakes and rivers. For example, conflicts have arisen between Oklahoma City,  the Choctaw and Chickasaw Nations and users of Lake Sardis, each of whom lay claim to the water in the lake (Layden, 2015). There is increasing municipal demand for the lake’s water, but the community around Lake Sardis views the lake as a tourism draw, bringing in people for fishing, boating, hiking and wildlife viewing.  Each year, millions of trips are taken to public waterbodies in Oklahoma for boating, swimming, fishing and other outdoor activities (U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, 2014). One way to understand the value that Oklahomans place on preserving lakes and rivers is to measure and analyze visitation numbers.

Recently, thousands of trips have been affected by declining water quality conditions and water withdrawals at several Oklahoma lakes. Low lake conditions can result in lost access due to boat ramp closures, and algal blooms can warrant no-bodily-contact warnings. These changes can discourage potential visitors and impose economic costs on current water users by forcing them to travel to other lakes or not traveling at all. Additionally, fewer and/or shorter trips can mean fewer tourism dollars spent in the lake’s vicinity, hurting the local economy.


One of the most popular forms of outdoor recreation in Oklahoma is sportfishing. According to a national report on outdoor recreation, Oklahomans spend more total days fishing than wildlife watching and hunting combined (U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, 2014). Anglers spend more than $800 million annually on fishing-related purchases, generating $77 million in state and local tax revenue and supporting more than 11,000 jobs (American Sportfishing Association, 2012). Changing water conditions at Oklahoma lakes can therefore have an especially large effect on anglers and the economy.


The rest of this Fact Sheet summarizes a recent study on the value of sportfishing trips in Oklahoma and the impact of lake conditions on anglers. To evaluate the economic benefits of recreational fishing at Oklahoma lakes, an economic demand analysis of sportfishing trips taken by state residents was conducted. This analysis related angler’s lake visitation patterns across the state to differences in lake conditions, including water quality. The study is part of an ongoing effort to advance our understanding of the recreational value of Oklahoma’s lakes.


Summary of Key Results

  • More than two-thirds of all sportfishing trips in Oklahoma are to public reservoirs, while another ten percent are to rivers.
  • On average, an angler fishes 31 days during one year.
  • The most popular lakes in Oklahoma for sportfishing are Eufaula, Texoma, Fort Gibson and Grand Lake.
  • On average, an angler spends about $50 per fishing trip.
  • The number and economic impact of sportfishing trips varies with the size and location of lakes. However, even a small lake may attract 10,000 visits per year and generate hundreds of thousands of dollars in spending by anglers.
  • The average sportfishing trip has an economic value of about $67. This is the amount an angler is willing to pay to visit their preferred lake for a given trip. The specific value is higher for overnight trips and lower for day trips.
  • Water quality impacts anglers. The number of sportfishing trips to lakes decrease as turbidity (a loss of clarity) and an increase in hypereutrophic conditions (an excess of nutrients such as phosphorus and nitrogen, associated with algal blooms and little available oxygen in the water).


Sportfishing Demand and Valuation Study



Economists have developed several ways of analyzing the demand for recreational activities. One approach is to use economic demand models to analyze the frequency of trips taken to different recreation sites across a region. This approach is convenient because it can be used to estimate the economic value of recreational trips with a valuation technique known as the travel cost method. Since there often is a small fee or even no fee to fish at lakes, this valuation method uses the cost of travel as a proxy for the price of visiting a site.


The main objective of the study was to analyze the demand for and estimate the value of fishing trips to individual lakes in Oklahoma. The study was able to identify the lake attributes that determine the angler’s choice of Oklahoma fishing site. Unfortunately, fish catch rate information was not available in time for this study, but information was gathered about the water quality and shoreline setting of lakes.



Data on fishing trips was provided by the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation (ODWC). In fall 2014, the ODWC conducted a survey of 3,000 randomly selected fishing license holders living in Oklahoma. The study did not examine non-resident anglers. About 780 surveys were returned, for a response rate of 26 percent. The survey asked about fishing participation in the past year, species preferences, gear preferences, opinions about ODWC regulations and information about the most recent fishing trip. Approximately 17 percent of respondents said they did not fish in the past year. Among those who did fish, most preferred to fish for catfish and black bass.


A list of 148 Oklahoma lakes based on the Oklahoma Water Resources Board (OWRB) lake index and the location information provided by anglers about their most recent fishing trip was determined. Table 1 provides some trip statistics from the ODWC data. Rivers and ponds were grouped into two generic fishing options and added to the list of lakes, making a total of 150 fishing alternatives used in the demand analysis.


Lake data came from a variety of sources. Water quality measures were obtained from the OWRB. Trophic State Index (TSI) and turbidity to measure water quality were used. Water with a TSI below 40 is considered oligotrophic, with low biomass and nutrient levels; oligotrophic lakes are associated with few game fish. Water with a TSI more than 60 is considered hypereutrophic, with excessive nutrient levels. Such lakes may contain more fish, but they have an increased risk of algal blooms and fish kills. Turbidity is a measure of suspended particulates in the water. High levels of turbidity reduce photosynthesis of submerged vegetation and fish biomass. Turbidity is perceptible to the eye and can be aesthetically unpleasant. The demand analysis used the TSI measure, plus an indicator for lakes classified as hypereutrophic to measure the relationship between lake nutrient levels and biological productivity and lake visitation. The analysis used the turbidity measure for the relationship between cloudy water conditions and visitation. The analysis also measured the impact of shoreline length, number of boat ramps and nearby forest size on visitation.


Table 1. Selected trip characteristics of Oklahoma resident anglers.

Trip characteristics   All Trips Median  All Trips Average Single Day Trips Median Single Day Trips Average Overnight Trips Median Overnight Trips Average
Destination (in percentages)              
  Lake/Reservoir - 73 - 65   81
  River - 16 - 11   12
  Pond - 11 - 24   7
Spending (in dollars)              
  Transportation 30 53 20 25 50 86
  Lodging and food 10 62 0 14 50 113
  Fishing costs (bait, boat, etc.) 10 34 8 20 20 49
Days 1 3 1 1 3 5  



The demand analysis was conducted as a site choice model (Haab and McConnell, 2003). For Oklahoma fishing trips, this model assessed the importance of different lake features on visitation, including water quality, using data on 1) the 150 fishing alternatives, including all major lakes in the state, and 2) the locations anglers reported visiting most recently for the purpose of fishing.


The demand analysis was combined with the travel cost method to calculate the economic value of a fishing trip at individual lakes (Haab and McConnell, 2003). This per-trip value is measured as the difference between the maximum amount an angler is willing to pay to visit and fish at a site and the actual travel costs. In other words, this is the amount an angler is willing to pay to prevent their preferred site from being closed for one trip. An estimate of the damages from a site closure or a dead fishery can be estimated by multiplying this value by the total number of affected (or “lost”) trips.



The results of the demand analysis are summarized in Table 2. Sportfishing trips are significantly impacted by several lake characteristics:

  1.  Anglers are less likely to fish at lakes far from home.
  2. Increases in TSI at a lake are associated with more trips.
  3. Fewer trips are taken to lakes with high turbidity and classified as hypereutrophic.
  4. Shoreline length, the amount of forest and the number of boat ramps all have a positive effect on visitation.
  5. The impact of the Close-to-Home agreements between the ODWC and several municipalities to offer improved fishing opportunities at metro lakes. The analysis found lakes in the close-to-home program attract more trips than without the program.


 Table 2. Interpretation of the site choice model results.

 Lake characteristic Impact on fishing trips*
Travel cost -
Trophic state index +
Hypereutrophic -
Turbidity -
Shoreline length +
Surrounding forest +
Number of boat ramps +
Close to Home program +
*A “–” and a “+” denote a reduction and increase in the number of sportfishing trips taken to a lake on average for all lakes.  

*A “–” and a “+” denote a reduction and increase in the number of sportfishing trips taken to a lake on average for all lakes.


Table 3 shows that a typical sportfishing trip at each lake has an economic value of about $60. This estimate can be used to calculate the economic damages when, for example, a lake’s fishery is lost due to a fish kill, by multiplying the fishing trip value by the reduction in trips to the affected lake. For convenience, we have posted conservative estimates of the number of annual sportfishing trips taken to each lake. These figures are based on the demand analysis and USFWS’s estimate of the annual statewide trips taken by Oklahoma resident anglers (US Fish and Wildlife Service, 2014). These visitation numbers do not include sportfishing trips taken by non-residents.


 Table 3. Estimated sportfishing trip value and total 2014 visitation to individual lakes.

Lake Annual trips Value of a trip ($) Lake Annual trips Value of a trip ($)
Altus City 1253 59.47 John Wells 2018 59.48
American Horse Closed in 2014   Kaw 90838 59.85
Arbuckle 44267 59.65 Kerr 156250 60.11
Arcadia 69218 59.75 Keystone 260279 60.56
Ardmore City 3616 59.48 Kitchen 14469 59.53
Atoka 30442 59.59 Konawa 19047 59.55
Bell Cow 23667 59.56 Langston 10055 59.51
Birch 35617 59.61 Lawtonka 24692 59.57
Bixhoma 4487 59.49 Liberty 10622 59.51
Bluestem 10621 59.51 Lloyd Church 2382 59.48
Boomer 24909 59.57 Lone Chimney 21351 59.55
Broken Bow 64530 59.75 Long Creek 380 59.47
Brushy Creek 2085 59.48 Longmire 9036 59.51
Burtschi 4219 59.49 Lugert No fishing in 2014  
Canton 23150 59.56 Markham Ferry 141433 60.05
Carl Albert 1335 59.47 McAlester 7823 59.5
Carl Blackwell 59612 59.71 McGee Creek 38469 59.62
Carl Etling 302 59.46 McMurtry 27666 59.58
Carlton 648 59.47 Meeker 3046 59.48
Carter 1546 59.48 Mountain 1916 59.48
Cedar 6513 59.5 Murray 35606 59.61
Chandler 7230 59.5 Nanih Waiya 761 59.47
Chickasha 11443 59.52 New Spiro 3650 59.48
Claremore 19681 59.55 Okemah 15453 59.53
Clayton 1051 59.47 Okmulgee 22653 59.56
Clear Creek 11180 59.51 Oologah 182132 60.22
Cleveland 8863 59.5 Overholser 16748 59.54
Clinton 4599 59.49 Ozzie Cobb 1691 59.48
Coalgate 4041 59.49 Pauls Valley 5721 59.49
Comanche 3835 59.48 Pawhuska 1581 59.48
Copan 31157 59.59 Pawnee 6788 59.5
Crowder 8413 59.5 Perry 8090 59.5
Crystal 10029 59.51 Pine Creek 47285 59.66
Cumberland 7725 59.5 Ponca 16406 59.54
Cushing 8607 59.5 Prague 7327 59.5
Dave Boyer 796 59.47 Pretty Water 2594 59.48
Dead Warrior 663 59.47 Purcell 6052 59.49
Dolese 17473 59.54 Quanah Parker 3438 59.48
Dripping Springs 17194 59.54 Raymond Gary 4727 59.49
Duncan 5681 59.49 Rocky 9953 59.51
 Durant  2714 59.48 Sahoma 16904 59.54
El Reno 8545 59.5 Sardis 38722 59.63
Elk City 4497  59.49 Schooler 384 59.47
 Ellsworth  57187  59.7 Scott King 3927 59.49
 Elmer  1291  59.47 Shawnee Twin 33534 59.6
 Elmer Thomas  5559  59.49 Shell 25436 59.57
 Eucha  51498  59.6 Skiatook 205514 60.32
 Eufaula  521196  61.77 Sooner 34541 59.61
 Evan Chambers  786  59.47 Spavinaw 37922 59.62
 Fairfax City  3633  59.48 Sportsman 13483 59.52
 Fort Cobb  37970  59.62 Stanley Draper 48475 59.66
Fort Gibson 414706 61.28 Stroud 20124 59.55
 Fort Supply  6431  59.5 Talawanda 5022 59.49
Foss 28495 59.59 Taylor 8274 59.5
Frederick 5492 59.49 Tecumseh 1775 59.48
Fuqua 18731 59.54 Tenkiller 106657 59.9
Grand Lake 385401 61.24 Texoma 478036 62.36
Great Salt Plains 2925 59.48 Thunderbird 148152 60.1
Greenleaf 18148 59.54 Tom Steed 27485 59.58
Guthrie 8562 59.5 Vanderwork 4450 59.49
Hall 913 59.47 Veterans 2268 59.48
 Healdton 2142   59.48 Vincent 1258 59.57
Hefner 40526 59.63 Watonga 3506 59.48
Henryetta 3620 59.48 Waurika 24166 59.57
Heyburn 18420 59.54 Waxhoma 4546 59.49
Holdenville 11596 59.52 Wayne Wallace 3031 59.48
Holway 21392 59.55 Webbers Falls 192714 60.26
Hominy Municipal 9227 59.51 Weleetka 2212 59.48
Hudson 8953 59.51 Wes Watkins 29889 59.59
 Hugo  31809  59.6 Wetumka 5096 59.49
Hulah 23118 59.56 Wewoka 10302 59.51
Humphreys 20165 59.55 Wiley Post 7860 59.5
Jap Beaver 1008 59.47 Wister 64894 59.75
Jean Neustadt 6449 59.5 Yahola 6722 59.5
All ponds 1342105   All rivers 923384  

 Note: The sum of trips across all lakes, rivers and ponds equals total statewide annual trips (7,499,000), as estimated from a 2011 survey (US Fish and Wildlife Service, 2014).



Sportfishing is an enduring pastime, but it also has important economic impacts on local economies. Maintaining a vibrant recreational fishery in Oklahoma and its associated economic benefits depends on protecting access to healthy lakes and rivers. This fact sheet summarized some of the work done on the economics of fishing in Oklahoma. Our analysis found that the value of a sportfishing trip to an individual lake is about $60. Furthermore, although fishing trips go to a wide variety of lakes in the state, the analysis found that angler visitation responds to differences in water quality. Lakes with high turbidity levels tend to receive fewer sportfishing trips. Lakes with low nutrient levels are also associated with fewer sportfishing trips, which suggest that anglers avoid lakes with less biomass (including fish biomass). On the other hand, lakes classified as hypereutrophic are associated with fewer sportfishing trips.


Managing Oklahoma’s water resources requires information about the value of different uses, including household and municipal consumption, agriculture, water-based recreation and wildlife protection. This study has quantified the value Oklahomans have for one type of recreation, angling, and thus serves as a lower bound or conservative estimate of non-marketed uses. If we had a more comprehensive dataset of all uses and all users, we would likely find even higher values for specific lakes. Protecting lakes and rivers can be costly, but it can directly benefit users, including recreational anglers, and have direct and indirect benefits for local economies. With the information in this fact sheet, decision makers and the public may find it easier to gauge the economic benefits of protecting Oklahoma’s lakes.


Literature Cited

American Sportfishing Association. Sportfishing in America: An Economic Force for Conservation. Report prepared by Southwick Associates. 2012.


Haab, Timothy C., and Kenneth E. McConnell. Valuing Environmental and Natural Resources: The Econometrics of Non-market Valuation. Edward Elgar Publishing, 2002.


Layden, Logan, “The View from Sardis Lake: Why Moving Water to Where it’s Needed is So Hard.” State Impact, National Public Radio Broadcast. April 2, 2015.


U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. 2011 Oklahoma National Survey of Fishing, Hunting, and Wildlife-Associated Recreation. U.S. Department of the Interior, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and U.S. Department of Commerce, U.S. Census Bureau. Revised 2014.


Richard T. Melstrom
Assistant Professor, Department of Agricultural Economics


Deshamithra Jayasekera
Graduate Student, Department of Agricultural Economics


Corey Jager
Responsive Management Specialist
Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation


Tracy A. Boyer
Associate Professor, Department of Agricultural Economics

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