Stephanie Vatalaro was recently promoted to Vice President of Communications for the Recreational Boating & Fishing Foundation. RBFF’s mission is to implement an informed, consensus-based national outreach strategy that will increase participation in recreational angling and boating and thereby increase public awareness and appreciation of the need to protect, conserve and restore this nation's aquatic natural resources.
Stephanie has been with the RBFF for over 10 years and has helped steward the Take Me Fishing and Vamos A Pescar national campaigns, providing the tools to help people get started. RBFF’s digital assets, TakeMeFishing.org and VamosAPescar.org, are the most comprehensive fishing and boating websites nationwide and are the key destinations for individuals to learn, plan and equip for a day on the water. They have now exceeded 12 million! Pageviews under Stephanie’s watch.
After boating on Lake Erie as a young child, Stephanie’s family moved at the age of 7 to Florida where her father became a fishing guide in the Florida Keys. From catching Pacific sailfish in Costa Rica to boating on the Potomac with her family, Stephanie has maintained her love of boating and shares it with her husband and daughter.
In 2016, RBFF announced its 60 in 60 goal to increase yearly angler participation to 60 million in 60 months. This aspirational goal comes at a critical time for the fishing and boating industry. It was a great time to catch up with Stephanie and find out more about how they are working to achieve this lofty goal, the accomplishments to date, and learn about how her love of boating was fostered through family and is being passed down the same way. Enjoy!
On her first boating experiences…..It’s one of those all in the family things. I was born in Ohio and my grandfather was a boater, so I started going out on Lake Erie as a young child. When I was 7 my family relocated to the Florida Keys and my dad became a fishing guide. We had two boats, the boat he worked on, and then a center console that was the family boat. He would take us out to go snorkeling and swimming but we also definitely went fishing.
On memorable catches….The first fish I caught was on Lake Erie, but I don’t vividly remember the first catch. I certainly have great memories of some of my big catches! I had the opportunity to go to Costa Rica and I caught a 120 lb. Pacific Sailfish and that was amazing. It was quite a fight.
On learning to boat…..As a kid, my dad took it all very seriously, the safety part in particular. I learned a lot of the basics as a kid. He said if I wanted to operate the boat I had to take a course and get my license and make it official. As an adult, with my husband, I started doing it more hands on myself.
On family boating now.....We now have a 24’ Pursuit center console. It’s something we can go fishing on, we can take to the beach, hose it off at the end of the day. My husband is the captain, I have anchor duty.
On raising a boating daughter…..She has been boating since she was an infant. As she gets older, we’ll start getting her involved more in helping with things. We can give her jobs, pack this bag, do that. She really likes being on the water. She fishes off her grandpa’s dock and she is quite the fish slayer!
On the RBFF 60 in 60 initiative…..I will give that credit to Frank Peterson, our President and CEO. There are a few numbers in his head that he has said if we can hit this this and this, our industry will be in pretty good shape. One of those numbers is 12 million visits to our website and we hit that this year. The other, and I think the more important one, is the 60 million number. If you look at fishing participation numbers they have been pretty flat over the last several years and with the changing demographics, in order to even maintain that flat rate a lot of change has to be made. What we really need to do is energize the industry to get that number even higher, to get on the front end of these changes and try to make that difference now. It’s a rallying cry for the industry. Let’s do this together. You’re not in this alone. The RBFF is here to help. We’ve developed tools for people to recruit, retain, and reactivate anglers (known as R3).
On what those changes are…..People are becoming more multicultural. Families are not the traditional families that they always looked like. There are a lot of other activities competing for people’s time, and boomers are aging out of the sport.
On their Disney partnership…..I didn’t even know fishing excursions were available at Disney but they are and they’re great, they have a fantastic stocked lake, almost a guaranteed catch. They are reaching the exact target audience we’re after. Years and years of research have led us to this group called Multicultural Family Outdoors. These are parents, people with kids age 6-12 , who are involved in outdoors activity but don’t fish yet. Getting through their channels has been really beneficial to us and we’ve seen an increase in our brand awareness and intent to go fishing and boating.
On RBFF's digital outreach…..Takemefishing.org is a huge part of our success. People are getting their information online so it has become a largely digital campaign because that’s where our family outdoors audience is. The website is all about getting people the info they need to get started – how to, where to, and licensing. We have all the basics on what kind of gear you need, how to reel in a fish, how to prepare your catch. We have a map where people can go and look in there are for different bodies of water that also has points of interest on it. We want to make sure people are aware that people need their license and that those dollars go back to water conservation efforts on the state level.
On the challenges facing millennials who want to boat…..That’s a secondary target audience of ours. We’re calling them Untethered Explorers. They’re millennials who aren’t married and don’t have kids yet but they’re into the outdoors and we reach them through digital and social media outreach. We run an influencer campaign that speaks to that millennial target. [Their challenges] are time, it’s not having the mentor or the experience and not knowing that these opportunities are very close to them. A lot of younger generations are moving back to the city and they don’t realize that there are a lot of urban fishing and boating opportunities.
On what boaters need to get started…..More than a thing, I would say training is important. Do your homework first. Before you go out on the water understand the rules of the road, navigation basics, how to read a chart or GPS. If there’s a chance to do a training or do a trial take it!
On where she hasn’t yet, but would like to fish…..Patagonia. It just looks amazing. I love the landscapes, I'd love to be fly fishing in a river with all that beauty surrounding me. Anywhere that has turquoise water, I’m in.
On her dream boat…..It’s not practical but I absolutely adore big sportfishers. Big Vikings or Hatteras. Something about those boats is so beautiful to me. When I go home to the Keys I see them. We’ll get back into cruising some day and we’ll have some type of trawler to cruise around.
On advice for would-be-boaters…..Before you dive in, you should go out with some friends, try different boats, go to boat shows, go out with anyone who has a boat, feel it out, do your homework. Figure out what you want to do on the water and match the boat to your lifestyle. We’re in a time where there are so many different styles of boats. We have the Discover Boating boat comparison tool on our website. You go through and say what activities you like to do and it serves up the different styles of boats. There really is something for everyone.
The RBFF is doing great work, check out their website, particularly their interactive map, if you have any interest in fishing!