Responses from freshwater anglers (n = 4287) to a nationwide survey of the US fishing club members were used to assess differences in the importance of 16 fishing motivation items between 1987 and 1997, dates that preceded and followed a period of substantial decline in recreational fishing participation in the US. Comparison of respondents’ motivations for fishing in 1997 and 10 years earlier indicated consistency in the paramount importance of being outdoors, relaxation and the experience of the catch. However, the importance of family recreation and being with friends in 1987 were replaced by escape items in 1997. Anglers with fewer dependents and living in areas with higher population density were more likely to decrease the importance of family recreation. Younger anglers were more likely to decrease the importance of being with friends. Anglers who had higher household income, fished more and had higher fishing expenditures were more likely to decrease the importance of obtaining fish to eat. The results of this study suggest that managers should be less concerned about angler opposition to liberal regulations that allow anglers to harvest fish, and that heightened efforts to recruit and retain recreational anglers, which presently focus on family recreation, should be broadened to include outdoor experience, relaxation and escape aspects of fishing.