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Very few areas of life remain untouched by this pandemic. The COVID-19 pandemic has by and large confined people to their homes with few exceptions. One casualty of the era of social distancing has been the unrestricted access to many of the activities we once enjoyed.
As our federal and state governments struggle to get a handle on the Coronavirus, many of the activities we once took for granted are now grounded or subject to varying degrees of restriction from place to place.
I think, however, that as anglers we have been fortunate overall in that fishing, though banned in some areas or heavily restricted in others, has continued to be allowed in most waters. And thank God for that, because it has proven to be one of the few pandemic-proof activities (if there’s such a thing) available to us as we self-isolate and quarantine in an effort to slow the spread of this virus.
That fishing has survived the pandemic does not surprise me. Fishing is one of the oldest human activities on our planet. It held practical importance for our ancestors long before it became a recreational sport.
But it appears that fishing – at least, sportfishing – is not only surviving the times but thriving as more people are eager to get outdoors and do something that is both fun and good for their physical and mental health.
Interest in Fishing Spikes
Something seemingly unexpected is happening in this time of fear and uncertainty – more people are fishing. At this point, the evidence has been more anecdotal than quantitative, though there are some data. But, if the observations are to be believed, more people are fishing as a means of getting outside and engaging in activity that can be practiced while still allowing for social distancing.
This increase in fishing activity has not gone unnoticed by state and local fish and game officials in many regions of the country. What they are seeing is more people visiting their local waters that have remained open for fishing, be it rivers, lakes or beaches, in growing numbers.
Google Trends, a Google online tool that measures the interest levels of a search query over any given time-frame, shows that the popularity of the term “fishing” was at its highest point this past week (May 24 – May 30) than at any other time in the last 12 months.
The popular recreational fishing website https://www.takemefishing.org/, part of the Recreational Boating & Fishing Foundation (RBFF), a national, non-profit organization that promotes boating and fishing, has seen a 15% traffic increase. The RBFF further notes that organic online searches for fishing-related information recently spiked 350%.
In Minnesota, a state well-known for its fishing, the Duluth News Tribune earlier this month ran an article that put Minnesota fishing license sales “up a whopping 45%” year over year for the same time-frame. The numbers are the highest they’ve been in the last 20 years for early season sales.
Bait and Tackle Shops See Increased Demand
You would not initially expect that the fishing-related business would be doing any better than other businesses during these tough times.
But, at a time when many businesses are struggling to survive in the global outbreak of COVID-19, many bait and tackle shops across the country are having trouble keeping up with the demand as more people take to fishing and supply lines tighten temporarily due to the virus.
Many of the shops are small family-owned businesses. The customers are of all ages, with some beginners who want to try fishing for the first time. With so many Americans out of work, their children out of school and the need for safe family outdoor recreation unabated, there is no reason to believe shop owners will see a drop in the demand anytime soon.
Built for the Age of Social Distancing
That recreational fishing is actually growing at a time when many other sports, hobbies and past-times are in a holding pattern, at best, says something about the nature of the sport. But, I believe, that much of the sport’s success during these trying times has to do with the inherent nature of fishing itself.
Fishing has become a popular form of activity in this age of social distancing because A. it is fun as heck, and B. it is one of the safest outdoor activities for people and their families. Anyone who has ever fished understands the A part. But it’s the B part, I believe, that has allowed fishing to thrive during the Coronavirus.
Simply put, fishing was built for times like this. Now, might ask, ‘ what the heck do you mean?’.
Well, fishing already had all the necessary components, if you will, to allow it to be a Coronavirus-resistant activity. Anglers were practicing social distancing long before this pandemic. Not for fear of transmitting or catching something other than fish, but because fishing common sense and etiquette dictates a safe distance from fellow anglers and other people.
From a more practical perspective, tangled lines and missed opportunities are also a big part of the fisherman’s aversion to closeness to others. Ever see two strangers fishing side by side, even in the best of times? Hardly.
The other natural, baked-in, rule of fishing that makes it perfect for these uncertain times is that it is an activity that is better done alone, or in really small groups of people, you already know, such as family or close friends. You don’t fish with complete strangers (pier fishing could be the exception). Not to sound as if we anglers are by nature anthropophobic or anything like that – it’s just the way it is.
Healthy Distraction, Creating New Anglers
Life for most of us in this country, in the world for that matter, has changed dramatically in just a few short months. As we strive to keep up some semblance of normalcy and mental health, finding safe activities in which to engage becomes even more crucial to our lives.
Fishing is certainly one of the most therapeutic things we can do during the pandemic and, because of its very nature, also one of the safest activities done either individually or as a family.
For that reason, along with the plain fact that fishing is fun, it is growing during a time when one might expect the opposite.
Not only are more people getting outside to cast a line but they are also keeping small fishing-related businesses, the local bait and tackle shops, healthy and prospering during one of the toughest economic environments of the last 90 years.
Fishing has been able to weather this storm and even grow because it naturally has all of the key elements that make it appealing and vitally important to people at an unprecedented time like this one. It will help many of us get through this and, in the process, many new anglers will also be created.
Have any thoughts on the subject? Drop us a line in the comments section; we’d love to have your opinion.
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