A spring like no other

For the moment, we still have more important issues to ponder.

Health issues. Economic issues. The issue of finally cranking up the tournament schedule again after the longest unplanned layoff in B.A.S.S. history.

It’s a lot to worry about. A lot to navigate.

But someday when everything’s back a little closer to normal, we, as anglers, will have to look back on the spring of 2020 as a period that was truly unique.

No matter where you live in this great country of ours, I can’t imagine you’ve been through anything even remotely similar to what we all experienced during March, April and May.

In some states — most notably Michigan — anglers literally had to fight for the right to take their boats out on the water. But in most other states, every day on the water was like a crowded spring Saturday.

That was certainly the case in my home state of Alabama.

The first time I visited an Alabama boat ramp during the pandemic shutdown was March 20. It was one of the few ramps at Logan Martin Lake that was still open, and it was so crowded I almost turned around and went home.

Instead, I nosed into the crowd, waited patiently to launch my boat, went out fishing and had a great day.

For the next 2 1/2 months, I repeated that process more than 20 times on a half-dozen different lakes. Each time, I found the same crowded conditions.

It became so commonplace that I thought maybe I was overplaying it in my mind, but Alabama conservation officials have since confirmed it.

“During the height of the COVID-19 shutdown, there were more Alabama anglers enjoying our state’s plentiful aquatic resources,” said J. Chris Greene, chief of fisheries for the Alabama Wildlife & Freshwater Fisheries Division. “But, presumably due to out-of-state travel restrictions, nonresidents did not fish in Alabama waters as frequently.”

He has the numbers to back it up.

During March and April, there was a 37% increase in resident freshwater fishing license sales. During that same time period, Alabama saw a 32% decrease in nonresident freshwater fishing license sales.

I know other states saw similar increases in resident license sales because people had a sheer lack of anything else to do.

The increases could have both short- and long-term effects.

First, you have to wonder how the greatly increased fishing pressure will affect fish populations. While most bass are obviously released, other fish that are prized for their culinary value like bluegill and crappie no doubt got hit much harder than usual.

You also have to wonder how many of those new folks who bought licenses actually enjoyed spending their time on the lakes. With movie theaters, restaurants, bowling alleys and pretty much everything else closed, I suspect many of them discovered that catching a fish under sunshine while breathing fresh air isn’t such a bad alternative.

If we can retain at least some of the new anglers we gained, it’ll only be good for the sport we all love.

That’s what I’ve been looking for through all of this — just a few good things to cling to.

More people learning to love fishing would certainly place high on the list.

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