A silver lining



“If people concentrated on the really important things in life, there’d be a shortage of fishing poles.”

Although this decades-old quote by American journalist Doug Larson was no doubt aimed at an overblown crisis of his day, there is a truth in these words that highlights our present. I believe that Larson was not just talking about the act of fishing, but the relationships built while participating in the sport and keeping our souls connected to the great out-of-doors.

As Americans wade through shutdowns, quarantines, stay-at-home orders and joblessness, it appears that the really important things in life are coming into focus. Allow me to explain.

For the first time in 10 years, Iowa saw an increase in fishing license sales. Not just a slight increase, but a jump of 55%. New York experienced an increase of 30%. Resident fishing license sales in Vermont are up more than 50%. Minnesota, a state that already had a tremendous number of active anglers, experienced a 60% increase in residential fishing licenses. Georgia is up 21%, Louisiana is up 53%, North Dakota 37%, Texas 39% and Alabama, my home state, is up 37%.

The list goes on, but you get the idea. To me, this data represents a silver lining glimmering through the shadows of negative news that we have had to ingest the past four months. (And for the record, I’m sick of bad news.)

According to the American Sportfishing Association (ASA), there are roughly 40 million fishing licenses sold each year, give or take a couple million. If there is an increase of just 20% in fishing participation, that adds an additional 8 million anglers to our fraternity. Of course, they will not all remain brothers of the water, but plenty will. The income and passion they will add to our ranks can only improve our fisheries and strengthen our voice in conservation.

As for the shortage of fishing gear, that seems to be happening, as well.

“There has been an unprecedented demand for fishing products,” explained Chris Gulstad, executive director of sales and marketing for PRADCO. “We have noticed an incredible influx of new participants in fishing during the pandemic, as we see our entry-level gear flying off the shelves. That said, our Yum line, geared toward advanced bass anglers, has been selling like crazy, as well.”

Dan Quinn, field promotions manager at Rapala, agrees.

“The demand has been unbelievable. Our struggle has been keeping up with the demand because of social distancing restrictions at manufacturing and distribution plants. But, I know a smaller rod manufacturer who is up 300% over last year.”

And according to a Fox News report on May 17, a “bait and tackle shortage hits as fishing soars in popularity due to social distancing.” A stroll down the fishing aisle at my local Walmart confirmed this statement, as there were more empty pegs than products dangling from them. But, to take Larson’s quote a little less literally, it is the benefit of what happens to us while fishing that is most important.

Most of my lasting friendships have formed on the deck of a bass boat or on the banks of a lake or river. Many life-changing discussions with my family were hashed out over the purr of an outboard in the background. The laughs, frustrations and moments of success experienced while holding a fishing rod are innumerable.

My hope is that there will be 8 million more moments of joy, friendships made and families knit tighter during this time of uncertainty. Simply put, when this pandemic is well behind us, I pray there continues to be a shortage of fishing poles.