March 16, 2020
By Lynn Burkhead
Fishing is a contemplative sport for many, one that typically takes place on quiet stretches of water far from the presence of other people.
But in the brave new world unfolding in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic, even anglers are finding their pastime affected as the U.S. and the world grapple with how to respond to the growing crisis.
Late last week, the first major coronavirus impacts in the angling world were felt as officials with Outdoor Sportsman Group’s Major League Fishing and its sister tournament circuit FLW announced that they were eliminating fan interaction events and limiting derby attendance to the anglers, their immediate families, and essential personnel only.
"Major League Fishing and FLW announced the suspension of all public gatherings associated with their events through April 12, 2020 in response to the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic,” said a joint press release from MLF and FLW.
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"The decision was made to safeguard the health and well-being of all involved. Public gatherings include all fan meet-and-greets associated with the Bass Pro Tour, and the attendance of fans and non-essential staff at all FLW tournaments, including weigh-ins."
The move immediately impacted one of the season’s most highly anticipated events, the March 13-18 Stage 3 BPT event at Lake Fork. A number of MLF fan events were cancelled in the Emory, Texas, area as the BPT pros descended upon Texas’ most famous big bass lake just in time for the spring spawn.
The pros quickly did their part on the water in East Texas as Jason Christie boated a new MLF competition record largemouth on Day One that weighed 10.04 pounds. Some 24-hours later, Christie’s short-lived record fell when Justin Atkins landed a 10.08-pound bass at Fork.
Unfortunately, fans could only watch and interact from afar as a good old-fashioned Texas bass fishing slugfest developed on the Lone Star State’s most famous fishing hole.But MLF and FLW and their fans weren’t the only ones reeling from the impact of the coronavirus crisis. In response to Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee’s declaration of a state of emergency, officials with B.A.S.S. postponed the next Bassmaster Elite Series event scheduled for Chickamauga Lake near Dayton, Tenn. for March 19-22.
"Any time we are forced to postpone a tournament it is disappointing to our anglers, fans, sponsors and staff," said Bruce Akin, B.A.S.S. CEO, in a news release and stories announcing the postponement.
The anglers want to fish this incredible lake, where we have enjoyed amazing fan support over the years. After careful discussions though, it was apparent that the best decision was to postpone the tournament and festivities."
With all of that happening late last week, the future of many, if not all, future spring fishing derbies became even more doubtful on Sunday evening, March 15, 2020, as the Centers for Disease Control recommended that public gatherings of more than 50 people not be held for eight weeks.
Barely a week after Hank Cherry won the 50th Bassmaster Classic, all of this could mean that tournament bass fishing, both at the highest professional levels and at the local and regional levels, could have been effectively shuttered.
The bass-fishing world isn’t alone in dealing with the new realities being ushered in by COVID-19. In many ways, the fly fishing world is beginning to reel too as several events have been postponed.
One of those was the Midwestern Fly Fishing Expo in Warren, Mich., the oldest fly-fishing event east of the Mississippi River, was cancelled this past weekend. "We are sad to report that we must cancel the 2020 Midwest Fly Fishing Expo which was to occur this weekend March 14 and 15,” said a statement on the event’s website. "The Macomb Community College was just directed by the Governor of the State of Michigan to cancel all events for the next 30 days including those at the Sports and Expo Center which is our venue."
With the event anticipated to draw 130-plus exhibitors occupying 61,000-square feet of floor space, the show’s loss will contribute to the economic woes the pandemic is causing. "Many of our exhibitors count on this two-day event to help sustain their livelihoods," the Midwest show’s website stated. "Please consider shopping on their sites."
Two big fly-fishing shows in Texas were also forced to pull the plug on events this month.
On Friday evening, the Tarrant Regional Water District’s fifth annual TRWD Flyfest was postponed in Fort Worth just hours before it was scheduled to begin. The cancellation wiped out a free event that attracts hundreds every year who come to hear national and regional experts like Frank Smethurst, Steve Hollensed, Matt Bennett, Alvin Dedeaux, and Chris Johnson.
Also, the 4th annual Texas Fly Fishing & Brew Festival, slated to take place March 20-22 in Plano, Texas, was being scrubbed until next year.
“Just like your own family, over the past few days our festival family has been affected by the global coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic,” wrote show director Beau Beasley in a blog post. "Just yesterday I learned of three active cases of COVID-19 in Collin County, where the Texas Fly & Brew was scheduled to be held next weekend. … I have made the difficult decision to postpone our 4th annual Texas Fly & Brew to March 6-7, 2021."
The move upended a packed seminar schedule that included presentations from many regional and national talents, a list that included frequent Fly Fisherman magazine contributors like Blane Chocklett, Ed Jaworski, Landon Mayer, and Dave Whitlock, among others.
Also falling victim to coronavirus crisis is the March 28, 2020 Fly Fishing Expo of Long Island. "After much soul searching and thoughtful deliberations for several weeks now, Ken and I have decided it is better to err on the side of caution than to place anyone from our community in a questionable health environment,” said a statement on the Expo’s website.
With the coronavirus crisis ongoing and more decisions being handed down from local, state, and federal officials, the effects of COVID-19 will certainly be felt for some time as other fishing tournaments, fishing shows, and even the summer’s annual ICAST trade show loom on the calendar.
As angling groups deal with the changing landscape across the U.S. this spring, stay tuned as more information develops and Outdoor Sportsman Group aims to keep you informed.