March 27, 2020
By Lynn Burkhead
Fishing is a sport filled with questions, from where the fish are biting to what lures and flies they are hitting, to when’s the best time to hit the water.
But in the spring of 2020, the biggest question just might be this one:
Is fishing still possible under the “stay at home” and “shelter in place” orders being issued by local and state governments all across the country in response to the COVID-19 pandemic?
The answer to that question is complicated, at best. In some cases, the answer is yes, getting outdoors for some soul cleansing exercise and recreation is still possible, especially given the solitary experience that fishing often brings.
In other instances, the answer is no, as state and local officials put such outdoor recreation off limits for now.
Take, for instance, the decision announced this week in Washington, where recreational fishing is closed for at least a two-week period.
“The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) today announced its decision to temporarily close recreational fishing and shellfishing statewide in the wake of Washington Gov. Jay Inslee’s order directing Washingtonians to stay home and stay healthy to limit the spread of coronavirus/COVID-19,” stated an agency news release. “The closures will begin at midnight Wednesday, March 25 and last until at least 5 p.m. on April 8, 2020. WDFW will re-evaluate on April 6 whether the closure may need to be extended.”
That decision—which came after the state had previously shut down its boat launches and other public lands—was made because prior measures didn’t appear to work. The state of Washington was one of the initial flashpoints in the coronavirus outbreak across America. At the time of this writing, Worldometer.com reported a total of 3,207 cases of the virus in the state along with 147 deaths.
As spring envelops the nation, it’s understandable that many residents are tired of being cooped up after the winter months and long weeks battling the virus. But in seeking some outdoors escape, Washington state officials believe that perhaps anglers have gone too far.
The Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife followed Washington’s lead, announcing it has closed its recreational salmon and steelhead fishery in the Columbia River from March 26 at 11:59 p.m. through at least April 8. But at the time of this writing, the state’s other ongoing fisheries in the Columbia River remain open. And while ODFW offices, hatcheries, fish cleaning stations, and events are closed for now, recreational fishing continues throughout the state. Even fish stockings will continue, albeit with some changes.
“Fish stocking continues but ODFW is no longer posting the trout stocking schedule in order to prevent public crowding at waterbodies when we deliver hatchery fish,” states the agency’s website. “We will continue to stock popular lakes and ponds as long as people do their part and continue to use social distancing.”
Access issues and closures are fluid in Oregon as they are elsewhere across the country. With Oregon State Parks shuttered, along with various cities and counties closing parks, boat ramps, and facilities, it’s wise to remember that as the agency says, “Access may be tricky – know before you go.”
In the heartland of America, where current coronavirus cases and deaths are still lagging behind other parts of the country, fishing is still open…for now.
In Oklahoma, which as of this writing had 250 cases and seven deaths, the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation noted in its March 25 fishing report newsletter that “Fishing and the outdoors are always open. Go outside, practice social distancing and get fishing.”
Meanwhile, in Maine, a state with 155 COVID-19 cases and no deaths as of this writing, officials noted that fishing and hunting activities are still open although everyone getting outdoors should responsibly use the state’s outdoor recreation lands and waters. “The Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife and the Department and Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry know that during these challenging times, everyone wants to get outside and recharge,” stated a blog post on the agency’s website.
Some states, such as Missouri and Wisconsin, have waived fees. Missouri’s decision temporarily waives permit requirements for sport fishing and daily trout tags for Missouri residents and nonresidents, a prompt to get people outdoors and still be safe.
What does all this mean? Most certainly, that the pandemic sweeping across America has made business as usual difficult, if not outright impossible, for millions of Americans who love to get outdoors for a springtime fishing trip. And that rules and regulations issued in rapid-fire public health directives on an almost daily basis mean that such a state of flux will likely continue for the foreseeable future.
But—for now, at least—it’s still possible in some portions of America to get out and enjoy a few solitary hours of fishing. Since all of this seems to change by the hour, make certain that you know the latest rules, regulation, and status of your favorite fishing hole before you head outside.
And if you can still choose to go outdoors for a few hours of fishing, continue to practice the health measures and directives being issued by federal, state, and local agencies regarding this ongoing coronavirus crisis that is enveloping our world.
One day, the storm will have passed, and outdoor recreation will beckon with few restrictions as anglers eagerly hit the water again. In the meantime, whether you’re able to go fishing or not, as many others are saying, stay 6 feet apart, avoid crowds, and keep washing your hands.