The COVID-19 pandemic has changed the way the people of Washington state recreate.
With most indoor activities shut down because of the increased risk of gathering in an indoor environment, where the virus spreads the most effectively, people of all ages are turning to outdoor activities, where the spread is slowed or stymied.
This has led to a surge in to fishing and hunting, and to all other outdoor activities. If you think that your usual fishing spot is busier than usual, it is.
Laura Heironimus, the Columbia River Management Unit, Sturgeon/Smelt/Lamprey Unit Lead, supervises crews that conduct creel surveys, and what she has witnessed this year is a clear indicator of the jump in local fishing participation.
“There’s a lot of new fishermen on the water,” said Heironimus. “We have seen quite a lot of activity on the water since so much else is shut down. There are a whole lot of things that are shut down and people don’t have a lot to do, so they are getting out on the water.”
John Thompson of Sportsman’s Warehouse, an outdoors store in Vancouver, has seen a surge in new anglers to the point that he said the store is having trouble keeping items in stock and on the shelves.
He is also answering questions every day about how to fish. The newcomers are looking for information concerning just about every kind of fishing the area has to offer.
“It’s kind of across the board,” Thompson said. “Some guys are trying to find out about winter steelhead, but it’s also bass, trout, crappie……it’s everything.”
When asked if this could be a record sales year for the store, he said, “I would think it’s going to be a record year, unless something comes up.”
He reported that hunting is seeing an equal surge in newcomers, and the store is struggling to keep up with ammunition sales, as well as sales of new hunting rifles and shotguns.
The problem is exasperated by the COVID pandemic interrupting supply chains.
‘It’s crazy,” he said. “We have 12 to 13 people standing outside waiting for us to open every morning to see about buying ammo. Get it while you can, because they are buying up everything.”
As an example of the situation, he points to shortages of popular hunting shotguns.
“You cannot buy a Remington 870 Express anywhere in the United States right now,” he added.
License sales are also increasing, said Benjamin Anderson, the communications manager for the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife’s Region 5. He reported that sales are up for almost everything, and the license year doesn’t end until April 1. That means the figures he cited may climb still.
He describes how the state decides what a “new” participant is.
“A ‘new’ participant is defined as someone who purchased one or more licenses in the current license year, but hadn’t purchased a license in the previous five years,” Anderson said.
As of late October, the top three licenses purchased by new anglers are:
• annual freshwater
• 1-day combination license
• annual shellfish/seaweed
As of late October, the top three licenses purchased by new hunters are:
• deer license
• small game license
• deer license with small game discount
Fishing license sales are up by 5.37 percent over this same point in 2019, with an increase of a little over 16 percent in “new” anglers. Hunting license sales are up by 6.59 percent overall, with an astounding 39 percent jump in new, first-time hunters.
Not all local outdoor sports businesses are reaping profits, though. Fishing guide Matt Eleazer of East Fork Outfitters reports that he has seen little in the way of new clients. When asked about new business, he pointed to a number of factors working against him.
“Most of new calls are from people that want to trout fish,” said Eleazer, who does not offer trout trips. “They are just trying to get into fishing, but they haven’t been working, and they are blown away by the price. But they aren’t working, so I get it.”
There are other downsides, too. First, the newcomers mean more people on the banks of the lakes and rivers, which adds to crowding.
And, that extra effort can mean a quicker end to fishing quotas. For instance, sturgeon retention seasons in the Bonneville and The Dalles Pools closed much earlier than usual this year.
Creel surveyors noted that an increase in anglers fishing the seasons may have speeded up the filling of the quotas, and brought an early end to the fisheries.
There are other factors that explain some of the increases. The best fall salmon seasons in years helped spur fishing interest, and good weather helped the sturgeon fishermen find faster success.
However, interest is up in all outdoor sports, and that is likely to continue. More participants mean more advocates for outdoor sports, and that is never a bad thing.
Terry Otto’s fishing update and forecast for southwest Washington can be found as part of Bob Rees’ “The Guides Forecast” at: https://www.theguidesforecast.com/
East Fork Outfitters: (360) 687-3474, https://www.columbiasalmonguide.com/