By Dave Orrick | Associated Press
ST. PAUL, Minn. — Amid a global pandemic, economic recession and profound racial tension in the summer before a heated election season, Minnesotans are going fishing in numbers not seen in decades.
Likely prompted by youths with no school and canceled summer programs under the care of adults working from home, or out of work, 2020 is witnessing a fishing renaissance unlike anything seen in decades.
Fishing license sales are going bonkers, bait shops and boat ramps are busy, and entry-level rods and reels are on the verge of joining the rarefied air of toilet paper and flour as items in a COVID-induced shortage, the St. Paul Pioneer Press reported.
“You name it, we’re selling it,” said Dave Becker, a sales associate at Blue Ribbon Bait & Tackle in Oakdale, where workers can barely unbox new shipments of certain items before they’re grabbed by anglers — or about-to-be anglers. “We’ve had a lot of young couples, and a lot of newer fishermen. And parents with kids buying rods for the first time.”
To an outsider, the bare spots on shelves of fishing aisles might seem arbitrarily illogical, but they actually fit a pattern: Seasoned anglers are fishing more than usual, and newbies are taking up the sport that, until this year, had been witnessing a general decline in participation.
A staple of the beginner setup is a rod-and-reel combo, which often comes with line already attached and a small tackle box with hooks and bobbers. They’re still available — somewhat. Earlier this week, Cabela’s in Woodbury was showing gaps, Fleet Farm in Hudson, Wisconsin, was picked nearly bare — with both stores expecting a resupply soon — and Amazon even saw its most popular combos — the versatile setups in the $40 to $60 range — out of stock.
“Josh has been buying everything in town,” Becker said of Blue Ribbon owner Josh Stevenson, noting that each week the shop either sells out or comes close to it but a new order arrives just in time.
It’s unclear how widespread COVID-19 manufacturing closures around the world affected freshwater fishing supply chains, but it’s clear that demand for a few key items has outstripped humanity’s ability to produce them.
Example: 8-pound monofilament line — the go-to for the typical Upper Midwest walleye angler. “If you find a thousand-yard spool of Berkley XL 8-pound mono, lemme know because I need it for my own reels,” Becker barked.
But if you’re a hardcore muskie fisherman looking to restock your favorite $20 lures, or you’re in the market for a high-end custom rod, you’ll have no trouble finding merchandise.
License sales explode
When spring came early and schools shut down from the coronavirus, it became clear fishing was gonna be a thing well before the May opener for walleye and other gamefish.
As the opener approached, fishing license sales were outpacing rates as far back as readily available numbers go — the year 2000.
According to Department of Natural Resources data, that trend has essentially continued, although 2020 has slightly fallen off the pace of 2000.
Consider these data points:
- As of the Friday before Memorial Day weekend, nearly 557,000 licenses had been sold, a 26% increase — or more than 114,000 more licenses sold — over last year at the same time. Such a pace has not been seen since 2000.
- As of that same point, the number of $5 licenses sold to 16- and 17-year-olds was nearly 21,000, a 69% increase over 2019 and by far the highest number since that special category was created in 2013. So more teens are doing it.
- As of June 11, the number of lifetime angling licenses sold to people 51 and older has already bested sales for the last two years after July 4 weekend. So middle-aged folks are committing to it.
- Nonresident angling licenses are up 22% over last year, and the combination license offered to nonresident married couples is selling right at the highest pace since 2000. So out-of-staters and out-of-state families are coming here to fish.
To spend or not
Such figures would normally bode well for the state’s tourism sector, as well as fishing retailers.
But exactly how the interplay between an idle population and an economic recession plays out remains unclear. Anecdotally, reports of bustling lakefront cabins abound, with a common theory being that — especially for those with means — canceled European vacations have translated into more time at the lake house.
And more time to fish.
Fishing for sunnies can be done with as little as a stick, sewing line and a hook with a kernel of corn on it. Or, it can get pricey.
“We just got a new shipment in and this woman came in with her three sons fishing who didn’t have anything,” Becker said. “She spent $430.”
Minnesotans fishing like crazy during pandemic