Fishing in a Pandemic

Social distancing on the river (though dogs don’t worry about it).

Those almost summerlike days of a week ago made it clear that the seasons were changing, if not already changed. Have we seen the last of snow and cold weather? Not bloody likely. Not here in the northern Rocky Mountains. Still, when we get a day in the 70s in April, we’ll take it.

The warm weather sent a surge of snowmelt down our river valleys. Rain also came to help with the greening of the landscape, and perhaps triggered some morel mushrooms to sprout up. 

While many of us have been fishing regularly during this period when we inch away from winter and into spring, it probably took last week’s warm weather to get the juices going for many people.

Obviously, the urge to go fishing or other outdoor recreation doesn’t change the fact of the elephant in the room. That elephant didn’t go anywhere. I’m referring, of course, to coronavirus, and covid-19, the illness that the novel coronavirus causes. 

I’ve written about this before, but as we get serious about outdoors recreation, we likely need reminders that we still need to be careful about our outings.

I’m on an email list for Angling Trade, a trade publication for flyshops and other fly-fishing-related businesses. Last week, Kirk Deeter, the editor for Angling Trade and also Trout, the Trout Unlimited magazine, issued reminders of the need to be careful so that a day in the great outdoors doesn’t turn into a life-threatening bout of illness. He sought out Eric J. Esswein, an angling friend and a retired public health officer with an arm-long list of degrees and honors, for comment.

Esswein says that a 9-foot flyrod is a pretty good measure for social distancing, but adds that we should wear some kind of face covering, such as a neck gaiter or Buff, don’t drive together, plus “net your own fish…fish with family members.” If you’re having any kind of covid-19 symptoms, seek medical advice, but if you’re feeling well enough for an outing, “fish alone, plan and prepare to be completely self-sufficient, have…all you’ll need for a day afield.”

Esswein notes the reality that people who are age 55 and older are at greater risk for getting sick, especially if there are additional pre-existing health issues. People who go on float trips with other people, or book a guided float trip put themselves at additional risk for accidentally contacting other people who may unknowingly be contagious. He further notes that guide trips are expensive and that it’s those older people who are more likely to have enough disposable money for those trips.

I don’t want to steal the entire article, though you can read it for yourself at Esswein does comment that if we’re at all unsure about recreating safely, perhaps we should stay at home and tie flies or read a book about fishing.

Kirk Deeter comments that as far as he’s concerned, he’s not letting anybody but people from his own household in his boat until six-foot social distancing is no longer a concern. He emphasizes, as well, that flyshop operators, guides, outfitters, and others in the business are likely even at more risk than their elderly clients, as they’re in contact every day with strangers from around the country and the world.

Like most people, I was happy when the governor cautiously lifted some of the restrictions on business operations last week, which did include guided fishing trips. We might complain, at times, about the numbers of guided anglers on our rivers. Still, they’re an integral part of Montana’s tourism industry, and our guides and outfitters offer an important service in giving visitors a safe and pleasant introduction to Montana’s great outdoors.

From what I’ve read, it’s good to be in the great outdoors, where breezes quickly dissipate viruses floating in the air. That doesn’t mean we’re totally safe when we’re outside. 

In any event, if you’re not able or willing to go out by yourself for fish or mushrooms, you might be better off staying home and putting in your garden.

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