Coronavirus in Oklahoma: COVID-19 could result in a new generation of anglers
In my Edmond neighborhood, I have seen more people fishing at the local ponds the past two weeks than I have in the previous 30-plus years I have lived there.
It's a statewide trend. With sports and entertainment shut down because of COVID-19, many people are rediscovering fishing.
"There is definitely more people out fishing," said Skylar St. Yves, fishing coordinator for the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation. "I am in Edmond and it's definitely noticeable to me.
"I am an avid angler. I fish 300 days a year and some of the neighborhood ponds that I fish, I am seeing families showing up where normally on a week night or on a weekend I might see one person who might come over to fish. You can tell people are turning it into a day."
At Lucky Lure Tackle in Oklahoma City, owner David Hughes' base of customers have shifted from the regular bass tournament anglers to newcomers to the sport.
"We are seeing lots of new people," Hughes said. "A lot of people who haven't fished in years, and we are seeing some people who haven't fished at all before. It's been going crazy. I have never been busier than I have the last couple of weeks as far as new people.
"Normally, our business this time of year drives to the big bass tournament guys, but most of the bass tournaments are canceled. A lot of our business is people coming in and buying Zebco 33s to go fishing."
"Instead of selling high-end bass tackle, I am selling a lot of the lower-end stuff, fun fishing stuff. Lots of people are going crappie fishing and catfishing. A lot of people who never fished or haven't fished since they were kids are bringing in their kids and they are going to the lake."
If there is anything good about the shutdown, it's that many families are getting to spend more time together, especially in the outdoors.
Tulsa Union Public Schools athletic director Emily Barkley and her family are a perfect example. Her husband, Justin Barkley, is the head men's basketball coach at Rogers State College in Claremore. Normally at this time of year they rarely get to see each other because of their jobs.
"We virtually never get to spend any time together," Emily said. "He started fishing again when all this happened and one day our daughter (4-year-old Sutton) said, 'I want to go fishing.' I didn't grow up dong that but he did, and we went out and she caught about five fish with her little Barbie fishing pole. She loved it, except for touching the fish. She liked catching the fish, but not touching the fish."
It was their first time fishing together as a family. Emily said they definitely plan to go fishing again. She has encouraged her coaching staff at Tulsa Union to take advantage of this time, as well.
"We have about 120 coaches at Union and they are taken away from their family more times than not. This in unintended (family) time, but I am going to try to enjoy it and slow down for once and enjoy watching (Sutton) grow up."
At the same time, April is perhaps the best time of year to go fishing. As water temperatures rise, fish start biting. Who knows? Maybe COVID-19 could result in recruiting a new generation of anglers.
"Fishing right now is good, and it's going to get better in some places," St. Yves said. "The fact that they are going out right now, they are probably having success. So that drives you to go back."
St. Yves said the Wildlife Department is receiving a lot of phone calls from people wondering if it is OK to go fishing and where they can go. Some municipal lakes may be closed because of COVID-19, but most lakes across the state remain open for business.
State wildlife officials say the outdoors is open but social distancing still should be followed, although that is not always happening.
"It's literally like it's a holiday out at the lake," said one business owner of the crowds on Lake Thunderbird in Norman on Friday.
Camping has been closed or restricted at most state parks but RV sites remain open. For camping availability, visit travelok.com.
Some health experts even suggest maintaining more than the recommended 6 feet of distance from others when outdoors, such as when people are running or biking on trails and breathing heavily.
The Wildlife Department has added a "fishing resource" page on its website, www.wildlifedepartment.com, which offers family fishing tips and information about lake access.