How Pandemic May Impact Our Sports

Chris Maroldy

In the era of the Wuhan pandemic, as far as hunting and fishing go, I’m reminded of the old Far Side cartoon.

Two crusty anglers are sitting in their wooden skiff out on the lake, three (or four) mushroom clouds beyond them on the not-so-distant horizon, and one fisherman says to the other, “I’ll tell you what this means, Norm—No size restrictions and screw the limit!”

Now, far be it from me to promote lawlessness among the upstanding and generally law-abiding hunting and fishing community —even in the face of an apocalypse—but there is a silver lining in the locked-down life most Tar Heels are living now: Since we started getting told to cough into our elbows, we now have more elbow room in the woods and on the water.

While some federal and state lands and facilities access have been closed, a great deal of opportunity remains open. You’re out of luck if you want to camp on state Game Lands anywhere from Murphy to Manteo, but state boat ramps and hunting and fishing grounds generally remain open unless they’re part of the State Parks or State Forest system. In other words, it’s pretty much business as usual at NC Wildlife Resources Commission properties, but at state or federal properties you are probably up the creek.

Because the Game Lands program and much fishing in NC involves a mish-mash of state, federal and NCWRC oversight, and because all properties and facilities are not alike, it’s neither easy nor worthwhile to try to find a rule of thumb or to line out the logic for what’s open and what’s not.

Fortunately, a lot of that information is available on-line from the governing agencies, so you should be able to minimize surprises. I say “minimize” because there are gaps in the information from both the feds and the state. I imagine that despite best efforts, some outdoorsmen are going to pull up to a trailhead or boat ramp somewhere and find it is closed.

Also, don’t assume that because some location was open last week it will be open this week. For example, boat ramps at Jordan closed over time, like dominoes falling, as crowds gathered and social distancing rules were disregarded. As of now, only the NC­WRC has a ramp open at Jordan.

Of course, closing some facilities while others remain open funnels people in the open direction, which may not be the brightest idea if the idea is to increase our personal space. But for right now, that is how the game is being played, and the word from above is that as long as you observe social distancing rules (including not gathering in groups of more than ten) Tar Heel hunters and fishermen can continue business almost as usual.

This is not to minimize the effect shutdowns are having on sportsmen, but to put it in perspective. While there are many closures, many options remain open. The challenge is finding access and to avoid areas that people are flocking to as their other alternatives become unavailable.

The NCWRC has more information here: ncwildlife.org/News/NCWRC-Coronavirus-related-Closings-and-Alerts, including links to other agencies’ closure notices. I found this very helpful when trying to find out what was going on in state parks, state forests, and national forests instead of having to surf all over trying to find appropriate links.

I’m going to be very interested to see how this all shakes out. I have to go with the feeling that next year’s fishing and turkey hunting may get an energy shot from all this. I don’t have enough information to get scientific about it, but I’d say fishing pressure this spring has been significantly reduced (despite scattered reports of crowds on the water at certain points). This should let some fish grow, and our mild winter with a pretty tranquil transition to spring has to have been good for spawning.

Of course, in the more metropolitan areas such as the Triangle where fishing pressure is already high, the lock-down may have given some people extra time to flail away at the water, so I’d like to get reader feedback on what they experienced if they’ve tried to fish any of the local lakes. I’m sure the NCWRC creel surveys over the next year or two will be interesting as well.

I don’t know what to anticipate as far as next year’s turkey hunting goes. I think it’s unlikely that hunting pressure was normal this year. I could be wrong. If people felt like getting out, they had plenty of time to do it.

If we have a bit of luck with a reduced turkey harvest this year and good poult survival this spring, though, it might mean we’ll have boo-coo gobbling birds next year and maybe even the year after that. (It’s the two-year-olds that are usually the most talkative.)

But maybe all that is too much in the future. I’m sure most people want to focus on just getting back to some kind of normal this year as fast as possible. I’m looking forward to that too, but am mighty curious to see if part of what this all means is a boost for our future days outdoors.