If you head out, practice #ResponsibleRecreation

Those of us returning to the water and the woods must continue safe, responsible behavior
fly fisherman iceland
Angler Earl Harper doing what so many of us do when we head to the water—finding space and solitude (photo: Chad Shmukler).

As the ongoing pandemic evolves and stay-at-home orders and shelter-in-place orders are beginning to lift around the country, anglers everywhere are itching to get outside and go fishing.

It’s completely understandable, given what, for many, has become the “lost spring.” Typically, at this time of year, I would be on the Potomac by 5:30 a.m. tossing shad darts at hickory and American shad before heading into the office. And I wholeheartedly encourage TU members and supporters who live in places where fishing is safe and legal to engage in the pastime that binds us all together.

That said, we should also take the necessary precautions to stay safe in the face of COVID-19. We’re seeing some encouraging news on the medical front, but we’re also hearing from medical experts that this vicious virus might be with us for a while, and that we’d be foolish to abandon some of the basic practices that have allowed some states to start “reopening.”

Fishing, even as the virus is still circulating around the world, can be safe, assuming those who partake do so wisely. To that end, TU and several of our conservation partners around the country, are launching a #ResponsibleRecreation campaign. It’s a simple, yet profoundly important, effort to encourage anglers and hunters of all stripes to get afield, but to do so while being safe and smart.

There might be a temptation for many to abandon some of the basic precautions we’ve all become familiar with over the last few months. Social distancing, for instance, may seem burdensome when you’re on a river or in a boat. The temptation to abandon the masks and face shields many of us have been wearing when we’re in close proximity to others might be difficult to resist while we’re chasing trout with a fishing buddy or two.

At TU, we’re asking our members and supporters to go fishing, but to stay a rod-length apart from their fishing buddies. We’re asking anglers who must fish from drift boats (guides and clients on big rivers and lakes, for instance), to wear cloth masks or face shields to prevent the spread of the virus to others as best they can. We know guides are anxious to get back to work, but who are equally concerned about having strangers on their boat for hours at a time. Ideally, fishing from boats could wait, but where it’s legal, we encourage both guides and clients to be as safe as possible.

Other important practices include traveling to the river alone when at all possible, in separate vehicles, so we’re not risking the spread of the virus in a confined vehicle. Better yet, fish alone. I, honestly, prefer to fish alone, anyway. It’s also a good idea to “fish local,” and stay close to home when we decide to go fishing. That way, we’re not risking introducing the virus to smaller “destination” communities where they may not have the medical infrastructure to deal with a significant outbreak.

Some of us might be tempted to drive a little farther, not realizing that we’re being a bit more risky, simply because we don’t feel sick. Remember, as many as one in five of everyone infected by the virus is asymptomatic — we might feel fine but could easily share the disease with someone for whom the consequences could be deadly.

Being safe and being considerate is important, not just to keep ourselves safe, but to keep our fellow anglers and, frankly, everyone we come into contact with, safe over the long haul. The medical community continues to warn us all that this virus isn’t going to just go away on its own, and that we’re very likely many months away from an effective vaccine. To lessen the spread of the virus, it’s important that we continue to keep our guards up and do our best to stay safe.

This, too, shall pass. But until it’s safe to “go back to normal,” the new normal must prevail. In order to be able to continue fishing (and hunting, camping, hiking, etc.), we need to practice #ResponsibleRecreation.

Please join TU and our partners in this effort, and continue taking the needed steps to keep you and your loved ones safe, even as you step outside to the river and go fishing.