Fishing License Sales Spiking During COVID-19 Pandemic

In many parts of the country, people who never fished before, or haven’t in years, are deciding that time on the water is a good way to spend spring and summer 2020.

Fishing License Sales Spiking During COVID-19 Pandemic

At the time of this writing, my home state of Minnesota’s fishing opener for walleyes, northern pike and bass (catch and release) is only hours away, 12:01 a.m. on May 9, 2020, to be exact. While below-freezing temperatures are forecasted throughout parts of the state to begin opening fishing weekend, the pace of license sales in Minnesota has been hot — historically so. 

During 2020, Minnesota fishing license sales have increased approximately 60% over 2019 (annual individual angling; $25). And among youth anglers, license sales for 16- to 17-year-olds (a reduced price license option; $5) have more than doubled. Even non-resident licenses for anglers planning to fish in Minnesota, which is frowned upon during the pandemic due to longer travel, have increased dramatically; those sales are up 31% (annual individual angling; $51).

Fishing license sales for Minnesota youths (16 and 17 year olds) in 2020 have doubled from previous years.
Fishing license sales for Minnesota youths (16 and 17 year olds) in 2020 have doubled from previous years.

Other states are also seeing increases in fishing license sales, and the obvious explanation is people of all ages have more time on their hands than ever before due to “shelter in place” orders, cancelled youth sports, and job layoffs. Kansas reports fishing license sales increases of approximately 15%; South Carolina, 20%; North Dakota, 37%; and Vermont, 62%.

In Minnesota, tackle shops that also sold firearms were allowed to stay open during the entire COVID-19 pandemic. Retailers that sold fishing tackle only (no firearms) were allowed to open via a governor’s order on April 18, with many of them limiting the number of customers in their store, as well as offering curbside pickup.

This spring during the pandemic, I’ve seen an increase in the number of anglers targeting panfish in Minnesota on the lakes around my home (panfish is open year-round). Many docks and fishing piers I’ve seen feature temporary signs reminding anglers to practice social distancing (6 feet specifically). In fact,, most of the signs say something to the effect of “If social distancing isn’t practiced, then fishing will be closed on this dock/pier.” From what I’ve observed, anglers are doing their best to heed these warnings.

Minnesota panfish anglers practicing social distancing in early May on a public fishing dock.
Minnesota panfish anglers practicing social distancing in early May on a public fishing dock.

One shallow-water lake in particular near my home borders a busy paved county road, and most springs I’ll see one, maybe two anglers fishing crappies from shore, and zero boats. During late April and early May 2020, most days I’ve counted a half dozen boats on the lake, as well as a dozen cars and trucks owned by shore anglers.

I’ve even seen local gas stations that sell live bait benefit from the pandemic-inspired increased interest in fishing. Example: My sons and I purchase plastic tubs of nightcrawlers from a nearby gas station, and several times this spring they’ve been sold out of bait. We’ve been buying bait from them regularly during the past 13 years, and not once has their bait refrigerator been empty. But these are unprecedented times. Not only are people panic-buying toilet paper, but worms, too.

The author’s most recent “bait run” to a local gas station was successful. During previous visits, the store’s live bait refrigerator has been cleaned out completely because of in the increased number of anglers hitting the water due to the 2020 pandemic.
The author’s most recent “bait run” to a local gas station was successful. During previous visits, the store’s live bait refrigerator has been cleaned out completely because of in the increased number of anglers hitting the water due to the 2020 pandemic.


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