LINCOLN — COVID-19 is causing another kind of fever — fishing fever.
Sales of annual and one-day fishing licenses in Nebraska have shot up about 40% each over a year ago, when heavy flooding curtailed fishing, according to the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission.
But even when compared to the pre-flood years, about 10% to 20% more people are casting lines into state lakes and rivers during the coronavirus pandemic, according to license sales, and many are first-time fishermen and fisherwomen.
“I’ve had more emails and more social media queries about fishing from beginners (than at any time) in my 49 years,” said Greg Wagner, an Omaha-based public information officer for the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission.
On a recent visit to a west Omaha Walmart, Wagner said he encountered several families seeking advice on where to go and what to buy. The majority, he said, had never fished before.
His advice — try smaller lakes, close to home. Halleck Park in Papillion and Benson Park Lagoon in north-central Omaha both offer shaded areas to fish, with playgrounds close by. Fontenelle Park Lagoon was recently renovated and offers good angling, Wagner said, and Zorinsky Lake and Harold Youngman Lake in west Omaha provide nice spots for fishing from a kayak or float tube.
“You’ve got a lot of local fishing water nearby that maybe you don’t quite know about,” he said.
Peter Rohman of Wolf Tackle Supply in Lincoln said he’s seen fewer seasoned bass fisherman seeking high-end tackle this year but many more beginners buying rudimentary supplies like bobbers, hooks and weights.
“Things that beginners need are hard to keep in stock,” Rohman said.
Fishing, according to Wagner, offers the safety of social distancing and provides a family activity that can be done close to home. Most fishing rods are 6 feet long or longer, guaranteeing that people are properly spaced, he said.
“You don’t want someone within 6 feet of you or you’re going to snag them with a hook,” Wagner said.
Nebraska fishing licenses cost as little as $10 for a one-day permit, and kids under 16 do not need a license, he added.
Because of COVID-19, the Parks Commission has suspended a program of lending out fishing gear, but Wagner said new rods and reels can cost $30 or less. Many families, he added, might have an old rod gathering dust somewhere that could be put back into service.
One added incentive — the Parks Commission has a “Take ‘Em Fishing” program that offers prizes up to a new fishing boat to those who introduce, or reintroduce, someone to the sport. For more information, check outdoornebraska.gov/takeemfishing/ or call the Omaha office at 402-595-2144.