May 24, 2021
By Ross Purnell
In the spring of 2020, I noticed an unusually high number of cars parked at all the typical trout-fishing spots in south-central Pennsylvania. Schools were closed due to the pandemic, organized youth sports were mostly canceled, people were working from home, and while the list of things you couldn’t do was long, it was pretty clear there was one thing you could do safely: It was the year everyone went fishing.
At first, I thought my observations were anecdotal, but then I heard from fly fishers in other parts of the state, and across the country, that their trout streams were overrun as well. In 2020, Pennsylvania sold almost one million fishing licenses—up 19.5% over the previous year. In Montana, resident annual fishing license sales rose to an all-time high of 136,929, up from 116,796 in 2019, an increase of 14.7%. Colorado in 2020 sold a total of 1,331,457 fishing licenses of all types, up from 1,127,792 in the previous year, a 6.5% increase.
These stats show growth in new anglers who hadn’t previously purchased a license, but they don’t show the increased activity by regular license holders who seemed to be fishing two or three times as much as they had in previous years. And most of this surge in fishing activity was happening on easy-to-access trout streams.
The boom was good for business—sales of fly rods, flies, and terminal tackle were all up. Fly Fisherman subscriptions went through the roof. But it also became clear that some of our most cherished trout streams were getting loved to death.
Going fishing is never a bad thing, but if you find yourself with more fishing time than usual, there’s no need to pound the same spot on the same trout stream. You know the trout are there, when the hatches come off, and how to catch those trout. Let someone else have a chance. If you’ve got more fishing time on your hands, it’s time to expand your horizons, and that’s why Fly Fisherman decided on a largemouth bass for the cover story of the Aug.-Sept. 2020 issue. That’s why we did a story on “The Forgotten Ones,” and for the first time in Fly Fisherman history, used a photo of a bowfin on the cover of the Feb.-Mar. 2021 issue.
In the April-May 2021 issue, author Blane Chocklett makes another Fly Fisherman first—a story on fly fishing for northern snakeheads. A decade ago, these nonnatives from Asia were widely publicized as threats to our waterways, but they thrived and reproduced anyway, and are now found in all the Atlantic states from New York to Florida, and also in California.
They live in shallow, marshy ponds and wetlands; slow, low-gradient rivers with oxbows and sloughs; and they thrive in brackish salt marshes as well. Chocklett has been hunting them with snakehead guru Grant Alvis in the tidal rivers of Chesapeake Bay, a massive territory of wetlands adjacent to the metro areas of Baltimore, Washington D.C., and Norfolk, Virginia. If you have a kayak or a skiff, you have all this shallow water to yourself—and all the sight fishing and vicious surface strikes you can handle.