Fishing: A Great Social Distancing Activity

As the Coronavirus pandemic hit the United States, lots of shops, restaurants, and organizations closed down, and rightfully so, in the name of social distancing. Some local jurisdictions, however, have restricted activities that do, in fact, follow the social distancing guidelines. I am in no way disagreeing with such guidelines as staying six feet apart, wearing masks, and avoiding large gatherings. Some outside leisure activities that the Fairfax County Park Authority (FCPA) have banned should be allowed since they comply with these guidelines and allow people to get out of the house and connect with nature. In particular, the FCPA has closed its boat ramps and is inexplicably not allowing bank fishing.
I have loved fishing ever since I was little and can remember catching small baitfish at the beach with my dad when I was only five or six years old. As I grew older and became more independent, I began to enjoy trying to put together patterns to figure out what the fish would bite that day. One thing I have always appreciated about the activity is being able to get outside, enjoy nature and not worry about anything for a couple of hours–something I think we all could use in a time like this.
The act of fishing is a great social distancing activity since it is often done alone. Even when I go fishing with a friend or a few, we always spread out and fish by ourselves, exceeding the recommended six feet of separation. The only situation that I could see in which fishing could spread a virus like Covid-19 would be if people were fishing while sharing the same boat or canoe. Therefore, it makes perfect sense for the FCPA to close their boat ramps and parking lots. Nevertheless, fishing from a one-person kayak in the middle of the lake would be a great way to social distance because you are far away from everybody–even if some people were walking on trails surrounding the lake.
When I heard Governor Northam’s press conference issuing the stay-at-home order for Virginia until June 10, it did not concern me very much. At the time, I had taken the extra time off from school to ride my bike to any new fishing spot I could find on a map. I digested this news thinking that it would just allow me to go fishing even more. I thought about the times I had gone fishing in the previous weeks and that the only time I came close to anyone was when I biked on the way to my spots. Therefore, it surprised me when I learned that the FCPA was closing all of their parks and facilities except for trails because the trails were the only place where I felt that I could have been infected. Just to make sure, I looked all over the FCPA’s website to find their exact restrictions and found that all their boat ramps were closed. I remained optimistic until I found a frequently-asked-questions document which stated that bank fishing was not allowed. I was so upset because fishing is usually my way to escape and relax for a little bit. Honestly, I was just very confused about why they made this decision. In the weeks leading up to the stay-at-home order, I had gone fishing multiple times a week and had no issues staying away from people while fishing.
Some decisions that the Park Authority have made make lots of sense, but if I were in charge, I would have made very different choices. I completely understand why the boat ramps are closed because keeping a safe social distance between people who are in the same boat is almost impossible. Also, boat ramps allow for loitering and interaction between fellow anglers which could definitely spread disease. Despite this smart decision, I would have definitely allowed bank fishing as long as it is done a safe distance away from anyone else fishing or walking. I would have also restricted access to trails. As people start to go stir-crazy in quarantine, they often go to park trails to get some exercise which makes them even more crowded than normal–and more likely to spread disease.
Fishing is a healthy outdoor activity that should not be restricted, even during this time of quarantine. It allows people to get out of their houses and reconnect with nature away from anyone else, which can be great for mental health and, in this case, physical health.