Many of my fishing trips are preceded by a long paddle to the grounds. Slowly chugging along, stroke after stroke, for miles on end leads my mind to wander.

I often think about the million triumphs and tragedies of daily life. In my head, I celebrate victories at work, home and on the water. I also replay my trials and reflect on my failures. On a long paddle, it can get pretty weird in my melon.

Check out some of the perks to buying a fishing license.
• Demographics and catch statistics
• Enforcement—against poachers,
and to provide safety and protection
• Production and stocking of species
• Rearing and research of native species
• Access and amenities
• Boat ramps, lighting, waste pickup
• Fisheries and amenities staff.

Even while I’m fishing. Cast after cast. Laying a strategy and searching for fish doesn’t scare away the angels or demons.

But when I feel my line come tight, whether it’s a light tap or hard thump, my brain turns to one thing, fighting the fish.

From the hook up through the battle to the release, I am focused on keeping my line tight, working the rod to control the fish, applying pressure, cranking hard, landing the catch, safely removing the hook and lowering my adversary back into the water.

I’m anxious and excited, happy to hook a fish and worried it will throw the hook, break the line or otherwise win the fight. There’s no room in my mind for other thoughts.

So, it’s no wonder fishing’s popularity has exploded in recent months. With the world in a whirlwind, many people in the fishing industry are reporting record sales and brisk business.

“Every day is a weekend,” my buddy at the tackle shop halfway complains. I’ve never seen lines ten deep at the register, now it is a regular thing. People are buying entry level combos and bait just to get out of the house and on the water.

Don’t worry, be happy. | Photo: Ric Burnley
Don’t worry, be happy. | Photo: Ric Burnley

On the other end of the industry, Bill Bragman, president of Railblaza US, says business is booming. “I have to pay extra to push my products out faster,” he says. In the past few years, Bragman says he’s experienced a plateau or even slight decline in the growth of the sport. “Now, we’re back on an upward trend,” he celebrates.

There is a shortage of kayaks and gear. My local paddleshop looks like it was robbed, the shelves are sparsely populated, and the boat racks are bare. Online retailers are backordered and out of stock. It’s a seller’s market on used boats.

On Facebook, kayak guide Jason Self reported his Kayak Trinidad outfitters has done more business this summer than he did in the same period last year. “Kayaking is the king of ‘rona activities,” he declared.

Kayak Angler contributor and flats guide Alex Tejeda gages participation at the boat launch. He told me, “After I park the truck, I have a 10-minute walk back to my boats.” With more people working a flexible schedule, anglers are finding more time to fish when the fishing is good.

In the middle of a pandemic and despite social uprising, kayak fishing is cool again. In Kayak Angler’s own Facebook poll, 92 percent of readers said they went fishing during the COVID-19 closures. It will be months before numbers are analyzed, but indicators are good for a positive outcome in these negative times.

We need to harness this momentum for good. In a democracy, the majority rules. Growing numbers of outdoors enthusiasts brings more power to the table.

In recent years, fisheries managers have undertaken a whole-ecosystem approach to conservation. We need to advocate to expand efforts to include water quality and habitat in the conversation.

In many states, fishing license sales have been on a decline. Reduced tax collection equals less money for angler-friendly projects. As the coffers fill, we need to demand the money is used for access and management.

People entering the sport or taking it to the next level good for everyone. In a weird irony, a new generation of anglers is born out of strange times.

More people are realizing what I have always known: time outdoors is the best distraction. The wide-open sky, deep, dark water and beautiful, powerful fish have always put my problems in perspective. Ric Burnley

This article was first published in Kayak Angler Issue 43. Subscribe to Kayak Angler’s print and digital editions here, or browse the archives here.

Don’t worry, be happy. | Photo: Ric Burnley

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“Thank God my dad wasn’t a podiatrist,” jokes Ric about following in the footsteps of a famous outdoor writer. After graduating from Radford University and serving two years in Russia with the Peace Corps, Ric returned to Virginia Beach and started writing for The Fisherman magazine, where his dad was editor. When the kayak fishing scene exploded, Ric was among the first to get onboard. His 2007 book, The Complete Kayak Fisherman is one of the first tomes to introduce anglers to paddle fishing and hundreds of articles and seminars have brought countless anglers into the fold. When he’s not chasing every fish that swims, Ric teaches English at a school for at-risk teens.


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