Fishing treads more water in Iowa as COVID-19 dampens other activities

(The Center Square) – In Dubuque County, the number of fishing licenses purchased this year has soared by 30% as the lingering coronavirus continues to hamper group and indoor activities.

“It was night and day,” Mak’s Bait Shack owner Matt “Mak” McFadden told the Globe Gazette of the sudden rise in sales for fishing supplies. “Anything outdoors became way more popular, (and) fishing was included in that.”

In one of the few positives born from the restrictions placed on much of society as a way of mitigating the spread of COVID-19, Iowa Department of Natural Resources biologist Dan Kirby reports sales of fishing licenses are easily dwarfing totals amassed last year.

Given all the newfound interest, McFadden has found meeting growing demand to be a challenge, especially in light of the domestic manufacturing shutdowns enacted in states across the county.

“All these companies could still ship (products), because shipping was deemed essential, but nobody could manufacture on the back end,” he said. “When the customer demand is high, but … nothing is getting manufactured, it comes to a grinding halt real fast. You can’t buy it if nobody’s making it.”

Although most manufacturers have now resumed operations, McFadden said distributors are still struggling to keep pace.

Stark’s Sport Shop owner Randy Stark has run into many of the same problems.

“The shortages of inventory and product from every industry that we deal with here at Stark’s is just off the charts,” he said. “It’s something we’ve never dealt with before. I would look for eight different reels, and there’s absolutely none available. None. Zero. It’s crazy.”

McFadden, Stark and Kirby all attributed at least part of the rise in popularity to free time offered for fishing during the time of the pandemic.

“I think the interest has been there,” Kirby said. “It’s just that with many other things … not available, (people) are seeking out things that are a safer alternative.”

While McFadden and Company welcome all the new business, he said the lingering uncertainty keeps him on his toes.

“It’s a “double-edged sword, especially since there’s no way of knowing what’s coming down the pike,” he said.

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