Social Fishtancing

Social Fishtancing Guidelines

The following article appeared in the May 2020 issue of the Citrus County Villager.

Well, I survived the 6 a.m. old fogeys line at Walmart, and returned home triumphantly holding a 12 pack of mega rolls under my arm, proudly proclaiming that we no longer needed to worry about whether or not to flush.     

On my morning run, I encountered a group of neighborhood kids who claimed they were maintaining social distancing as they played soccer in the street; not the brightest bulbs on the block to start with, and now they’re out of school.  When I reached my normally uncrowded jogging path, it was chock-full of walkers I’ve never seen before.  No more hugs, handshakes or even high fives with neighbors I meet along my route, just some thumbs up (and one or two thumbs down).  Unless there’s been a recent spike in the neighborhood gay community, the many couples I observed in their golf carts were in clear violation of the one person / one household couple per cart social distancing guideline.  

With recurrent waves of the virus now predicted, I wonder if we’re doomed to a future of social distancing.  How can mom and pop businesses possibly survive with everyone ordering online?  Will all the home confinement couples are experiencing lead to more loving relationships or a flood of divorce proceedings?

I miss my oldies music concerts and eating out, cannot bear re-reading another old book or watching another movie rerun, and badly need an outlet to relieve pent up stress.  Thankfully, I can still load up my kayak and head to Ozello to fish a few times a week.  Some time ago, I wrote  an article outlining the benefits fishing from a kayak provides, never thinking to include social distancing, or, as I call it, social fishtancing.  I can launch from scores of wide spots along the road throughout the county, and, after a 10 minute paddle, pretty much escape civilization.  Or I can arrange safe on-water meet-ups with friends utilizing VHF radios to facilitate communication.     

Thankfully, Governor DeSantis’ Stay at Home Order includes boating and fishing as “essential activities” as long as social distancing guidelines are practiced.  Unlike the State of Washington, which outlawed all recreational fishing, Florida’s Order achieves an acceptable balance between safeguarding public health and allowing access to waterways and related activities, thereby providing the community with needed solace, respite and healing in these challenging times.    

The BOCC has opted to keep county boat ramps open, recognizing their value in providing a means for folks and families to relieve cabin fever and improve their physical and mental health, not to mention the prospect of catching a few fish for dinner.  It’s relatively easy to maintain separation during the launch phase, and, once on the water, fishtancing between watercraft is not an issue.  Maintaining adequate spacing between anglers on charter boats is a bigger challenge, but one that’s achievable with fewer passengers on board.  Should Citrus become inundated with boaters from neighboring counties where ramps have been closed and fishing for several species has been suspended because of the red tide, the BOCC may have to revisit the ramp closing issue. 

Of course, with the plethora of water access opportunities available to us who fish from plastic vessels, we need not worry about closed ramps, parks and related facilities.  And, as good as the fishing has been this year, the reduced pressure on stocks we’re experiencing bodes even better for next year.                

So, if you’ve considered exploring this fast growing sport, I encourage you to rent or buy a kayak and give it a go.  Just remember my tried and true social fishtancing rules: (1) three paddle lengths between kayaks when launching, (2) four kayak lengths between paddlers while on the water, (3) one fish pole length between paddlers on tandem kayaks not from the same household (and between anglers on charter boats), (4) no shoulder to shoulder wading at popular put out spots, and (5) no fistacuffs with folks treating launch sites as campsites, just yelling and shaking your fists at them from a socially acceptable distance!

Here’s wishing y’all peaceful paddles, tight lines, happy landings and safe homecomings. 

Gary Rankel, PackerYaker