Fish safely in face of COVID-19 pandemic

By Bill Cooper
    The COVID-19 Pandemic has touched every arena of our lives bringing the masses of our society virtually to a standstill. Extreme cautions have been taken by government and private entities to prevent the rapid spread of this deadly disease. Many have adapted ingenious ways to spend the newfound time on their hands in constructive and enjoyable ways.

Enjoying the outdoors and fishing have come to the forefront as a healthy and wholesome way to get out of the house and enjoy fresh air and sunshine while social distancing.
    Little Prairie Lake, just east of Rolla, was no more crowded than a usual Saturday recently. However, it wasn’t Saturday. It was a weekday during the COVID-19 pandemic emergency. The boat ramp was busy. A grandfather kayaked with two young grandsons. A grandmother did the same with four young ladies. Fishermen fished. People chatted, from a healthy distance.
    You would have never guessed that an international pandemic had swept the world. These people enjoying the outdoors chose a positive path to escape the woes of the situation.
Bob Wheeler kayaked with his two grandsons. “I had to get them out of the house, ” Wheeler said. “They’ve got lots of energy and they love being outside. Kayaking and fishing seemed like the perfect thing to do. We are having a blast.”
    While the rapid spread of the coronavirus has forced the closures of businesses, schools, major events, and untold numbers of nonessential gatherings of people across our country, thousands have chosen to make the best of the situation and go outside to enjoy the great outdoors. Fortunately, Missouri has much to offer in that regard. Hundreds of thousands of acres of public lands are spread across the state that are still open to the public for outdoor activities including, boating, canoeing, camping, hiking, mushrooming, bird watching and exploring.
    While some agencies, such as state parks, which have campgrounds that concentrate people, have ending camping for the near future, the U.S. Forest Service administers one-and-a-half million acres in Missouri where people may roam and camp without being concentrated. The same rings true for many miles of rivers and thousands of acres of lakes where people can fish, boat and canoe without being crowded. It is up to individuals to practice recommended safety guidelines while enjoying these areas.
    For many being off work or out of school brings an opportunity to go fishing or outdoors. But they also ask if they should?
    Dr. Neil Schaffner, from Alabama, an avid bass angler and 40-year medical profession veteran, says that a lake is probably the safest place to be right now. “We all know that we’re supposed to practice social distancing by staying at least 6 feet away from other people,” he said. “That can be done while you’re out in the middle of nowhere, in open spaces and open air.”
    That doesn’t mean that people should throw caution to the wind. COVD-19 is a serious disease and must be regarded as so regardless of where one goes.
    The biggest risk those who are traveling to enjoy the outdoors face is at the gas pump. Many dozens of people may have used a pump when you stop for gas. Wear gloves, period. Drive- through eateries also pose a risk. Unwrap your food with a napkin and avoid touching any of the packaging. Take a glance to make sure restaurant employees are wearing gloves. Do not drop your guard.
    As for now, many boat ramps and public outdoor areas are still open. However, more are closing daily as officials deem them unsafe due to overcrowding. Some areas close to protect their own personnel, while others close out of fears that bathrooms and other facilities may be areas that may spread the coronavirus.
    Fishing and other outdoor activities are often better enjoyed with a buddy, but now be the best time to fish alone. If you’d rather not fish alone, there are several ways to minimize the danger of catching the disease from a buddy.
    Boats generally have seats at opposite ends more than six feet apart. Use them. Investigate what your buddy has been doing recently and where he has been. If he just returned from a cruise, or out of country, or from a heavily infected region, save the fishing trip for another day.
    If the fishing trip is a go, utilize extreme cautions and agree not to touch the same objects. If your buddy nets a fish for you, sanitize the net handle afterwards. Treat other gear likewise. No exceptions.
    If you ride to your fishing destination in the same vehicle, wear masks and ride with the windows down. Steady breathing and normal conversations shouldn’t be much of a risk.
    Times are currently extreme, and extreme times require extreme measures. What we previously took for granted can no longer be taken for granted. Even in the relative safety of the outdoors, we must stay vigilant and exercise recommended precautions to keep ourselves, friends and family members safe from COVID-19.
    If you work in, or exposed to high risk situations, fish alone.

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