CHANDLER, Ariz. – Tim Wirtz Jr. slowly spun the reel, tracking the retrieval of a plastic worm, when two shapes moved into his peripheral vision. The teen's eyes gleamed as he peered through the crystal clear water at a pair of beefy rainbow trout cruising parallel to the shore.
Wirtz sped his spin, moved around a strand of trees and gently flicked the lure just beyond the lunkers, hoping to entice a strike.
No luck. The trout, familiar perhaps with the fishermen and their assortment of faux fish and frogs, swam right past the imitation earthworm with barely a glance.
A fishing failure – comes with the territory – but Wirtz didn't seem to mind. At a time when millions are locked in their homes trying not to go stir crazy, he was out enjoying the weather, the water and flipping lures at Veteran's Oasis Park – all while following social distancing guidelines.
“It's a good way to get out in the fresh air and he can still distance pretty easily,” said Wirtz's father, Tim.
The coronavirus pandemic has pressed much of the nation – the world for that matter – into their homes, the only escapes the occasional trip to the grocery store, doctor offices and to the outdoors for exercise.
A trip to the neighborhood lake with pole and tackle box in hand has become a popular get-out-of-the-house destination and distraction.
Countless federal, state and county waters have been deemed off-limits, but many community lakes are open and still being stocked. The lure has been too much to resist for anglers and families.
“Based on visual observations, we've definitely seen a lot of anglers out,” said Steve Gurtin, community fishing program manager for Arizona Game and Fish. “We don't have quantitative data, but we're seeing a lot more people trying to get outdoors.”
The appeal is clear.
Except for big, ocean-going charter boats or crowded shorelines for salmon or steelhead, fishing is mostly a solitary or small-group pursuit. Anglers tend skip stretches of streams or fishing holes when someone is already casting there.
Those 6-foot social-distancing guidelines? Already naturally in place.
“You don't want to be close,” said Stephanie Vatalaro, senior vice president for marketing and communications for the Recreational Boating & Fishing Foundation. “You're going to tangle your lines, get your equipment mixed up. Fishing is a sport that lends itself to social distancing for sure.”
The Recreational Boating and Fishing Foundation was created to grow boating and fishing, Its website, takemefishing.org, has seen a 15% increase in traffic over the past month, and organic online searches for fishing and how-to fish information have risen up to 350%.
The foundation's website has an interactive map showing what's open and what's not for every state during the COVID-19 pandemic.