I’m not sure how many times over the past two months I’ve said, “I’ve never seen anything like this,” but it’s a lot — far more times than I ever wanted to say such a thing.

COVID-19 is a killer — not just of thousands of people around the world — but of businesses, livelihoods and perhaps even ways of life. It might not be as textbook scary as 9/11 or as visually impactful as Hurricane Katrina, but it’s plenty scary.

The last time life seemed more or less normal for me was at the Bassmaster Classic Expo in Birmingham, Alabama. B.A.S.S. was lucky beyond words to get the event in just under the wire. A week later, and I doubt it could have happened.

The people I saw at the Expo — including lots of great friends — were doing a little fist bumping, but we were mostly shaking hands or even hugging. I don’t think I had heard the term “social distancing” yet, and I don’t want to think about how many times I’ve heard it since.

When my wife and returned home to Orlando, things were already changing. A few people in the airport were wearing masks. Streets and highways weren’t as crowded as usual. By the weekend, everything was different. Office Depot was basically empty when I went in for a toner cartridge. Barnes and Noble turned us away; they were closing early. We were the last two people to enter Sweet Tomatoes before they closed and locked the doors that have not been reopened since.

Orlando — as dependent upon tourism and travel as any city in the world, with the possible exception of Las Vegas — is a ghost town. Most retail outlets are closed. Neighboring Osceola County is now requiring everyone who leaves their home to wear a mask of some kind.

A lot of my favorite shops and restaurants have no plan to reopen. Ever.

Outlook on the Tackle Industry

The tackle industry has been hit hard … but you already know that. Production is down and in many cases months behind schedule. Domestic manufacturers, even those that practice social distancing as an operational norm, have been shuttered by state or local governments as “non-essential.” Retail shops are closed entirely or open very limited hours. At least one state — Washington — has effectively banned sportfishing. Others, like Michigan, are making it difficult. Even here in Florida — the fishingest state —where fishing is an “essential activity,” plenty of boats ramps are closed because the government authorities that oversee them are operating with limited staff.

I’ve never seen anything like this.

But there are also signs of life and a cause for optimism.

On the few occasions I’ve had to get out, I’ve seen more boats at launch ramps than usual. I have to believe that more people are fishing than would ordinarily do so — at least here in Central Florida.

I have heard from multiple sources that sales of introductory-type combos are way up. That’s obviously good news … with a caveat. If these beginners get “hooked” on fishing, we have to find ways to keep them in the sport even after the world returns to a new normal, and we must sell them fishing licenses if they don’t already have them.

March, April and May are critical months for the sale of fishing tackle. The sales that have been lost this year may be unrecoverable, but we have to look for ways to salvage those losses. Maybe we’ll catch a break with great summer weather and an early return to that new normal. Maybe the economic bounce-back will be almost as strong as we hope it will be. Maybe the states that have restricted sportfishing — directly or indirectly — will take another look at what they’ve done and reverse those policies sooner rather than later.

Whatever happens, we have little choice but to make the best of things, to mitigate our damages, to plan for a future that seems remarkably uncertain and to hope for a recovery that will somehow make our industry stronger than before.

At FTR, we’ll be doing our best to keep you up to speed about what’s happening in the industry, what’s being done to help and what you might do to improve your situation.

You can contact me at [email protected].

Be well and be fishing.