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Sport of fishing reels in new anglers during coronavirus pandemic

As we struggle with the ever-changing social landscape COVID-19 leaves in its wake, there are some positive things that show up among all the negatives. And when they do, it behooves us to enjoy them while the opportunities last.

One of those positives occurred when the American Sportfishing Association opted to replace the physical version of its 2020 International Convention of Allied Sportfishing Trades with its first virtual edition rather than cancel the show.

With that change, the world’s largest sport fishing trade show became ICAST 2020 Online, and the ASA opened the show doors for people who might not be comfortable traveling across the country amid the pandemic to attend the show. The change also made much of the trade show available to the public for the first time, albeit from computer screens.

Historically, ICAST is closed to the public because its primary purpose is to put vendors and manufacturers together in one place so they can determine which products are going to be available on store shelves during the coming year. It also is the place where new innovations and products are unveiled to the world.

On the welcome screen to ICAST 2020 Online is a quote from ASA President Glenn Hughes that reads, “While these may be difficult times, we are presented with a great opportunity for our industry. As we all know, we are not defined by what happens to us, but how we respond to what happens.”

By moving forward in a bold way, rather than simply shuttering the doors on its annual trade show, the sport fishing industry took steps to ensure that people have what they need for their mental health as they take precautions to protect their physical health.

“It is (in) the great outdoors that that we escape the pressures of life, where we put order back in the world and spring back in our step,” said Chris Megan, chairman of the ASA Board of Directors. “It is where our country and the world have gotten solace from the pandemic caused by COVID-19. Never have so many turned off the evening news, put down the cellphone and instead went for a walk, explored a new trail or made their first cast.”

Megan pointed out that “We went from a nation of spectators at major sporting events to willing participants in the outdoor lifestyle. In states that kept open our incredible waterways, they saw growth in fishing like never before.”

Industry estimates are that some 8 million anglers will cast a line for the first time this year, Megan said.

But Megan cautioned that without success, these new anglers will turn back into spectators. He then issued a challenge to those within the recreational fishing industry.

“We have to embrace these new anglers,” he said. “We have to provide them with entry-level opportunities so they can meet with success as we have for years.”

Fishing success is different for each angler. To some, it is catching big fish; to others, it might mean catching many fish; and others might find satisfaction by spending a quiet day on the water. For new anglers, Megan said, “it’s simply the bend of a rod and a photo to go with it that says, ‘Look at me. I caught something.’”

Walking virtual trade show aisles is quite different from walking physical aisles, but I did find new products that will be worth mentioning in future columns. In the meantime, you can do your part to help someone keep their spirits up by giving them an opportunity to feel the bend of a fishing rod. And don’t forget to bring your camera.

Freelance writer Doug Nielsen is a conservation educator for the Nevada Department of Wildlife. His “In the Outdoors” column, published Thursday, is not affiliated with or endorsed by the NDOW. Any opinions are his own. Find him on Facebook at @dougwritesoutdoors. He can be reached at intheoutdoorslv@gmail.com

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