Fly Fishing in the Coronavirus Emergency Era

~ by Bob Volpe ~

With the COVID-19 virus running amok, and stay at home orders in place in Colorado, some local anglers may wonder if it is safe to go fishing.

Well here’s the skinny on what is happening and what to look out for. Every fly shop I’ve contacted, or should I say, didn’t contact, is closed. Flies and Lies, in Deckers, The Peak (both the Colorado Springs store and the Woodland Park shop), South Platte Fly Shop, all were closed until at least April 11. All of the shops have suspended guide trips too.

I was able to get hold of my friend Brad Thomlinson, owner of The Peak Fly Shop by email. He had some interesting observations. Since closing, due to the stay at home order, and non-essential businesses shutdown, The Peak shop has been suffering financially.

With this downtime, Thomlinson has been busy negotiating the quagmire of agencies, trying to get help to keep his shop open when this is all over. He’s been researching Small Business Administration loans, the Payroll Protection Program, which allows a forgivable loan that can be used for payroll and mortgage/rent payments, and the Economic Injury Disaster Loan.

Thomlinson said, “We are not supposed to be anywhere but sitting at home, full stop. Personally, yeah, I’m very concerned about folks coming by (to the shop). Too many people are not seeming to take this very seriously. I have doctor friends. They’re -freaking out.”

Another resource I was able to find, for information regarding fishing and the virus was an online fishing magazine called Angling Trade Magazine (ATM). ATM spoke with ER physician, and avid angler, Dr. Cliff Watts. Dr Watts started working in the emergency department in 1974. After completing an Emergency Medicine Residency in Charlotte, North Carolina, he moved to Boulder, Colorado, in 1978. After many years in the Boulder Community Hospital Emergency Department, and a few years as Associate Faculty for the Denver General Emergency Medicine Residency program, and 10 years as physician advisor for over 16 volunteer EMS agencies, he ended his active career at Boulder Medical Center Urgent Care in late 2013.

Dr. Watts answered some of the questions many fishermen are asking. Is it okay to fish in a “lockdown” or “shelter in place” state? If I am completely alone, get in my vehicle, get out and fish, never encounter another human within 6 feet or more, and have a healthy (at least mentally) escape, is that cool? Yes, I believe that is very safe. If you are alone, the gas pump or the convenience store that you might visit on the trip is probably the most potent risk of exposure or transmission.

What is the max distance one should travel to fish? Are we talking about “walk to fish?” or is it okay to drive an hour to the river if part of the isolation appeal is to keep people off the roads entirely? I do not think driving will increase your risk or that of others as long as you follow CDC guidelines.

How about a boat? Like a drift boat… is there any way you see a fishing boat being a safe “socially distanced” scenario? Most drift boats mandate the rower and the fisherperson to be less than 6 feet apart. The person downwind of a sneeze, or a spit, would be vulnerable to “droplets” and hence there could be a significant potential to spread any virus.

Assuming I can go fish, and I buy a dozen flies and a spool of tippet from my favorite fly shop (online, sent to me through the mail, or they leave it out the door), do I have to disinfect those flies and tippet somehow, and if so what is the best way to do that? According to a recent study published in the New England Journal of Medicine, SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, can live in the air and on surfaces between several hours and several days.

The study found that the virus is viable for up to 72 hours on plastics, 48 hours on stainless steel, 24 hours on cardboard, and four hours on copper. But the actual viral load decreases rapidly on most of these surfaces. Cleaning surfaces with disinfectant or soap is very effective because once the oily surface coat of the virus is disabled, the virus should not be able to infect a host cell. The facts and science change daily. I do believe soaking anything in 91 percent isopropyl alcohol or 80 percent ethanol (real moonshine) for one minute would kill any virus on a fly or tippet materials, but this might affect those materials. Letting any of these fishing materials just sit for 72-hours, should certainly make them virus free. I would not hold fresh flies or tippets with your lips until you do so.

Lastly, from what I’ve been hearing from fishy friends, the major fishing spots near Woodland Park, The Dream Stream, Deckers, and Cheesman Canyon are packed with fisherman. Keep Dr. Watt’s advice in mind if you do go fishing and stay safe.