In an unprecedented move, Maine Governor Janet Mills announced on March 20 that all inland waters would be opened early for recreational fishing and that anglers would not need to purchase a license to fish during the remainder of April. In a time of social isolation due to the novel coronavirus (COVID-19), this decision has allowed Bowdoin community members to enjoy the warmer weather by grabbing their fishing rods and heading to local streams and ponds.
Normally, fishing is a regulated recreational activity subject to restrictions on timing, type of license, equipment and a multitude of other rules set by the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife. Thus, this move to deregulate recreational fishing is a surprising one. While some states, including Maryland and Washington, have temporarily banned all recreational fishing as a means to further social separation, Maine has instead prioritized increasing access to the outdoors.
“[This is] pretty crazy for several reasons,” said Patrick Warner ’20, a member of the Bowdoin Rod and Gun Club, in a phone interview with the Orient. “Not only did it make fishing free for everyone, which is unusual, but they also opened up fishing earlier … it seemed like the mentality was just trying to get people outside and occupied with something other than coronavirus.”
Normally, fishing licenses range in price depending on the time span and whether the license holder is a state resident. The cheapest option, a one-day resident pass, is only $11, while the most expensive, a full season out-of-state pass, is $64. Although the state has some initiatives to promote fishing for beginners, such as holding a few free fishing days throughout the year, Maine has never opened up access for free for this amount of time before.
“This, as far as I know, is completely unprecedented,” said Warner. “Maine usually has several free fishing dates. We took some people ice fishing this winter during a free fishing day with the Rod and Gun Club, and it was a blast, but usually [those days are on] several weekends spread across the entire year—not an entire month or two or, at this point, potentially indefinitely. [It’s] pretty unheard of.”
This announcement is particularly exciting for new or beginner anglers. The costs of fishing can add up, and eliminating license fees makes the sport much more accessible for those without much experience.
“It can be kind of difficult to get started and have to pay that fee every time you go [when] you’re [just] trying to learn,” said Jane Chang ’20, an avid angler, in a phone interview with the Orient. “A lot of people can get started this month, [no matter their] experience.”
The timing of the announcement is particularly exciting because April is considered prime fishing season in the Brunswick area. With the snow and ice finally melting and fish looking to feed after a long, cold winter, the lakes and streams are in perfect shape for a new influx of anglers.
“It’s definitely an interesting time … it’s starting to get really good fishing-wise,” said Warner. “You have a lot of pike that are moving into shallower waters to breathe. So the pike fishing is starting to heat up … and along with them are the stripers, and then you also have smallmouth bass.”
For those around Brunswick looking to take advantage of the new deregulation or take on a new hobby, both Warner and Chang believe that some of the best fishing around Bowdoin’s campus is located just a few blocks down Maine Street.
“Downtown Brunswick [on the Androscoggin] is a great place to start,” said Warner. “There are certain restrictions that people need to be aware of, like that you can’t fish between the dam and the bridge, but below the bridge or above the dam is great fishing for a smallmouth bass. [You can use] a simple spinner [rod] or something because the fish are pretty aggressive. They’re coming out of a long winter where they aren’t feeding much, so they get more active and start to put on some extra fat. I would say go for smallmouth [bass], and stay local!”
Chang also noted that fishing can be easier than some may realize.
“You can grab some lures from a local bait shop,” Chang said. “You can use little plastic lures, and [it’ll be] pretty straightforward. And if you’re fly fishing, it’s a little bit more technical but there are lots of resources, like YouTube videos available to help you figure that out.”
Even while social distancing is still mandatory, fishing can be a relaxing way to get some fresh air and spend time outside.
“Fishing is definitely a pretty essential part of my social distancing and isolation,” said Warner. “And it’s kind of fun, too, because it’s an activity that hasn’t changed too much despite such a drastic shift in current affairs.”