Coronavirus Got You Down? Go Fishing!

When the guy who bit the head off a live bat and pissed on the Alamo canceled his appearance at SXSW because he was afraid of exposure to COVID-19, a collective “whoa!” went up.

“Ozzy’s scared?!” city and county officials, said, “Well damn, we better cancel the event.”

bass in hand
Keep ‘Em Wet
Photo by Aaron Reed

So, no South by Southwest this year, for the first time in 34 years. Pandemic or no, many locals (though not those who rely on the gig economy, or own bars or music venues) are secretly relieved to not have to deal with the increased traffic 300,000 visitors from more than 100 countries bring to town.

A war of words rages on social media: “This is such an over-reaction! Coronavirus is no worse than the flu,” some opine. “Coronavirus is magnitudes worse than the flu, and just wait until more people start getting tested and more people start getting sick,” others say. All the while, the 24-hour news cycle is squeezing every last bit of drama out of the developing story.

I’ve reviewed the Center for Disease Control’s COVID-19 precautions, and it occurs to me that the best way for anyone to stay safe is to just go fishing.

The CDC lists some commonsense steps anyone can take to avoid getting sick (by the way, these recommendations also go a long way to preventing transmission of the seasonal flu):

* Avoid close contact with people who are sick.

“One hand for casting, the other for stripping or reeling”
Photo by Aaron Reed

Fly fishing, as I note in Fly Fishing Austin & Central Texas, is often enough a solitary pursuit, or at least one in which you expect to have a decent buffer between you and the next guy or gal on the river; the mechanics of a cast demand it. Plus: sick folks ain’t going to be out fishing. They’re going to be curled-up in front of Netflix with a bowl of chicken noodle soup.

* Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth.

One hand for casting, the other for stripping or reeling, and none for picking your nose or rubbing our eyes or sucking your thumb. Problem solved. It should be noted that fly tying also is a two-handed endeavor, and thus offers at least some protection against the coronavirus.

* CDC does not recommend that people who are well wear a facemask to protect themselves from respiratory diseases, including COVID-19.

Nobody fishes in a facemask, so score another one for anglers. The effectiveness of Buffs has not been evaluated other than as a sasquatch repellent.

* Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds, especially after going to the bathroom; before eating; and after blowing your nose, coughing, or sneezing.

This recommendation is aspirational for most anglers, since it imagines our hands are in the water a lot, which usually only happens when we are frequently catching fish. The 20-second rule, however, also satisfies one of the #keepemwet principles to reduce catch and release mortality. Win-win.

* If soap and water are not readily available, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol. Always wash hands with soap and water if hands are visibly dirty.

John Henry Boatright demonstrates the proper (and medically-proven) use of the flask
Photo by Aaron Reed

There are only a few soaps that do not introduce damaging phosphates into streams, so generally I try to avoid the use of soap on the river. I do usually carry hand sanitizer or sanitizing wipes, as well as a flask.

There was a bit of kerfuffle on the interwebs in recent days concerning the use of homemade or field-expedient hand sanitizer. Some folks recommended making your own with vodka. Austin vodka producer Tito’s corrected the record with the admission that their spirits, bottled at 40 percent alcohol, weren’t quite up to the task.

It’s unlikely any angler is stomping a stream with any juice other than whiskey, but – if you haven’t already – this would be a great time to finish-off whatever is in the flask and replace it with a cask strength spirit (typically bottled at around 60 percent or higher alcohol by volume). Balcones’ True Blue is a spicy mouth bomb, and I recommend it. If you can’t find a cask or barrel strength whiskey, one of the excellent bottled-in-bond expressions (Old Grandad Bonded is a recent favorite) will get you closer, with guaranteed ABVs of 50 percent. Use more.

I’m not an epidemiologist, or even a doctor, and none of this is actually real-world medical advice. But just like when I tie on an unfamiliar fly, I can look at the way fly fishing, perhaps uniquely, answers the experts’ best guesses about what we should do to stay healthy in coming weeks and months and say: “That oughta work.”

My publisher, Imbrifex Books, is monitoring the Covid-19 outbreak closely. As of this date, all Fly Fishing Austin events are still a go. Keep an eye on the Events Page for updates.

Aaron Reed

Aaron Reed

Aaron Reed is an award-winning outdoor writer and Army veteran. He currently splits his time between his native Texas Gulf coast, where he drives a tugboat, and his home near the San Gabriel River in Georgetown, Texas. When he is not working, chances are you can find him knee-deep in a stream somewhere around Austin, often with his wife and one or more of his three boys, trying like heck to become a better fly fisherman. His stories and photos have appeared in Southwest Fly Fishing, This is Fly, Kayak Angler, Texas Outdoors Journal, Texas Sporting Journal, Texas Fish & Game, Texas Parks and Wildlife magazine, Lone Star Outdoor News, Austin American-Statesman, Austin Business Journal, the Taylor Press, Soldiers magazine, Leatherneck magazine, Liguorian magazine, The Washington Times, and elsewhere.

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