A fish caught at Saylorville Lake.

The popularity of fishing has surged during the pandemic — and state records show one out of every 10 Iowans now has a fishing license.

Jeff Kopaska works in the Fisheries Bureau at the Iowa Department of Natural Resources.  “We have really good daily sales data back to 2003 and 2020 has had the highest number of license sales through the end of June for any year of our record keeping.” The state’s fiscal years run from July 1st through June 30th.

More than 312,000 Iowans bought a fishing license during state fiscal year 2020. “Last year, in 2019, we only had 230,000 people buy a fishing license,” Kopaska says, “so we’re dramatically up from last year.” Kopaska says weather and the economy seem to have an effect on fishing license sales. There was a surge in fishing license purchases in 2012, when Kopaska says there was really nice spring weather. There was also a spike in fishing license sales back 2008 and 2009, during the last recession, but not as much as this year.

“With the coronavirus effect, people have had more free time available to them,” Kopaska says. Kopaska says it’s hard to convince people who’ve never gone fishing to start, so the Department of Natural Resources has been waiting for this surge in fishing license sales — and is planning a marketing push in hopes of keeping people engaged in the sport.

“Just getting in touch with people next spring that bought this year and reminding them how much fun they had going fishing and what a great activity it is,” Kopaska says, “and just plant that seed so that hopefully we can get them to continue.”

Louisiana State University is conducting an email survey in Iowa and several other states, asking people to share their experiences about fishing during the pandemic.  “We’re hoping to learn a little bit more about the demographics and the reasons for why people are going fishing,” Kopaska says. “Are they feeling some economic hardship? Were they going fishing to provide food and sustenance to their families? Were they or are they was it recreational, just a way to escape from the trials and tribulations of life these days?”

The survey wraps up in August and Kopaska expects his agency to get the Iowa results later this fall.