Fishing has become respite for anglers
Since mid-March, the COVID-19 pandemic has crippled this country, killing over 100,000 people nationwide, sickening nearly two million others, and shuttering businesses and causing widespread social unrest, economic hardship, and personal trauma.
Social distancing has become a household term, and the use of masks in an attempt to prevent the spread of the disease has become government-mandated for people as they go about many of their daily affairs.
Against that type of surreal, calamitous backdrop, the simple joys of life have become more deeply appreciated. And for many people, getting out into the fresh air and doing some fishing is one of those simple joys.
“It’s just great being able to get outside and enjoy nature,” said C.J. Nolan, 21, of Altoona, who was fishing recently in the lake at Canoe Creek State Park.
“It’s great being here and not having to deal with ‘You can’t do this, you can’t do that,”’ Nolan said. “That makes you feel like you’re in prison.”
Jerimiah Spade, 41, of Altoona summed up the ordeal that has plagued everybody for the past two and a half months just as succinctly.
“It’s nice to be out in the fresh air,” Spade said. “I’m actually sick and tired of masks.”
Who isn’t? Even though masks are very necessary at the present time – except in the great outdoors, where the six feet minimumof social distancing mandate can be easily practiced, and where wearing masks is more of an option than it is a necessity.
Temperatures had reached the mid-80s during the last week of May, allowing Evan Cardoza, 21, and his girlfriend, Victoria Tyler, 22, both of Altoona, the pleasure of spending a comfortable evening fishing on the lake.
“It’s just nice to get out now that the weather is getting warmer,” Cardoza said.
Cardoza has just finished his junior year as an electromechanical engineering major at Penn State Altoona, while Tyler recently graduated from Mount Aloysius College with a degree in radiology and is attempting to secure a job as an X-ray technician.
Tyler, a native of Warfordsburg in Fulton County, has always enjoyed country living and the simple pleasure afforded by fishing.
“It’s way better than sitting at home and being cooped up,” she said.
A couple fishermen who are a good bit older than Cardoza and Tyler are grateful for simple blessings in their lives, and fishing is just one of those blessings.
Frank Klayko, 79, of Lilly, who had caught four trout on waxworms at the Canoe Creek State Park lake, knows that people in his age bracket are more at risk if they contract the coronavirus.
“I think that people in Cambria and Blair counties are following the rules,” Klayko said. “They’re doing what they’re supposed to do.”
In this era of life-and-death circumstances, the pure, unadulterated joy of getting outside and fishing takes on a whole new, special and significant meaning.
“I appreciate it more this year than in other years,” Klayko said about casting a fishing line. “I think you just appreciate it more because you realize that you could be killed (by the virus).”
Personal mortality is also on the mind of Rick Walters, 62, of Hollidaysburg, and not just because of the coronavirus. Walters has endured several heart surgeries and said that he has had 14 stents placed in his heart, which is operating at only 25 percent efficiency.
Walters said that he may eventually be able to get a heart transplant, but it’s a Catch-22 predicament.
“You can get one if your heart functions at 12 percent or lower,” Walters said. “But by that time, you’re nearly out the door.”
Walters’ heart condition doesn’t allow him to wade in streams to fish anymore – he said that losing his balance there would become an issue – but he relishes the peace that he can find sitting in his folding chair along the lake and casting a line.
Walters bought a fishing license for the first time in five years this spring, just to get outside and have something to do.
“Everything is closed down,” Walters said. “I go here to the lake. Otherwise, I’d be at home. Fishing gets my mind off of things.”
Yes, it’s no coincidence in this pandemic-fueled nightmare of the last 80 days that the popularity of fishing has soared among so many different people. Fishing license sales have not been as brisk across the country as sales of hand sanitizer, but there still has been a marked increase.
“It feels awesome to be able to fish and to be out in public,” said Randy Weyandt, 49, of Altoona.
Shawn Voss, 41, of Altoona, agreed that fishing is a godsend in these troubled times.
“I appreciate that I can still go out fishing,” Voss said. “I just wish this virus hadn’t caused so many deaths.”
John Hartsock can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org