SIOUX FALLS, S.D. — Fishing in South Dakota and Minnesota could be more crowded than normal this year, as fishing license sales have surged in both states, rebounding from last year's flooding and poor weather and likely driven by pandemic cabin fever.
And while officials in Minnesota and many states are encouraging residents to stay close to home, the license sales numbers show plenty of people are planning to cross state lines to fish.
In Minnesota, license purchases by residents surged about 54% from last year while nonresident licenses sales are up about 28% from last year, according to a Forum News Service analysis of year-over-year data collected by the state's Department of Natural Resources from March 1 through Wednesday. Both sales totals are the highest seen by this point in the year since at least 2000.
South Dakota sales of fishing licenses to residents are up about 77%, with annual license purchases more that doubling. Nonresident sales climbed 31% from the start of the state's license year, Dec. 3, through May 3, according to the FNS analysis. Most were sold residents in surrounding states, according to the state Game Fish and Parks Department.
The year's sales so far mark the highest combined total in five years, said GFP Deputy Secretary Kevin Robling. Last spring's poor weather and flooding likely depressed last year's fishing numbers, he said, so GFP is pleased to see the sales license rebound. This year's higher license sales have brought in about $773,000 more than last year, according to GFP data.
"Getting outside is a great way to balance mental and physical health during this challenging time," Robling said. "It’s important to continue to recreate locally and be self-sustained by packing everything you will need for your outdoor adventure. Enjoy some time out of the house. The outdoors are open."
State messages to anglers vary
South Dakota officials never instituted a stay at home order, although some cities did restrict businesses and other measures. Instead, Gov. Kristi Noem asked state residents and business owners to take personal responsibility for social distancing and provided guidelines for doing so.
The state never closed its recreational facilities, including boat ramps, to either residents or nonresidents, although it did close fish cleaning stations at state parks, recreational areas and fishing access spots. State officials have encouraged everyone to enjoy the state's recreational opportunities while still adhering to guidelines from the CDC.
"GFP is pleased to see folks getting outside to enjoy South Dakota’s incredible outdoor resources while doing it safely by social distancing and following the CDC guidelines," said Robling.
But Minnesotan officials have drawn a harder line in advance of the state's fishing opener on Saturday, May 9. Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz on Thursday discouraged Minnesotans from traveling outside the state for noncritical purposes and nonresidents from coming into Minnesota for the opener.
“We’re not setting up roadblocks at the South Dakota border or North Dakota border or Wisconsin, but the fact is is that we know the more people travel, the more the spread is, the more we lose containment of that,” Walz said. “Enjoy what Minnesota has to offer but let’s not put each other at risk.”
Walz said there likely wouldn’t be enforcement of the state’s stay-at-home order beyond educating those who violate it and he urged anglers to heed state guidelines to social distance and fish close to home.
The Democratic-Farmer-Labor governor said rural officials and tribal leaders voiced concerns about travelers bringing COVID-19 to their communities, where health care facilities might not have as much capacity to treat COVID-19 patients.
“This is not about defying an order that I put out, this is about defying a public health warning, this is about defying the science of how this stuff spreads,” Walz said.