The Kansas Department of Wildlife, Parks and Tourism is continuing to see strong sales of fishing licenses during the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020.
Hunting license sales, meanwhile, aren’t doing as well, but there’s still time to make up the difference.
David Breth, sportfishing education coordinator for the KDWPT in Pratt, said that fishing license sales through October were up between 30% and 40% from last year through that same timeframe.
He said the 10% range in sales is because of supplementary permits and how the agency accounts for their effect on the number of anglers.
"These include trout, paddlefishing tags, hand fishing, three-pole permits and bass pass," Breth said. "The biggest takeaway, resident fishing licenses jumped 40 percent and are still outpacing 2019's numbers."
While the news was clearly good for fishing licenses sales, the agency's hunting license sales became a bit more cloudy.
"Overall, license sales are down a bit," Breth said. "This is due to the spring travel ban for nonresidential hunters and possibly other issues. However, the two of the largest purchase months are coming up — November and December. It would be premature to compare 2019 and 2020 until the end of the year. However, our combination hunt/fish licenses across the board (youth, senior, resident, nonresident and five-year) are all up. Hopefully, this indicates positive sales for the rest of the year as it relates to hunting."
Spring’s ups and downs
From March 1 to June 1 of this year, the KDWPT said it had sold 99,777 residential fishing licenses, up from 63,266 the previous year during that same timeframe. Since then, the total for 2020 so far has climbed to 179,935 licenses through Oct. 31.
The news of the increasing interest in outdoor pursuits was especially good news for the agency considering it had just come off a historically bad fiscal year, with heavy flooding limiting camping and fishing revenue for much of the season.
But it wasn’t all good news for the agency in 2020, as Gov. Laura Kelly also passed an executive order in April 2020 suspending the sale of out-of-state turkey hunting permits in an effort to curtail the spread of COVID-19, causing another hit in revenues the state usually collects.
Through October, the agency sold 31,241 combo residential hunting and fishing licenses and 24,076 residential hunting licenses, with the prime hunting license-selling period still ahead in the coming months. That compares to 34,068 combo licenses and 43,681 residential hunting licenses through October 2019.
Aside from the suspension of nonresidential turkey permits in the spring, there were other factors that likely have had an impact on license sales in 2020, as well, according to Breth:
• Licenses changed from a calendar year to 365 days in 2018, with patrons adjusting their purchasing behavior to reflect that.
• Daily fishing licenses are often purchased multiple times by anglers. This can inflate the actual participation number a bit.
• Those who purchase multi-year licenses may not need to buy anything in 2020 to fish or hunt. They would not show up in sales numbers.
Rob McDonald, of Madison, has had a busy fall full of outdoor pursuits from fishing to hunting, including recently catching a personal-best 16-inch white crappie. He’s said he’s been fishing about as much as usual during the pandemic and looks to keep hunting heavily this fall.
An avid waterfowler, McDonald lives in the Low Plains Southeast Zone, which ran its youth, veteran and active military season this past weekend and was set to open its regular season Saturday, Nov. 14. He said in late October the ducks were already starting to come into the area, a notable difference from last season.
"Last year, we didn't get any ducks until Thanksgiving here, and right now there's ducks moved in with that storm front, so hopefully they hang around and we keep getting some more birds," McDonald said. "Each year it's pretty good here in December and January."
McDonald and his 11-year-old son, Mason, also went on an antlerless deer hunt last month after being invited by longtime Wichita Eagle outdoors writer Michael Pearce to come down to the Chautauqua Hills region for a doe management hunt. Rob and Mason, who were joined by Mason’s younger brother, Carver, had quite the experience.
Mason ended up shooting a deer from their ground blind that was standing across a watershed lake from them, which required them to get a boat to retrieve. The group, which included youths and outdoor mentors, harvested about 11 or 12 does, Rob McDonald said. He said the first morning, they had a great big buck come out in front of them and hang out for about a half-hour. Mason shot his doe later that evening.
Rob McDonald said they ended up saving the liver from the deer and catching some big channel cats with it later.