WooHoo — we made it - winter is about to be in the rearview and spring fishing is finally coming. Many diehards have fished right on through the winter, but thanks to multiple different bites getting ready to pop off plus warming weather, you can bet that a huge number of anglers are now dusting off their rods and reels for the first time in months. It's a process we fishing folks have been looking forward to every spring for eons.

boat cruising in the chesapeake bay
The Rudow family heads for the fishing grounds in the early 90s in their 26’ Apollo, the Loophole.

Will it get crowded out there? Youbetcha. Some people find that annoying, while some others find it to be part of the fun. Whichever camp you fall into, the interesting thing is that many people seem to think that our fishing grounds are more cramped and crowded than ever before. I find that interesting because despite common impressions it’s objectively inaccurate.

I can clearly recall crossing the Upper Bay in the early 90s a few years after the moratorium on rockfish was lifted, heading for a hot bite at Pooles Island. Except that about halfway across I was confused by the sight of two Pooles Islands. There was one right where it belonged but also a second, larger island — an island of boats — slightly to its southeast. People who remember that sight will also remember holding your rod with one hand while fending off neighboring boats with the other.

Now for some objective facts (using U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service data): Total Pennsylvania fishing license sales peaked in 1993 at 1.26 million; Maryland fishing license sales also peaked in 1993 at 0.74 million; and Virginia fishing license sales peaked in 2009 at 0.69 million. In 2022, the numbers stood at 1.02 million for Pennsylvania, 0.59 for Virginia, and 0.32 for Maryland. Historically, the number of anglers out there is actually down. It’s tough to drill farther into data like boat fishing licenses since they’re a more recent development, but as a point of reference, in 2013 Maryland sold 47,086 sport fishing boat decals and in 2022 they sold 48,450, so in the past decade they’ve remained more or less flat.

Meanwhile, from 1980 to present day the population of people living in the Chesapeake Bay region steadily rose from 12.7 up to 18.6 million. The simple fact is that fewer people fish these days. And everyone whose life or livelihood orients to recreational fishing knows that a shrinking fishing community means shrinking clout. It means crumbling boat ramps will wait longer to be fixed, and fishing piers that are falling apart may not get fixed at all but instead get shut down. Stocking programs, fisheries research, parks and park staffing all get shorted. The list goes on and on.

Sure, a loss of access, shrinking fish populations, and improved real-time communications can at times funnel more anglers into fewer places these days. In reality, however, it’s always been crowded out there when the bite is hot and the weather is good. Because people like us LOVE to fish.

Right now in basement after basement and garage after garage, anglers are checking the stock in their tacklebox, sharpening old hooks, and testing line to make sure it’s in good shape after a long winter. Soon you'll be bumping into them, whether you’re casting for shad from a riverbank or trolling for rockfish from a boat. Remember, for as long as human beings have been walking on two feet they've been flocking to the best fishing hotspots around. Showing other anglers a bit of courtesy and remembering that we’re all out there to have a good time will go a long way in keeping things copesetic. We should be welcoming as many newcomers into the fold as we possibly can as we try to build a healthier, stronger, and more politically powerful community. Do so, and I can absolutely, positively guarantee you one thing: you’ll have more fun fishing.