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Fishermen need to use caution at the lake

Fishing remains a popular activity throughout the Youngstown-Warren area as we continue to deal with the COVID-19 pandemic, but that’s not to say precautions can be tossed aside when we head to the water.

Officials in Ohio and Pennsylvania so far have not closed public access to our states’ lakes and rivers. In fact, our states’ officials are encouraging people to fish as a way of relaxing in our stressful times.

One of the big lessons out of the pandemic is that nobody is completely secure from the possibility of exposure to the virus. We should go to the water with the same assumption we have about the rest of our daily routines: Everything possible must be done to avoid contact with the virus.

Guidelines about hand-washing, sanitization and social distancing are widely publicized because they are effective defenses — and not just at home, on the job or at the store. They are just as necessary when we go fishing.

I do not qualify as a medical or scientific expert on the subject, but I do have some thoughts about what I will do next time I go fishing.

First, I highly recommend that anglers check with their state’s current restrictions before heading out. Circumstances change daily, and it is possible new restrictions can be levied at any time.

I recommend you do not drive or ride to the lake with a buddy — unless he or she lives with you. It is impossible to be a safe distance from another person inside a car or truck.

Likewise, when it’s time to launch the boat, do not ask your friend to dunk the trailer. For the foreseeable future, the person backing the trailer into the water should be the same person who drove to the lake.

Handling ropes, whether to tie up at the dock or to anchor the boat, should be one person’s responsibility. If you must share the duty, be sure to wash hands with soap and water or use sanitizer immediately after touching the rope.

Always avoid crowds, whether at the dock, on a causeway or other shoreline access. Stay at least 6 feet from other people and avoid sharing nets, rags, bait containers, clippers, pliers, rods and reels and other items. If you arrive at a spot and discover it is crowded, go find another fishing hole.

If you have children with you, do not let them wander. Keep them at your side.

Pick up your own trash and take it with you when it is time to go. Litter is a huge problem at all of our local lakes’ public access. But in times like we are experiencing now, litter can be deadly.

Anglers who fish solo on their boats certainly will be practicing social distancing. My next fishing trip aboard the BassCat will be with just me, myself and I aboard.

Some will prefer to fish with a friend. Do not assume your friend is virus-free, even if he or she is feeling fine, as we’ve learned many can be infected but show no symptoms. Of course, if you are feeling ill, or if your friend is sick, do not get in the same boat with each other.

If you do share a boat, do not make it a three-person affair. It will be almost impossible to practice social distancing unless your boat is an aircraft carrier.

Do not swap seats and grasp handholds that the other person aboard has handled. Only one person on the boat should open hatches or storage compartments.

If a fish is to be netted, make it one person’s responsibility. If two people handle the net, they must wash or sanitize their hands. Use your own rags, clippers, pliers and fishing gear.

Lakeside restrooms may be locked, but avoid them even if they are open. If you do use one, wash your hands immediately. Consider investing in a boat-suitable toilet.

As you would in other places, avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth. Clean your gear well after using it and wash your hands thoroughly with soap and water after fishing.

After leaving the lake and before you get in your car or truck for the drive home, wash your hands thoroughly. When you get home, shed your fishing clothes for laundering and take a hot shower.

Above all, use common sense, especially when it comes to avoiding congregating at the lake. If officials observe too many people ignoring the anti-virus guidelines, it will not be long before the boat ramps and fishing access areas are shut down.

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