When the country shut down in March in response to the coronavirus, many states exempted outdoor exercise. Many got out on the water and bought bait and fishing tackle, creating a shortage that continues as the disease shut down factories and distributors, according to industry reports.
St. Simons Bait & Tackle offers rod and reel sets, but that hasn’t always been the case.
“There were three weeks where we couldn’t get anything,” said Trish Wooten, who owns the store with her husband Mike.
The store only sells rod and reel sets because it is the most economical for the store and for the customers. On top of that, Wooten said that’s what people want.
Clients often come to St. Simons and make the decision to fish after they arrive. They buy gear and bait, and ask where the fish in the pictures on the walls of the shop were caught.
For a time, no one within 100 miles could get hold of the lead sinkers needed for bottom fishing, the most popular method on the beach and pier.
St. Simons Bait & Tackle had plenty because “we get ours locally. All the others are from China,” she said.
As other states closed, Georgia Governor Brian Kemp kept much of Georgia open and even went against local government efforts to contain the spread of the virus. It reversed the closure of beaches by the Glynn County Commission and allowed short-term rentals to resume. As a result, people flocked to the Georgian coast.
Just one day early in the outbreak, Wooten said she had a couple from Mississippi and others from Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Indiana and New Orleans.
“I called them refugees. People needed a place to go,” she said.
On the sidewalk of JC Strother Co., Gordon Strother said his rod and reel holders were in short supply for a while, but the department store finally got a shipment. On Thursday, there were 16 combos on the rack.
“The factories are closed. Distributors don’t ship,’ he said.
Shortages are not limited to fishing gear.
“We’re struggling to get all kinds of stuff,” including sanitizers and masks, Strother said. “A lot of companies expected this big slowdown and laid off. People got used to not working.
Strothers’ tackle supplier said it didn’t have enough workers to even pull and ship orders.
“It’s the weirdest thing I’ve ever seen,” he said.
It’s not just local businesses that are hurting. Walmart’s stock of fishing suits has shrunk by at least half in the past week. There were a few stalls of budget rod and reel combinations, but the racks that normally held well-known brands were empty and some popular artificial baits were sold out.
At least St. Simons Bait & Tackle had everything Noah Ashley needed for him and his three young children from Bowling Green, Ken., to spend time with his mother.
“Who knew we would be fishing with masks on?” he said on the pier as they baited the hook on a single new rod and reel and tied the chicken necks in a crab net.
“We enjoyed the weather and the beaches,” and his two sons and daughter love to fish, he said.