A lemon shark flopped and jerked on its line as a trio of tanned fishermen hefted it up over the wooden rails at the T at the end of the pier and, smiling, held it up for photos.
“We’re after kings [king mackerel]; we’re getting tarpon and sharks,” said fisherman Neil Foglia, a regular at the pier. The sharks were mostly lemons and blacktips.
“There’s a lot of people that haven’t fished in many years who are finding fishing again for recreation, with all the social distancing.”
— DOUG DAVIS, Granada Pier Bait and Tackle
COVID-19 has closed a lot of gathering spots, while mask requirements and social distancing have drained much of the appeal from others. But the T of the pier the afternoon of July 27 looked like a scene from pre-COVID: With a light breeze in the air, folks didn’t feel the need for a mask.
About 30-some anglers were on the pier that afternoon, despite a hot sun and the likelihood of thunderstorms, which would force life guards to whistle everybody off the pier and out of the water later that day.
At the T, young men played music on a smart phone and swapped bait and fishing tips and tales. A dozen or so big baitcasting rigs rested against the rail, their lines tied to panfish-sized live bait. Younger boys used lighter spinning gear to chuck out pyramid sinker rigs tipped with minnows. At a cutting station, a young man in a straw hat sliced fillets out of four fat sheepsheads.
“The pier’s mobbed,” Foglia said. “Everybody who’s not working’s got to do something.”
Out here, said Frankie Camerato, a Daytona resident and pier regular, “COVID doesn’t affect us, really.”
The regular pier guys have been doing pretty well lately reeling in the kingfish and tarpon, said Larry Quick, the pier attendant. The kings have been running around 30 pounds, and some of the tarpon hauled in lately have been the big ones that can put up a feisty fight — like the 100-pounder a young kid caught last week.
“The pier’s mobbed. Everybody who’s not working’s got to do something.”
— NEIL FOGLIA, fisherman
A longtime local fisherman on his second week as pier attendant, he hasn’t noticed so much of an increase on the pier, accounting for its COVID-limited capacity and hours — it’s dropped its capacity to 50 and is closing at 6 p.m rather than at midnight — but he has noticed more out-of-towners.
“There’s a lot of people who have shown up from other areas to go out there, go fishing or just walk out there looking around, we’ve had some people from Gainesville, some from St. Augustine,” he said.
Local bait and tackle shops are also seeing more customers, and Florida Fish and Wildlife officials have noticed an uptick in sales for the past three months of this year versus the same time frame in previous years.
“There’s been an increase in tackle sales,” said Doug Davis, of Granada Pier Bait & Tackle, in Ormond Beach. “It’s been pretty robust here. I’ve noticed there’s a lot of people that haven’t fished in many years who are finding fishing again for recreation, with all the social distancing. … In our little park here in Cassen Park, there’s a lot more people walking and just enjoying the outdoors — more than we’ve typically seen.”
Even in the fishing world, the pandemic has caused some disruption — closing some fishing spots and affecting shipments of tackle that’s manufactured overseas.
At Big Al’s Bait & Tackle off of East Moody Boulevard in Flagler Beach, some inventory has become more difficult to stock.
An order for rods, placed on May 1, just came in on Friday, July 24. Sand spike and sand flea rakes have been hard to come by. “Lead [sinkers] seems to be a hot commodity, too,” said Amy LaMonica, who owns the shop along with family members.
People are going to big box stores and coming up short.
But a lot of people are coming in to pick up a license or some sinkers or live bait.
People are tired of hearing about COVID, she said, “and people are afraid this is going to be the new normal.”
Fishing offers a bit of genuine normalcy.
“During the summer it’s always usually pretty busy,” she said, “but now people are like: ‘Well, what better way to socially distance myself from everybody else? I’ll go fishing.’”