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Here's why fishing could be the ultimate social-distancing sport, according to a Tucson outfitter
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Here's why fishing could be the ultimate social-distancing sport, according to a Tucson outfitter

Eric Loeffler, owner of Dry Creek Outfitters, in his store located at 5655 E. River Road suit 131, on April 21, 2020.

Ten days after the twin towers collapsed during the 9/11 terrorist attacks, Tucsonan Eric Loeffler was back in his hometown of New York City.

He saw pain and wreckage, sure, but also something more.

“It was amazing how kind people were and how willing they were to help in any way,” said Loeffler, who has owned Tucson’s Dry Creek Outfitters since 1999.

More than 20 years later, Loeffler is being reminded again of the kindness he saw New Yorkers showing each other during their darkest days.

“That’s how it is again now,” Loeffler said. “People don’t necessarily need anything, but they still want to give support.”

While shops, sports and leisure activities across the nation are taking a pause, fishing remains still an available option. And according to one doctor and avid fisherman, it remains perfectly safe — provided you exercise appropriate social distancing.

Dry Creek is one of hundreds of local businesses affected by the coronavirus pandemic, but Loeffler is still processing online orders for rods, reels and, in particular, fly-making supplies. Dry Creek is offering free shipping, “like most folks these days,” Loeffler said.

“A lot of people are tying flies at home in anticipation of when they’ll be out fishing,” he said. “A good percentage of my store is fly-tying materials. That’s a whole other rabbit hole you can go down.”

It’s true: Online video tutorials can teach amateurs fly-making and even casting.

“People can also read up on entomology and learn what insects are important in what region and when they occur,” Loeffler said. “That’s something I help people out with when they come to the shop — but now that we’re not open, that’s something they can research online.”

There are still bodies of water across the state that are allowing visitors and are well-stocked with fish, including Lee’s Ferry, Parker Canyon and Patagonia, according to Loeffler.

“Blue gill, bass and carp are all species it’s appropriate to go after with a fly rod,” Loeffler said. “If people want to stay in Southern Arizona, Patagnoia Lake is a good spot. They’re done stocking trout in there, but there’s plenty of blue gill and large-mouth bass.”

The Mogollon Rim near Greer has some small streams that Loeffler says are also fishing well. (The Arizona Game and Fish Department’s website is offering up-to-date information about closures and restrictions).

Pre-coronavirus, Dry Creek would offer free casting lessons in Fort Lowell Park on Saturday mornings. Loeffler says he’s hoping they will resume soon.

“This has been brutal, because this is my busy season, and it coincided with right when this started. It couldn’t have been any worse, timing-wise,” Loeffler said, adding that although he is not at risk of closure, the drop in business hurts. He is grateful for the customers who have placed online orders or called the store over the last several weeks, many of whom Loeffler says simply want to help out.

“If it weren’t for customers like that,” he said, “it would be a lot harder.”

Reels on display at Dry Creek Outfitters located at 5655 E. River Road suit 131, on April 21, 2020.

‘Probably the safest place to be is on the lake right now’

Medical experts agree that maintaining social distance is imperative right now, and according to an Alabama doctor, the lake is the perfect place to do that.

“You can (practice social distancing) when you’re out in the middle of nowhere, in open spaces and open air,” Dr. Neil Schaffner of Alabama said in an interview with the Bass Anglers Sportsman Society. “Probably the safest place to be is on the lake right now.”

Schaffner said that fishermen should continue to practice safety measures as they would for other activities and be aware of where dangers still exist.

“Your biggest risk is at the gas pump,” Schaffner said. “The second-greatest risk might be pulling through a drive-thru … on the way to the lake.”

Schaffner advises people to avoid touching any hard surfaces without protection.

While fishing can be a social activity, Schaffner advises people to use extreme caution when considering fishing with another person.

“If your fishing partner is coughing or has any other of the symptoms — fever, aches, sore throat — or has been exposed to someone with coronavirus, don’t go,” Schaffner said, adding that he is fishing alone these days.

People who choose to fish together should stay at opposite ends of the boat and sanitize anything the other person has touched before using it themselves, Schaffner said.

Eric Loeffler, owner of Dry Creek Outfitters, in his store located at 5655 E. River Road suit 131, on April 21, 2020.

‘Right now is the perfect time to go out … and just practice’

Tucsonan JJ Belcher has been fishing pretty much his whole life and says now is as good a time as any for people to keep their skills up — on and off the water.

Belcher started out as a “conventional fisherman,” enjoying the quality waters of Southern Arizona year-round before moving to fly fishing about nine years ago. He’s now getting his 5-year-old son into the sport that he’s quick to call his obsession.

“In Tucson, you definitely have to drive a few hours to hit any big waters, but there are several small, city lakes around that you can go out on and have some fun,” said Belcher, who owns a local dog training facility. Belcher said that Game and Fish does a good job of stocking the local lakes and that urban fishing at Lakeside, Kennedy and Silverbell lakes is a serious hobby for some locals.

With fishing locations ranging from midday breaks to weekend trips, Belcher said there are plenty of options — even now — for Southern Arizonans looking to get out on the water. But he understands that some people aren’t comfortable doing that right now, saying that there are plenty of other ways to stay or get involved.

“I do a lot of tying my own flies and things like that,” Belcher said. “That way I can kind of still be in that fishing mode and not necessarily on the water.”

For people who are not obsessed yet, or who have never fly-fished before, Belcher said that quarantine is the perfect time to learn.

“There’s a lot of technique that goes into casting,” Belcher said. “Right now is the perfect time to go out into the front yard or the park and just practice, so that you’re not spending hours on the water when you finally get out there.”

Contact reporter Caitlin Schmidt at 573-4191 or cschmidt@tucson.com. Twitter: @caitlincschmidt

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