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The coronavirus might be as big a boon to hunting as it is to fishing.

With their jobs and businesses shut down because of social distancing, people took our advice to heart and sought solace on the water. Fishing license sales increased more than 40% in 2020 compared to this same time in 2019. All those new and renewed anglers bought a lot of fishing stuff, including boats.

Denton & Griffey Attractions of Little Rock produces the Arkansas Marine Expo every January at the Statehouse Convention Center, as well as the Arkansas RV Show in Hot Springs in February. Ken Griffey, a partner in D&G Attractions, knows the pulse of the Arkansas boating industry as well as anyone, and he said that boat sales are at an all-time high.

Moreover, Griffey said that younger people are taking up fishing and, by extension, boating.

"Those resources are now being introduced to a whole new crowd, and it spans generations," Griffey said. "Young people gravitating to the RV industry. The camping aspect is really high, and boating is the same way. You can get on your party barge or go fishing with a friend or family member. It gives you the peace that you are not in a crowded space and gives you an opportunity to take advantage of Arkansas's most precious asset, the great outdoors."

Just as shutdowns are designed to "flatten the curve" of covid-19 infections, Griffey said it might also lengthen the boat buying season.

"With the school situation, people are not sure if their kids are going back to school or learning remotely. The boating season usually ends around Labor Day and the boat buying season usually ends around the Fourth of July, but it could extend to October. The season continues to be red hot. Orders are being taken for boats and people on waiting lists. I really do think that we're going to see boating season extend well into the fall."

The downside of that story is that new inventory is scarce as boat factories are shut down due to the artificially induced recession.

"The dealers are scrambling to get product," Griffey said. "With boats being so scarce, people are coming into dealerships with fewer and fewer options. It has altered their decision-making process. If these three are the only three to choose from, 'I'm ready to get on the lake today, I'll take that one!' "

The rush covers the entire boating spectrum, but Griffey said that fishing boats and pontoon boats are the drivers. In fact, XPress Boats of Hot Springs has become a major player in the luxury pontoon market and has opened a giant pontoon boat factory near Jones Mill.

"Fishing is king in Arkansas, and the fisherman is a different breed," Griffey said. "They're going to seek out that boat and do their passion. Party barge sales are just ultra strong. They give you an opportunity to include the entire family in the outdoor experience and do it safely."

Boating and fishing authorities often cite the fishing kayak as the fastest growing segment of the boating industry. Locally, that appears to be true. Kayaks are very hard to find right now, even at the big box retailers. Most kayaks are made in China, which doubtless contributes to the shortage.

We are seeing the same thing with fishing tackle. The lure selection at many stores is depleted, probably because so many lures are made in China. The same is true for rods and reels. If you list a kayak for sale in the classifieds of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, it sells within hours.

When boating season ends in October, we will probably see the trend continue with hunting. Because of its one-size-fits-all hunting license structure, Arkansas -- unlike Missouri, Oklahoma and other states -- has no way of knowing exactly who hunts for what. There were noticeably more turkey hunters in the woods in April compared to previous years. The turkey kill was about the same as the last 10 years or so, but more people tried.

With some of the longest deer seasons in America and with more than 3 million acres of public land, I predict a surge in hunting license sales as newly engaged sportsmen migrate from water to woods.

We'll teach you the basics of hunting deer with archery, muzzleloaders and modern guns starting in August with our Beginner Hunter Series.

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