The reservation line at Woodland Resort in northeastern North Dakota, home to some of the best walleye fishing in the country, is normally quiet this time of year because anglers have booked long in advance. Now it’s ringing with some cancellations.
Owner Kyle Blanchfield has dealt with several challenges on Devils Lake, not the least of which has been an ever-expanding body of water that has forced him to build dikes and relocate buildings. But the coronavirus is different.
“When it comes to chronic flooding, you can pencil out a road map of what you have to do to get from point A to point B,” Blanchfield said. “With this challenge, it’s hard to draw up a road map; hard to draw up a solution. Until the virus is under control, there really isn’t an answer.”
Blanchfield said safety is paramount and he has altered his cancellation policy in an attempt to salvage some outings. However, he’s already lost May and is worried about saving the summer for his customers, about 75 percent of whom come from Minnesota, Wisconsin, Iowa and Nebraska.
“This could be tough for a lot of people in the tourism industry and hospitality,” Blanchfield said. “We’re kind of on the front lines for getting whipped on this deal.”
For now, he said, he and his 25 employees at the resort are keeping busy with spring projects “so we’re all plugging away.”
The North Dakota Game and Fish Department has already acted on some aspects of the fishing season. The month-long paddlefish season in northwestern North Dakota has been cancelled because the snaggers concentrate in large numbers in a small area. The department is also prohibiting all fishing tournaments through May.
North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum is promoting the outdoors and encouraging anglers to come from out of state, but warns against crowds on boat ramps and people standing too close to each other while fishing from shore.
“Instead of closing the whole season for the whole state, we’ll close the fishing bridge, we’ll close the boat ramp and try to bring targeted action to those who aren’t following the rules,” Burgum said.
Another typical hot spot for walleyes is Lake Oahe in South Dakota. Tammy Nelson, who along with her husband Terry owns the West Prairie Resort north of Pierre, said they haven’t received any cancellations from customers, many of whom come from Minnesota, Iowa and Nebraska.
“We really don’t get people until June,” she said. “We’re all hopeful that everything is going to be safe by then.”
The South Dakota Game, FIsh and Parks Department is leaving the decision whether to cancel or postpone fishing tournaments up to individual event organizers. State officials are welcoming out-of-state anglers as long as they follow guidelines on social distancing.
One person who isn’t encouraging anglers or anyone else to head to the Dakotas is Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz, who has extended a stay-at-home order to May 4.
“I don’t think travel in general is wise right now. … I’m certainly not encouraging people to go to North Dakota or elsewhere,” Walz said. “My folks up north in Minnesota are concerned about people moving. We think it’s best to be sheltered close to home … not to travel somewhere and get others involved with this.”
Walz has called off this year’s Minnesota Governors Fishing Opener, the promotional kickoff to the walleye season that will open on May 9.