Thursday, February 2nd, 2023
Thursday, February 2nd, 2023

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Sportsmen Since 1967

As gas prices go up, angler trips change

By Deborah Weisberg Contributing Writer

Pittsburgh — If oil and water don’t mix, it’s especially true
this year, as anglers and boaters cope with record high prices at
the gas pump.

”I’m sticking closer to home,” said Dave Marko, of Valencia.
”Last weekend I fished a pond near my house and did really well. If
I drive to Erie, I might sleep in my truck or I’ll carpool with
other guys to share expenses.

“You get spoiled in Erie, but I think a lot of guys will give
local waters a second look,” Marko said. “It might even make us
better anglers.”

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According to Richard Ready, Penn State University assistant
professor of agriculture and environmental economics, “There’s lots
of evidence that anglers are very sensitive to the cost of
accessing water,” and they will let it drive where and how often
they fish. If license fee hikes last year out-priced the
once-a-year angler, he said, this year’s 40 percent rise in gas
prices could have a greater impact on the more dedicated
sportsman.

“Some will absorb the increased costs and not do anything
differently,” he said, “but that isn’t the typical response. I
expect most folks to fish less frequently and to go closer to
home.”

Even after the shock at the pump has subsided, he said, “and
people are no longer talking about it, they’ll still be making
subtle changes in their day-to-day decisions over the long
haul.”

Some changes are not so subtle, say those in the boating
business. “I haven’t seen a decrease in numbers, but I’ve seen a
decrease in the number of high-end sales,” said Kneal Wiegl, of
Wiegl Brothers Marine Inc., of Franklin, who specializes in large
jet boats. “Where I used to have a lot of people shopping for big
boats and getting financing, the gas issue never came into play.
Now it has. They’re saying, if I can’t afford to run a $33,000
boat, I can’t afford to buy it.”

Wiegl reports an increasing demand for the type of
energy-efficient engines that began hitting the market four years
ago, and expects sales of smaller fishing boats, 14 to 16 feet, and
under 20 horsepower motors to remain the most stable. “They’re not
the gas guzzlers. Guys can take those to the lakes and get by all
week on a tank of gas.”

Jim Adams, of the Boat Fish Fun Shop in Mount Pleasant, reports
a drop in boat sales so far this year. “It’s the pleasure boaters
who aren’t buying, not the tournament guys,” said Adams, who is
vice president of Bass Federation Nation, a tournament
organization. “In fact, the tournament guys are complaining less
than the guys with the 9.9 engines.”

To seriously compete requires a heavy commitment, said Ready,
“and there’s at least the dream of winning money to offset some of
the higher expenses.”

Gary Wert, an outdoors radio personality and Warren County
tourism booster, expects to spend $1,000 more than usual this
summer on gas to haul and run his 19-foot boat with 90 horsepower
motor in Kinzua-Allegheny Walleye Association and other tournaments
in Pennsylvania and New York.

“We’re concerned,” he said, “but turnout for a small local
tournament was good last weekend, and the opening day of walleye
season was wall-to-wall boats on the Kinzua. There’ve been hordes
of crappie anglers on Chauttaqua this spring.”

Tackle shop owners at other western Pennsylvania waters paint a
different picture.

”I’m not seeing as much of my Pitts-burgh customers,” said Ron
Anderson of Appalachian Trails near Lake Arthur. “A lot of the
retired guys have told me, ‘You’ll be seeing me once a month, not
once a week.’”

Bob Mohra, of Fergie’s near Lake Wilhelm, said crappie season –
typically one of his busiest – was flat this spring. “A lot of guys
who would normally jump in their truck to come and just look at the
lake are calling instead for reports,” he said.

Denny Ferguson, who runs the Goddard Park Marina on Wilhelm for
the Pennsylvania Department of Parks and Recreation, has seen a
drop in boat rentals. “Normally, almost all of our motor boats get
rented out by crappie fishermen,” he said. “This year, they’re not
renting at all, hardly.” He said he has had to raise the hourly
rate by $5 this year.

Likewise, Anderson has increased the cost of minnows from $1 to
$1.50 a dozen, since fuel surcharges are being passed on to him, he
said. “One supplier raised the price by $2 a pound. I used to pay
$5. Now it’s $7.”

Even the Pennsylvania Fish & Boat Commission is citing the
impact of higher fuel costs, since it maintains a fleet of 100
patrol cars, 125 law enforcement boats and 45 hatchery trucks, plus
gas-powered lawn tractors that maintain access sites, and feed
trucks at hatchery raceways. “Gas is a huge issue for us,” said
agency spokesman Dan Tredinnick. “We put something like 800,000 to
a million miles a year on patrol vehicles alone.”

By the end of last month, the commission had spent $583,000 on
fuel – or $81,000 more than it spent in all of the previous fiscal
year, Tredinnick said. “And we haven’t even hit our busiest
season.

”We don’t have the luxury of passing costs on,” he said, or
raising the $65 a day stipend for deputy waterways conservation
officers who pay out of pocket to gas up their vehicles.

If folks are stuck with steep gas prices for some time, Ready
suggested that it might help to put costs into perspective. “By
historical comparisons, gas is expensive, but it’s not
outrageous.”

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