SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (AP) — The South Dakota Game, Fish and Parks Department has sold more than twice as many annual resident fishing licenses than it did at this point last year thanks to an unseasonably warm spring.
The department had issued 18,917 annual resident licenses as of March 27, outpacing the 7,867 sold by that date in 2011 by more than 140 percent.
GF&P spokesman Chuck Schlueter said many people have been buying early to take advantage of the good fishing now, but officials hope the strong sales continue through summer.
"We would give almost all the credit to that change in weather and how pleasant the weather's been," Schlueter said. "Fishing's been good, but fishing was good last year, too."
Employee John Andrus said business has been brisk at Captain Norm's bait shop and convenience store in Yankton, with nearly 13,000 South Dakota permits and almost 6,000 Nebraska licenses sold in March.
Customers were reeling in plenty of walleye earlier and now are landing catfish, drum and white bass during their outings, Andrus said.
"They're definitely catching a lot of fish," he said.
Annual South Dakota resident combination licenses, which include fishing and small game hunting, have outpaced last year's sales by more than 42 percent so far this year. The department also noticed a bump in nonresident one-day, three-day, annual and family fishing licenses, with sales of each more than doubling.
Schlueter said annual fishing license sales have been fairly steady over the past five years, peaking in 2009 at 59,427 and declining by about 700 each of the past two years.
Officials said they're excited by the early trend this year.
"We've had some cold wet springs several times over the last few years," Schlueter said. "The flooding event last year took a big bite out of fishing opportunity."
Schlueter said fishing and hunting license sales even rose in the midst of the economic downturn in 2008, and outdoors activities have proven recession-proof over the past 30 years.
"They're a good option close to home," he said.