Registered Maine guides are among those in industries in which face-to-face service is an essential part. But as spring and early summer fishing seasons near, some guides have already begun seeing a dropoff in reservations due to the COVID-19 virus.
The recent COVID-19 pandemic has developed during a typically slow time in a Maine guide’s life, with limited hunting and fishing seasons going on. Most ice anglers don’t require the service of guides, but a few guides will continue to take snowshoe hare hunters afield until the end of March. But come April 1, when the lakes and streams begin to thaw, the demand for guides typically begins to pick up.
That’s just not happening this year.
Don Kleiner, a master Maine guide who owns Maine Outdoors in Union, said none of his clients have canceled scheduled trips yet, but clients are not making new reservations and deposits are not rolling in.
“My sense is that everyone is on hold for the moment. How long they wait will be the real question,” Kleiner said. “On the up side, what we offer is rarely in a large group and certainly not in a crowd. [We’re] outside in the fresh air with no lines. Maine is a relatively safe place that you can drive to in your own car. [I’m] hoping that tips the balance favorably for the coming season.”
Still, Kleiner expects the season to imitate past years when the economy has struggled, with fewer guests and smaller tips. And he expects that trend to continue for a few years.
“[It will be] a much tougher go than it has been,” he said. “Long term this will exacerbate our industry’s already too slow shift to a successful younger generation.”
Jeff McEvoy owns Weatherby’s, an outdoor resort in Grand Lake Stream that has hosted fishing and hunting clients for generations. He’s very concerned about what the coming weeks will hold.
“We have not received cancellations yet, but they are coming, I am certain. Our busy season is less than eight weeks out. First clients in six weeks. Phone has not rung in two weeks and no email inquiries either,” McEvoy said. “People are distracted right now. Long-term I think we are fine, but I don’t see much support for sporting camps in the trillion dollar bailout [being talked about by federal leaders].”
McEvoy said a $1,000 check from the federal government wouldn’t cover his mortgage for a single month, and he doubts much other financial help will be coming his way.
Guide Kevin McKay, owner of Maine Fishing Adventures, said his fishing season typically starts during the last week of May.
“No one has canceled, but I was getting three to six calls a week, and [I’ve received] none in the last two weeks,” McKay said. “I think the pandemic will affect my business if it doesn’t settle down, but most of my clients are from New England, so the ones flying [from farther away are the ones I’d expect] might change plans. I think they will all wait and see what is going to happen.”
Dan Legere, a guide and the longtime owner of Maine Guide Fly Shop in Greenville, spends his winters guiding anglers in the Florida Everglades before returning to Maine for the open water season in May and June. He said he’s had four cancellations from customers who had planned to fly south to fish and has decided to cancel all trips through the end of April.
“Customers agree it was the right thing to do. Deposit refunds have already been sent,” Legere said. “That was another 10 trips. Better safe than sorry. We would have a hard time living with the thought we passed on a deadly virus.”
Legere said many of his clients are older and are considered at higher risk of serious complications from the virus.
Legere said he and his wife, Penny, have already been practicing social distancing and shop for needed items early in the morning.
And while he won’t make the transition to fishing in Maine for several weeks, he has already begun feeling the effects on business back here as well.
“We had our first cancellation for the summer season yesterday. They are at-risk customers and would be flying from Texas. That was for six drift trips. I believe there will be many more from customers who have to travel any distance,” Legere said.
Faced with the new reality, Legere has decided to escape into the wild and do what he does best: fish.
“Today, Penny and I are going fishing. It’s the one thing we can do and avoid direct contact with the general public,” Legere said. “I’m my happiest when I’m on the water, and it’s the safest place to be. Ironic isn’t it?”
John Holyoke can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 207-990-8214.