Minnesota fishing guides, charter boat captains and launch boat owners are cringing over a do-it-yourself provision in the governor’s COVID-19 fishing instructions.
Many of the professionals are frustrated, but not necessarily bitter, that the executive order signed April 17 has temporarily put them out of business. As they continue to lose bookings, they hope Gov. Tim Walz lifts the restriction before long.
“We’re not the only ones struggling, that’s for sure,’’ said fishing guide Bryan “Beef” Sathre of Baudette. “We’re pretty much handicapped, and it’s tough … but people need to be healthy, too.’’
The way it stands, Minnesotans are advised to fish close to their primary residence if they keep safe social distances and abide by other health-related outdoor recreation guidelines. But guided trips, fishing charters and large-lake walleye “launches’’ (Minnesota-speak for oversized pontoon boats that charge admission for fishing outings) are specifically shut down.
Suzy Fisher of Fisher’s Resort in Malmo said the impacts of the governor’s order are multifaceted on businesses like the one her family started in 1959. Even on Mille Lacs, where local tourism has been hurt by tight walleye quotas, she said launches have continued to make financial sense. Guides, too, have been able to make money and provide a service to resorts.
Now at Fisher’s, a decision is due on whether to buy insurance in order to place the family’s 55-foot launch boat in the water for the season. Even if the state lifts its ban on launches before summer, social distance limitations will be needed to keep people safe, Fisher said. Other launch operators might be able to adjust, she said, but her own resort probably won’t be able to run with smaller groups.
On the other hand, she said, the resort is confident it can offer private, guided fishing trips on smaller watercraft without violating social distance requirements. And she hopes the resort’s fishing boat rentals are not nixed by the governor.
“It’s a killer for us if we can’t do that,’’ she said.
Even before Walz made fishing during the pandemic a DIY activity, Tom Neustrom of Grand Rapids put his own bookings on hold for the first couple of weeks of the season, which starts May 9.
He is part of a larger group of guides and fishing promoters which supports the return of fishing throughout the state with a strong emphasis on anglers protecting themselves and their communities against the spread of the coronavirus.
He said the closure of guided trips, charters and launches will hurt a lot of people who provide those services, including some in the business who have protested on social media.
“Fishing is a very important thing to us in the outdoors in Minnesota,’’ said Neustrom, a member of the state’s walleye advisory committee.
But he said limitations and guidelines make sense right now.
“There’s many days to catch many fish, but looking out for people is the most important thing,’’ he said.
A few boat captains said business from fishing clients will suffer this year purely because of the economy. Kurt Erickson of Erickson Guide Service on Lake Minnetonka said he resents the shutdown of his business, especially because he’s ineligible as a self-employed person to receive unemployment payments.
“If the governor says I can’t do my job, and he doesn’t want people on my boat, then he should help me out a little bit,’’ said Erickson, a guide for the past 21 years.
He’s hoping he can openly carry paying customers by early June, when Lake Minnetonka’s world-class bass fishery starts to attract business from “Corporate USA.’’ Guiding visiting anglers is Erickson’s bread and butter. Surely, he said, this year’s bookings will be stunted by the economy and less airline travel.
Peter Dahl at Happy Hooker Charters in Duluth also counts heavily on corporate demand.
“A lot of that will go out the window this year,’’ he said.
Dahl captains a 32-foot Lake Superior cruiser that can carry six anglers at a time — safely spaced.
He said none of his colleagues is happy with the governor’s exclusion of charters as a fishing opportunity, and he suspects some won’t comply. He and his wife, Sue, have lost at least 20 bookings for May trips that target lake trout and salmon. Some have rebooked for later.
But professional fishermen aren’t worse off than a lot of other people whose livelihoods have been hurt by the pandemic, Dahl said. He plans to spruce up his boat and go fishing with friends and family.
“Everyone is going to be in bad shape,’’ he said.