CLAYTON — Fishing charters are gearing up to embark on a season fraught with guidelines and wary customers that might forecast a slow season.
MASSENA — High water levels forced Donald Lucas, owner of Muskie Magic Charters, to cancel fishing charters last summer, and he was hoping to make up for it this year.
But then COVID-19 struck, and now Mr. Lucas isn’t sure what kind of a year he’s facing in 2020.
“Up until the coronavirus here I had received many calls from persons wanting to book a fishing charter, all of which up to this point have been canceled,” he said.
Mr. Lucas said he canceled last year’s charters because the flooding impacted the fishing.
“Typically over the years, before I take anybody out on charters, my wife and I like to pre-fish. We like to know where the fish are hanging out,” he said.
The problem was, they weren’t hanging out anywhere.
“I canceled the whole season last year. I was looking forward to starting up this year. I started getting calls in the spring from people I turned away last year. They’ve been coming for 20 years. I said I didn’t know if the water was going to stabilize and they could get back to me at a later date. Then the COVID virus hit,” Mr. Lucas said.
He said he had been looking for a possible opening date when his charters could resume, if he would be able to open when Phase 1 of the of the state’s reopening began Friday.
“It’s kind of hard. They said the 15th (of May) if we meet that testing requirement. They didn’t specifically say open up to fishing charters. They said to fishing. I said, ‘That must be people who work in fishing,’” he said.
One of the fishing charters Mr. Lucas had to turn away wasn’t because of poor fishing. He received a call from a man in New Rochelle. He was coming to pick up his daughter, a graduate student who was working at Clarkson University, and wanted to get in some fishing while he was here.
“I told him I wasn’t sure when we would be given a green light from the state to open up to the public. He seemed like a very nice man. We had a very nice conversation and I told him of the opportunities for fishing that we would provide upon opening,” he said.
As he always does, he asked the man where he was coming from, and learned he was from New Rochelle, just outside New York City. Although the man said he had been quarantining himself for some time, Mr. Lucas wasn’t comfortable because of the chance he could be asymptomatic.
“I told him that maybe we should wait until the whole state opens up. I told him given the infection rate in his area, we had better put this off for a while. He said he understood,” he said.
As it turned out, the man said he was the set director for NBC’s Saturday Night Live.
“I’m a big fan of the show,” Mr. Lucas said.
Although they couldn’t get together for a charter, Mr. Lucas said he could tell the man what spot would be good from the shore and then meet him there. While practicing social distancing, the visitor could learn fishing techniques for free.
“I’m only licensed to guide on the river. I can’t guide on the inland waters. It would be illegal for me to take a fee,” he said.