Days on the Water: 2
Who we fished with: friends
Where we fished: Lower Niagara
What we were Targeting: Lake Trout, Steelhead, Brown Trout, Smallmouth Bass
Tactics: 3 way rigs off the bottom, trolling, ned rigs, crank baits

Commentary

From the Water

The fishing this past week was excellent:

  • Smallmouth bass were on the feed (YES!!!) in the Lake Ontario tributaries as well as the upper and lower Niagara
  • Steelhead were stacked up in the Erie tribs as well as the Lower Niagara
  • Lake run brown trout were still in some of the Lake Ontario tribs as well as along the Lake Ontario shoreline
  • Lake trout have been showing up in good numbers in the Lower Niagara as well as on the Lake Ontario Bar
  • Kings are making an appearance in better and better numbers on Lake Ontario

In other words – everything is on fire. The river is running clear and the tributaries are charged up. Near ideal atmospheric conditions in the forecast will keep this going for at least the next few days.

Business Related

Changes and Moral Conflicts

Since our last report, things have taken an unfortunate turn. The New York Department of Environmental Conservation released a message encouraging people to go fishing…but directed charter captains and guides to cease operations. Why? Because we’re considered non-essential.

Admittedly, the mandate angered me because it didn’t make a lot of sense, so I began considering ways to circumvent it. After thinking through a few options and commiserating with a few of my colleagues, I decided it wouldn’t be worth it to buck the “rules.” Here are some of the considerations:

  • I could consider some of my local clients, folks with whom I’ve spent a ton of time on the water, as friends. If approached by whatever entity is supposed to enforce this mandate, we could explain it was an outing among friends – “we’re just fishing for fun.” Is that acceptable? Morally, I’d be asking these folks to tell an incomplete truth (although these folks are friends, they’d also be paying for services rendered). Most of these folks would willingly tell such an incomplete truth – both to help me generate revenue and to give them a chance to get outside. Still, navigating incomplete truths in the presence of authorities is problematic for obvious reasons.
  • Some of the charter captain consortiums and associations have said that it’s OK for us to fish – just not for hire and only with those that live under the same roof. That’s awkward guidance for MANY reasons. What if, throughout the past 2 weeks, I’ve continued to leave my house to spend time with my family (parents and siblings) – can I take a couple of them fishing? What if I was divorced, with joint custody of my child, and throughout this “pause” our daughter had been staying at other family members’/friends’ homes – can I still take her fishing? What about those friends? Anyone reading this could come up with dozens of what most would consider acceptable violations to this “under the same roof” guidance.
  • Many of the senior charter captains in the region have opted to adhere to the state mandate. The logic goes that even if this state mandate doesn’t make a ton of sense, it’s easier to just follow the rules. I chose “easier” because the decision to follow the rules right now is complicated. If you’re lifestyle has VERY LOW overhead and you have alternate income streams outside of chartering, I guess it’s kinda easy to advocate following the rules. If you’re married, have four children, both you and your spouse are unemployed, COVID-19 checks aren’t coming in because the financial system is jammed up by the millions of fellow Americans applying for the same relief, and you have no other means to feed your family than to do some fishing trips – following this new mandate is anything BUT easy.
The Path We’re on…For Now

I’m one of the junior charter captains in the region. Call it a flaw if you want but I respect my elders and their guidance. Maybe to a fault. For now, I’ve opted to fall in line but I’m keeping my eyes open. I fished yesterday and a couple of my colleagues were clearly chartering. This disturbed me because they were earning money while I remained aligned with state guidance and many of my fellow charter captains. How should I handle this?

  • Rat them out? NEVER! Even if I was a rat, who would I report this to/who is enforcing the mandate? Even if some entity was tagged to enforce the mandate, do they have the capacity or interest to do so? What would happen to the culprit(s)? Probably nothing more severe than a warning – is it worth continuing to operate if that’s the only cost?
  • Talk to the culprits about it? I could but why bother – I totally get their decision to do so and I’m willing to bet every one of my colleagues who chose to shut down services feels the same.

Considering these points – very little risk of enforcement, little to no risk of rats, and empathy for those violating the mandate, it’s an awkward place for us charter captains to be if we decided to shut down paid services. Essentially, we’re doing so because we believe following this mandate is the right thing to do. Phrased differently, we trust that our government and community leaders know what’s best in this situation and we need to follow their mandates. Observing how the next few weeks impacts our trust in this mandate/our government/our leaders will be an interesting endeavor.

Although I painted the picture of what’s happening around here from the perspective of a charter captain, I’m aware these moral conflicts and other elements of “weirdness” are pervasive in every line of work on the planet right now. Chartering/guiding is a small business and just like the millions of my fellow small business owners out there – things are going to get increasingly complicated (and stressful) in the upcoming weeks. We’re going to learn A LOT about ourselves, our family members, our friends, and our colleagues – how will that shape our perspective in the post Covid-19 world?