Mountain fishing, rafting companies feel out business during busy holiday weekend
DILLON — As the novel coronavirus situation enters the Memorial Day holiday weekend, water sports companies like rafting guides and fishing outfitters continue to feel out the start of summer despite lingering uncertainties.
Several rafting companies — including KODI Rafting which has an outpost in Frisco and booking desk in Breckenridge — began running the Upper Arkansas River tours of Brown’s Canyon and The Numbers Saturday. Over at fly-fishing shops such as Mountain Angler in Breckenridge and Cutthroat Anglers in Silverthorne assessed where they are at after a lost spring runoff season for their guides combined with increased interest for many in fishing during the coronavirus shutdown.
“There’s a lot of people going fishing right now, because it’s one of the safest things to do out there,” said Jackson Streit, the owner of Mountain Angler. “Really, it’s a singular sport. But I don’t know what to expect with the guide business. We’ve seen June cancellations because people are unsure if they’ll be able to make reservations but we’ve had not many, if any, cancellations in July and August. A lot of people are waiting to see what happens. Nobody seems to know what’s going to happen.”
Streit and other water-sports companies in the county said they noticed increased crowds in the county beginning on Thursday, May 21.
Over at KODI, owner Dave McGrath said he’s received calls for rafting trips for people coming up to camp over the holiday weekend in the Summit and Chaffee County areas. Open this weekend, McGrath said KODI’s Buena Vista outpost is running at 30% capacity and implementing social distancing inside its building and vehicles, such as the buses that transport guests to rafting put-ins.
The company has fully moved to digital waivers for guests and is having guests stay outside for anything they don’t absolutely have to go inside a building for.
On the water, KODI has a policy of a maximum of four individuals not from the same household or vacation group in a raft. McGrath said usually has meant having groups of two from opposite households or groups combining for a raft. The company is also having all its guides disinfect their own personal gear while the company disinfects all its gear and equipment, including buses, between trips. They’ve also added hand-sanitizer stations inside and outside the building as well as in buses. The company is also asking guests to wear face masks in buildings and buses, but not out on the river, and is temperature-checking its guides.
“Most of us (rafting companies) are doing a soft opening to get our new practices and protocols with face masks and distancing and sanitization,” McGrath said. “We aren’t really seeing too many cancellations. We are getting a lot of phone calls asking us if we are going to operate in June. People are talking about coming out, especially second homeowners, coming to the Summit County area or the Rocky Mountain region in general. So we are seeing a lot of people interested, definitely a lot more people calling booking for July and August.”
McGrath added that though companies like his expect business to be down this year, guides are uncertain if a possible decrease in sports options on the Front Range, such as pro sports, will push customers up into the mountains. He pointed to how RV America has seen a boom in bookings for camping vans suggesting there may be demand for services like his in upcoming months.
As for KODI’s rafting tours of the Blue River north of Silverthorne, McGrath said he and other companies have put an opening date for the Blue on hold to see if their new protocols on the Arkansas go well.
McGrath said companies like his are also anxious to see if Vail Resorts re-opens their mountain resorts, such as Breckenridge Ski Resort and Keystone Resort, for summer operations, which would help in terms of a Summit County customer base.
“We’re very hopeful to run the Blue River here later in the month of June,” McGrath said, adding that a date of June 15 would be ideal.
As for his guides, McGrath said he has 10 back on payroll currently, 25 more who are “itching” to come back to work and a handful personally preferring to not return to work at the moment. He said he hopes to bring all guides back by July.
Over at Mountain Angler, Streit said over the past couple of weeks it’s been just him and his son working in the shop until a few days ago. The county’s stage one reopening phase allowed him to do business with social-distancing and limits on number of customers at one time. He added retail business has been great for the shop online, curbside and now in person. With a spike in visible crowds over the holiday weekend, he’s brought one more staff member into the shop to help out.
As for guide service, Streit said the typically strong spring demand for fly-fishing guiding has taken a hit. He’s also reporting that many guides are opting not to return to work simply because government-provided unemployment is paying them more.
“It’s kind of crazy,” Streit said.
At Cutthroat Anglers in Silverthorne, owner Ben McCormick said their popular guiding business is offering very minimal trips this weekend but has seen an increase of demand in-shop over the holiday weekend while practicing max-capacity and social-distancing measures.
“From March 17 to the end of March we saw a lot of people cancel,” McCormick said. “We haven’t seen many cancellations since that period. People have gotten a little more comfortable and definitely in the last three days we’re starting to see more and more guide trips getting booked for summer. It’s trending in the right direction.”
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