When COVID-19 hit Montana in March, fishing guides around the state knew they were in for troubled times.
Mark Raisler is a co-owner of Headhunters, LLC., an outfitter in Craig. Throughout Phase 1, he said weekends have been busy with locals, but that’s only about half of the customer base that his guides usually get. Though it’s only June 3, Reinhardt doesn’t expect the floodgates to open with out-of-staters now that Montana is in Phase 2.
“As far as customers go, those long timers, they still want to come, but some aren't comfortable coming this year,” he said. “So they have canceled and they've just rebooked for 2021. Or move their dates later in the summer, and we'll cross that bridge when we come to it.
Traveling to get to Montana is one issue. Tony Reinhardt owns Montana Trout Outfitters in Missoula, but he’s been guiding trips on the upper Missouri River for more than 18 years. This year, he’s had to change remarket himself on the fly.
“Marketing to residents during the quarantine, folks that I know had been here. And then going through the summer, yeah, we're reaching out to people who can get here in a day's drive basically,” Reinhardt said. “People seem more willing to drive than fly right now.”
Reinhardt has been relatively fortunate. He said some guides have hardly been out on the river at all.
“We were able to salvage a little bit when we could guide (Montana) residents or people that had been through quarantine, but that's not much. And for a lot of guides, they didn't have any work because a lot of their businesses strictly out-of-state anglers,” Reinhardt said.
But as challenging as COVID-19 has been, Raisler says outfitters and guides are built to adapt: “Well, you wake up every day and you make a new business plan, that's for sure,” Raisler said.
“It's outfitting. You have to be malleable,” he continued. “You have to be willing to adapt and I think outfitters always are.”