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Fishing, diving business booms as virus restrictions eased

News Photo by Steve Schulwitz Trout Scout Capt. Ed Retherford organizes the spoons in one of his tackle boxes while getting his boat ready for the upcoming fishing season. He said he takes special precautions on the boat to protect his customers from the threat of catching COVID-19.

ALPENA — Last year, fishing and scuba diving captains in the Alpena area lost business because of the state’s stay-at-home orders designed to slow the spread of COVID-19, but early indicators show business may boom this year.

Great Lakes Divers owner Capt. Nick Myers said business slumped in 2020, but people around the globe want to visit Northeast Michigan to dive now. He said all of his excursions this year booked early and sold out.

Myers said freediving and spearfishing in Lake Huron also appeal to adventure-seekers because many different environments lie beneath the surface of the lake, making it possible to explore many different locations.

“We are very unique,” Myers said. “We have everything from snorkeling sites just offshore to 200-foot-plus tech drives, and the sinkhole out by Middle Island. Of course, we have the shipwrecks and many different types of aquatic life, all in our backyard. There aren’t a lot of places that can say that.”

Myers said people who want to learn to dive can take one of his classes. When they graduate and become accustomed with the ins-and-outs of diving, they can move on to drive other places.

News Photo by Steve Schulwitz Great Lakes Divers owner Capt. Nick Myers shows off a pair of long fins used by divers. Myers said the COVID-19 pandemic caused a slowdown in his business last year, but this summer is shaping up nicely.

“If you can dive here, you can pretty much dive anywhere,” he said.

The pandemic hurt charter fishing operations last year, too, as Gov. Gretchen Whitmer banned boats in the water for recreational activities for much of the spring and early summer.

Once Whitmer lifted those bans, Trout Scout Capt. Ed Retherford said, some people began using his services, but still worried about doing so.

The calendar for this year, however, is filling, already, he said. If things continue, as he suspects will happen, he and his mates will have a lot of work.

“I had three inquiries this morning,” he said recently. “I’m encouraged that it will be a good summer. At least it sure looks that way, so far.”

To ease any fears his charter customers have about the possible spread of COVID-19, Retherford said, he constantly disinfects and cleans the boat thoroughly and makes hand sanitizer available.

Thomas Beede, of Alpena, enjoys diving and, occasionally, fishing. After the government eased its restrictions last summer, he spent as much time outdoors as possible, and intends to do the same this summer.

Beede said he loves being on and in the water and looks forward to the weather warming up in Northeast Michigan.

“If I had my way, I would be in the lake right now, but I’ll wait for the weather to break,” he said. “The winter just seemed so long, and I have a bad itch to take the boat out.”

Ron Lanke said he ice-fished a lot during the winter, and enjoyed catching walleye on Long Lake. He said he has never scuba-dived before, but loves to fish.

Lanke said Alpena offers many places to fish and species to catch, and he considers himself lucky to have that nearby.

“You never have to go too far to find a lake or river to drop a line,” he said. “There are a lot of good places to catch a lot of nice fish. I grew up fishing and did it a lot. Now, finding the time to do it is a challenge, but I go whenever I can.”

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