Outdoors in Maine: Summer of uncertainty ahead for visiting anglers

Before COVID-19, and the mandatory wearing of the cussed masks and all of the state-imposed protocols, April used to be the cruelest month in Maine, as T.S. Eliot understood.

It was the cruelest month because, after a long, unrelenting winter of cold and darkness, the last thing Mainers needed was to be teased and taunted by a mercurial Mother Nature. Sunny one day; rain, snow and bone-chilling north winds the next day.

V. Paul Reynolds, Outdoors Columnist

For a die-hard Maine-loving trout fisherman from, say Rome, New York or Paramus, New Jersey, who likes to come to Maine for an annual angling adventure, June has morphed into the cruelest month. Last June, if you recall, Baxter State Park, a popular and productive haunt for any trout angler, was closed to all visitors in June.

What about this June?

We tried to get answers. The Baxter Park receptionist sends all media queries to the Park director, who has yet to return any of my calls or messages.

Here is what we do know. As of May 1, trout anglers from outside of Maine will no longer be required to show a negative COVID-19 test or go through a 10-day quarantine. But there’s a catch. If the virus spikes in your state between now and your fishing date, Maine may re-impose the negative COVID test or the 10-day self-quarantine requirements.

So if you are that unlucky resident of a virus-spiking state, say New Jersey, there remains a labyrinth of COVID-19 protocols and paperwork that must be maneuvered through and complied with.

First there is the Keep Maine Healthy Plan, which requires the trout angler from New Jersey to fill out a Certificate of Compliance form. This requires that the would-be visitor show proof of a negative COVID-19 test from within 72 hours of arrival at a Maine destination, or be willing to self-quarantine in Maine for 10 days prior to arriving at Baxter Park or a commercial fishing lodge.

There is also the Moving Maine Forward Plan. This apparently exempts the New Jersey angler from the Keep Maine Healthy Plan’s paper trail, unless, of course, the Maine CDC decides that the angler is from a high-risk state. So if Albert Angler from Paramus thinks that he is off the hook after the Moving Maine Forward Plan kicks in May 1, and makes early reservations at a Moosehead fishing lodge, he best keep one eye on the weekly edicts of the Maine CDC. (The state will not reimburse those visitors for their lost deposits at the fishing lodge).

With state government, like most repositories of political power, it’s always best to pay attention, not to what is said, but what is done. For more than a year now, COVID-19 protocols have taken their toll on the lifeblood of Maine’s sporting camp industry, and the tourism economy in general.

Most people who hunt, fish, camp or hike mountain trails, are by their inherent nature free spirits, with a love of open spaces and personal freedom. It is in their DNA. Maine’s array of exceedingly complex fishing laws are intimidating enough without Certificate of Compliance forms and the possibility of sudden 10-day self-quarantine maxims.

How these anglers and visitors from away, who have long been the bread and butter of Maine’s bedrock tourism business, will feel about Maine as a tourist destination in the future is anyone’s guess.

V. Paul Reynolds is editor of the Northwoods Sporting Journal, a Maine guide and host of a weekly radio program, “Maine Outdoors,” heard at 7 p.m. Sundays on The Voice of Maine News-Talk Network. He has authored three books; online purchase information is available at www.maineoutdoorpublications.net. Contact him at [email protected] 

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