Introducing the Staying Afloat Series, where we take an inside look into the lives of many different fly fishing guides, shops, brands, and lodges across the world in hopes of finding out how the COVID is affecting them, what they are doing to help, and how we can do our part to help them.
Flylords: Tell us a little about yourself, Matt.
Matt: So my name is Matt Ertzinger and I live in the eastern Finger Lakes region of central New York State. I’ve been a New York resident since 2006 after moving from Oregon back to my wife’s hometown. I’ve been a full-time professional fly fishing guide in New York for several years now and have fished every corner of the state including hundreds of streams, rivers, and lakes. My work consists of guiding on two rivers, the Salmon River in northern New York where my home base is at the Tailwater Lodge and the Upper Delaware River on the eastern edge of the Catskill mountains where I guide the guests of the West Branch Angler.
Flylords: How has COVID-19 affected your spring guiding season?
Matt: As the outbreak of COVID-19 started to rise in downstate New York, the guests that fish with me at the Tailwater were concerned with what precautions we should be taking. At first, we unknowingly discussed that it’s really up to the anglers but then the phone calls started coming in with more concern in Late February and the first week of March. Our guests were canceling only a day or two out. That’s when I became more worrisome not only for my health but also for the community I work in. Remember that I live an hour away from the Lodge, so that also included me traveling daily from my family’s beloved village to the Tailwater to do my trips. As some of you may know the Tailwater Lodge is an oasis in a very rural setting which means almost all of our clientele must travel, in one form or another to fish the Salmon River. The concern grew for the lodges guests, employees, and management. After a very brief conversation, the feeling was mutual between all the parties involved and ended with the cancellation of all guided trips and shortly after the temporary closing of the Tailwater Lodge. The crew I work with and the patrons of the lodge are a family, and we all wanted what was best for our health, the health of the river community and to stop the spread of this now a knowingly deadly virus. My season on the Salmon ends in mid-April as I transition to fish for the wild trout of the Upper Delaware system. As my calendar was cleared through April 30th due to the virus I can only assume as of now my calendar will stay neutral for a while longer, it’s all very unpredictable
Flylords: We understand that you guide year-round in NY, how do you think this outbreak will affect your summer season?
Matt: As of now I’m not holding my breath. As we learn about the virus on a day to day basis we all hope that we can overcome the situation at hand sooner than later. I’m ready to fish but as always safety comes first. My real hope is that anglers across the state, country, and world take the COVID outbreak seriously and really practice individual responsibility and social distancing. Also, a question I will have to ask myself as we start fishing together again is where are our guests traveling from. The hotspot may no longer be in New York, but the guides throughout the system bring people in from all over the world. I may be turning trips down because I believe it’s the right thing to do for the resort, the employees and the guests of the West Branch Angler family, and the rest of the region. I am a steward of the rivers I fish, I love them so much it hurts and I have a connection and responsibility to the small communities that dot their beautiful waters also.
Flylords: How can the fly fishing community help guides out in these trying times?
Matt: #1 I believe very strongly in individual responsibility. It all starts there! Be smart. Stay home. Don’t go into crowded spots to fish. Explore and have fun but be mindful and respectful of landowners and the local communities if you do travel. AAFTA has some wonderful things in the works along with grassroots campaigns like “Staying Afloat”. Support these causes, support your local shops and as previously said from last week, reach out to your guides and give them some love! It really does mean so much to us and most likely we will have time to answer the call.
Flylords: Do you have any words for anglers thinking about fishing once NY opens its trout season?
Matt: Well let me tell you something Fly Lords! Trout season opened statewide today and I couldn’t help but taking a drive to see what we are dealing with. The carelessness and recklessness were mind-blowing!!! This is where I once again stress on the words “individual responsibility”. It’s up to you as an angler and a citizen of our great country to do the right thing. Please stay apart from each other on the water! I would go as far as asking people not to even fish the same pool at the same time. Space out so we can stop the spread now.
Flylords: Do you see a silver lining throughout all this madness?
Matt: As a naturalist, I see the impact of this in a light that some may not. The pressure lifed off the planet environmentally I think is extraordinary. Pollution decrease due to a lack of production and worldwide travel especially. I see no planes in the skies, just birds. I hear no traffic, just the wind and the babbling of the creek that runs by my backyard. I see no smokestacks staining our skies, the clouds are white and the skies blue. Also, the pressure on the fish won’t be nearly as bad in the prime month of May. It hurts to admit this but I believe, along with many of my colleagues, that we are loving our wild trout waters to death. Any break the fish get before our waters are too pressured again is a silver lining the fish won’t soon forget.
Flylords: What are you doing during the downtime to stay connected to fly fishing?
Matt: My job takes me away from home sometimes for days or weeks this time of year. I have a 10-year-old son and wife that I am cherishing this time with. The boy and I are perfecting his reach cast so he may be able to feed his first wild Delaware brown on top this year. We are planning to do a little more warm water fishing on the local lakes too. It’s a rare event that I get to do a lot of that in May when the topwater bass and Muskie fishing is good on the fly. I’m spending a lot of time on the phone with my fellow guides and fishing buddies around the world, where we are either helping each other through the dramatic situation or connecting by telling old stories of the one that got away.
On a final note to the Fly Lords, we thank you for the opportunity to tell this story. You guys are like brothers to us at the Tailwater Lodge and so appreciate what you do for the industry and the fly fishing community.
P.S. Jared, you had something on your lip on the IG Live from Silverthorne last week. I’m sure you wiped it off by now. Peace to all and stay healthy!!!
This series is being helped made possible by the generous folks at Fat Tire and New Belgium Brewing. Throughout the “Staying Afloat Series,” we will be sending beer to people who are really in need of a “pick me up”. If you have a good story for someone who deserves some beer shoot us an email firstname.lastname@example.org.