Welcome to 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.
This week we had the chance to sit down with Kyle Schaefer, a fly-fishing guide, entrepreneur, conservationist, and owner of Soul Fly Outfitters based in Kittery, Maine. Kyle has devoted himself to the fly-fishing industry and lifestyle, and gave a few hours of his time to tell us all about this, as well as how during the COVID-19 pandemic he managed to Stay Afloat.
Flylords: How did COVID impact you and your business?
Kyle: I landed back in the US after a winter abroad just before the travel ban was set in place. I was very thankful to reenter the country and get home to family and friends but a brand new reality was settling in for us all. I had the best fall and winter of bookings I’ve ever had but right around mid-March calls, emails and texts completely halted. Fast forward to today, Maine is allowing guiding and we are moving through a phased reopening of the economy. I am restricted to fish only with clients that are Maine residents or that have quarantined in Maine for 14 days or more. If I fish two people on my skiff, they have to be from the same household.
I certainly understand and respect these requirements but 90% of my clientele comes from out of state and a number of people fly to Maine just to catch striped bass on the fly with me. I am working hard to build a full schedule of clients that meet these new requirements but there’s going to be some serious holes in my calendar this season. An April and May in the Bahamas hosting trips was canceled but I am thankful to be looking at future dates to reschedule.
Flylords: What have you been doing with all the spare time?
Kyle: I am an optimist so I’ve stayed positive through these challenging times. I’ve slowed down and tried to enjoy this valuable time with my family. I’ve learned to tie new flies, got in a workout routine, got out of a workout routine, put more time into cooking than I typically would and take daily walks with my almost 14 year old Australian Shepherd. I’ve used this time to look at my business and analyze how I can be better, not just as a guide but as a citizen of this world. We’ve got big issues right now like climate change and a striped bass stock at a 27 year low. Being a guide gives me a unique opportunity to have a voice on these issues backed by impactful daily observations.
Flylords: Are you getting clients back on the water soon?
Kyle: YES! My guide season kicked off the first week of June and it felt damn good. I’m rebuilding with Maine clients and meeting some great new people. Being on the boat brings a sense of normalcy that I’ve been longing for. I have a specific set of protocols in place to help me and my clients feel safe while getting after it on the water.
Flylords: What made you decide to guide for striped bass?
Kyle: For me, striped bass are my ultimate home water fish. I was born on Cape Cod where striped bass summer, grew up on the Chesapeake Bay where the majority of the striped bass population spawns and I’m now lucky to live on the southern coast of Maine. Striped bass flock to the beaches, rocks and estuaries of Maine where we get resident fish from May to October. This is my home water and there is nothing more satisfying to me than getting to know a specific fishery on an intimate level. I tell my clients that one of the reasons I love striped bass is because you can fish for them however you want to. Stripers are versatile and opportunistic and can be just as much fun catching one in a foot of water on a mud flat as they can be blind casting to beautiful rocky structure on the coast.
Flylords: How did your passion of conservation come about? How does it affect
how you operate as a guide?
Kyle: We are at a crossroads where if we don’t rise up and fight for our natural resources they are going to slip away. I feel as a guide and somebody who profits from this exceptional resource fighting for conservation is my duty. It’s never been a choice of whether or not to fight for these fish. It goes hand in hand with operating a business and being a recreational angler who enjoys this precious resource.
Flylords: Tell us about your season in Argentina and guiding/traveling around
Kyle: As my experience in different fisheries increases, the more I feel comfortable in foreign waters facing foreign fish. I love how so many of the skills are transferable and prepare you for your next shot. Argentina was amazing. Golden dorado fully exceeded my expectations. These fish eat mice off the surface in shallow water in broad daylight; need I say more? The Bahamas have become one of my favorite places in the world and I look forward to bringing clients back there this fall, winter and spring.
Flylords: Where is Kyle Schaefer’s next adventure?
Kyle: During these COVID times, it puts a spotlight on the adventures right in my own backyard. Sight fishing for big stripers and my first Maine blue fin tuna on the fly are the adventures filling my mind over the next few months. New England is a special place this time of year. I look forward to resuming more international travel as risk decreases, but I am more conscious than ever about my carbon footprint and the impact that we have as travelers on the environment. I look forward to sharing more on that soon as it relates to my business.
Thank you Kyle for giving us the time to talk about all you do in the fly-fishing industry. For trip inquiries, Kyle is best reached by email at Kyle@soulflyoutfitters.com. Be sure to follow him on instagram @kyleschaeferflyfishing, and online at www.soulflyoutfitters.com.
Cheers to Fat Tire and New Belgium Brewing for making the “Staying Afloat Series” possible!