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2021 Season Update – May 28

The Rumors have begun. Unfortunately, the reality has changed very little since our last update. Several articles were published last week citing unnamed sources predicting a unilateral opening of the US side of the US/Canada border. The predicted opening was June 22, but several of the articles went on to state that the Canadian side would likely continue to be closed to US anglers. Further reporting has poured more cold water on this story, but that has not stopped the hopeful emails and phone calls coming into my office. After several days of answering these queries, I decided it was time for me to post a comprehensive update.

I am writing this in my office at the lodge, but the process of crossing the border felt like stepping back in time. I have been fully vaccinated for some time but that did not matter. I was required to apply to a Canadian government travel app called ArriveCan, which is a screening tool and a way to prove that you know the rules and have a quarantine plan. I had to have a negative PCR test 72 hours prior to arrival at the border. I was required to video conference and self-administer another Covid test on Day 1. I am required to check in with the Canadian government each day of my 14-day quarantine. Yesterday I completed my 3rd Covid test, which was day 8 of quarantine.

The entire Province of Ontario is in lockdown. School kids are back home with on-line classes. All retail stores are closed. Aisles with non-grocery items in Wal-mart are roped off to prevent non-essential shopping. The Manitoba / Ontario and the Ontario / Quebec borders are also closed to non-essential travel. It feels like a different planet from the basically open world I left in Iowa.

I give these details to let you have a better understanding of the mood North of the border. There are more and more Canadians getting frustrated with the never-ending lock downs, but the Provincial and Federal governments have been consistent in their stated commitment to a slow and careful reopening. Trudeau has stated specifically that he wants to see a vaccination rate of 75% before regulations are relaxed.

The vaccination rates today in the US as reported by The New York times state that 50% of Americans have had one dose and 40% of Americans are fully vaccinated. At the same time, 55% of Canadians have received one dose, but only 5% have been fully vaccinated. When Federal officials are pressed as to when they think the border will reopen, the only cautious responses have been “The Fall.” Even though the vaccination rates have increased in Canada, September is still the predicted time frame when most Canadians will have been fully vaccinated.

Premiere Doug Ford gave a news conference this week that outlined an extremely cautious 3 step process for opening Ontario. With stringent vaccination and health benchmarks, the earliest the Province could possibly be mostly open would be the end of July. Progression to step 3 with indoor dining would require 70 – 80% of adults to have one dose and 25% of the population to be fully vaccinated.

Like everyone else, all I want to know is when the border will be open to US anglers and right now, no one is going to tell us. I immerse myself in every piece of news that I can find to give my guests the most informed decision that I can so that they can better make plans for their summer vacations. There has been no sudden good news to change my opinion – the US/Canada border will likely NOT be open to US anglers in time for us to put together a viable 2021 season. Even the most optimistic view of the current situation would see the border itself being open in September at the earliest.

How late is too late? Any decision has to make economic sense. I have just 2 Kingfisher boats in the water at the lodge right now. I chose to wait and see what was going to happen before I entered into the lease of the remaining 13 engines. The decision to bring all of the boats back out to the lodge would cost well over $100,000.00. It would be impossible to cover the costs of entering into those leases with only a 3 – 4 week season in the Fall. Further complicating the possibility of a late opening would be the logistics for rehiring, relocating, and training staff for a weeks long season.

It would take dramatic changes in policy to envision the border opening anytime soon. Combined with the economic and practical difficulties of operating an extremely abbreviated summer, I just can’t picture a way to make the fishing season work for American anglers at Silver Water Wheel in 2021.

Again, I wish I had better news.

All deposits are safe and I expect almost all guests will transfer them to lock in their dates for next year. With so much up in the air I am committed to working with all of my groups as we transition back to more normal times.

As part of the process of securing loans to bridge our finances from now until next year, we did set aside some additional funds to proceed with a construction project for this summer. We are planning to demo the current storage shed and to replace it with a new and larger pole barn on top of the hill. We expect construction to begin around late July.

The Wheel without guests is very quiet. The lodge without guests and staff feels empty. All of our thoughts and efforts this summer will be focused on a return to better times when we open up the lodge to US anglers in 2022. We can’t wait to have you back.

Mike Willems

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Additional Photos for 2021 Season Update – May 28