Thursday, May 21, 2020

Rev'n It Up




A couple of the guides and I went out for a day of recon and getting ready for the upcoming opening to travelers coming into Montana. Big bugs on the water meant for opportunities, prospecting for big browns with big dries and droppers. Check out the March brown below. I love these bugs.


They won't be around long but if you're living in Montana, you can still get in on the action and Montana Dream Fishing Outfitters would love to help. Give us a call: 406-403-8163 or email MDFO.

If you are planning a trip to the State, the requirement to quarantine for 14 days ends June 1. Guides are cleaning their boats and making provisions for sanitizing and protecting our clients. We are dedicated to the safety of every guest and hope to get you onto some of these great fish.

Keep 'em where they live...

Sunday, May 17, 2020

Join The Club!


Uncertainty kills the guiding business. I'd like to blow some cherry smelling smoke up your tukas and tell you all that the doors are going open up and the bugs are going to be insane and the water is going to be at 6700 cfs and we're going to be free to guide by Mid-June but I can't. The bugs usually come. The Missouri is regulated by a series of dams and we have good snow pack so we can feel confident that we will have good water. What I have no clue about is where we will be with our state reopening and even when we do reopen, will people feel safe to travel? It's the big unknown and it's what is killing our pre-bookings for this season. In an attempt to address this uncertainty, I've decided to give people willing to purchase trips a little insurance for their investment.

Montana Dream Fishing Outfitters is introducing a Club Card promotion for folks that want to get on an insane deal with confidence they won't lose out on the investment. Here's how it works. Buy 5 trips at the rate of $450 per trip, which is $100 bucks off each trip, and you can redeem those trips when it works best for you. You can even give the trips away. You have 10 anglers that want to fish 1 day? Buy a card and use all 5 trips on the same day. You want to save the trips for next  year or the year after? Perfect. You want to buy the trips and wait to see what happens for this year? Be my guest. Eventually, you will be able to fish and this is a great deal.

Buy a Montana Dream Fishing Outfitters Club Card. Get in on a great deal and support your local Montana guide/outfitter because, it's just the right thing to do. Call 406-403-8163 or email jl_butta99@yahoo.com. Book your dream trips today!

Keep 'em where they live...

Saturday, May 2, 2020

This is the Wild West--Let's Go to Work

The doors are open, folks. We, (us guides and outfitters,) can do what we need to as long as we are taking the necessary precautions we see fit or really, whatever's convenient; to protect our communities and prevent another outbreak of Covid-19. The governor came out with some pretty clear guidelines but we didn't like it so the governor told us that we could follow the exceptions given to hairdressers and salons. (Well, except having to wear face masks and rubber gloves.) BUT, we were still suppose to call our local health department and follow their directives. Fortunately, nobody is enforcing those directives so hooray! We win! We can guide again!!!

Until we can't.

Here's the problem. We have FOAM. MOGA, the Governor's office and the County Health Departments saying completely different things and sending out emails that are not consistent with each other and guides and outfitters are doing whatever they can to salvage a season with a lot of confusing messaging. We've been fighting for over a month with the Unemployment Office and SBA and nobody seems to have answers there either. (FYI, this week the money finally came through. I was able to get an SBA loan and an advance on disaster relief. The Pandemic Unemployment Assistance also came through.) So what do you expect? People have families and rent and there's a real feeling that we're being left behind so we go with what works for us. Unfortunately, that might not be in everyone else's best interest.

Ninety percent of our clients come from out-of-state. NOBODY can make it by guiding Montana residents alone. So what's the alternative? We make exceptions for that too? Where do most of our clients come from? California? Chicago? Seattle? New York and New Jersey? I had a booking agent email me today asking if I would take people out from out-of-state who haven't gone through the 14 day quarantine. What would you do? I said no but had I said yes, I'm sure I would have been booked for a trip this week.

Gallatin and Yellowstone Counties were by far, the worst hit counties in the state for Covid-19 followed up by Missoula, Flathead and Toole Counties. Toole County had an outbreak in a nursing home. The other counties are more densely populated but the biggest factor; they have high traffic from tourism and other travelers in the winter. The two most effective strategies that brought the outbreak under control was the stay at home order and the 14 day quarantine.

And to be fair, Montana didn't have nearly the problem as other states but it's not because we're somehow special. It's because the Governor was proactive. However, because our numbers are so low, it's easy to think we're out of the woods--especially since we've been sitting around, not making money for the past month and a half. But we're not out of the woods and if we open the flood-gates, it's going to get out of hand before we even realize it.

I had another outfitter tell me today to not "fuck with him and his family. You do your business the way you want and let me run my business the way I want." He also told me to "keep my fucking mouth shut." Really? We can make up whatever rules we want that suits our own needs regardless of the risk we put everyone else in?

You don't think I want to work? You think I like sitting in front of my computer filling out forms and spending hours on the phone trying to find a bank that's able to process SBA loans? You don't think I'm hurting too? But, I also don't want to lose my entire season. Listen, I get it. We're all struggling. I honestly don't hold that against this outfitter telling me this because I understand how difficult of a situation this is for all of us. I feel ya.

Here's the deal, if you can't beat 'em, join 'em, right? Only I wasn't trying to beat anyone. I'm actually on your side. I don't want you to lose the rest of your season either. And it's not just your choice to run your business the way you want. By not following the directives or worse, opening up the doors and allowing people to come into the state without being quarantined too soon, you're jeopardizing my livelihood and my business too.

I hope I'm wrong. Honestly. I really hope I'm wrong but with everything I've seen, we're rolling the dice and the odds are stacked against us. But hey, I'm in. You guys want to guide? Let's fucking guide...until we can't.

Keep 'em where they live...

Wednesday, April 29, 2020

Lewis and Clark Health Department on Guiding During Phase One




If you read these strategies for the guiding industry in response to Covid-19, the first thing to be very clear is that the State of Montana and Lewis and Clark County have developed specific standards for guides to operate. I was told by a buddy that Fishing Outfitters Association of Montana is informing guides and outfitters they can operate under the exceptions granted for hairdressers and that is not necessarily true. You don't have to agree with the health department but it is what it is. WE ARE NOT HAIR DRESSERS so those folks that are using those standards to justify the way they run their businesses are in the wrong. 

The second thing that is very clear is that you cannot guide three people in a boat and meet these requirements. I don't like it either but I'm changing my business model for the next month because of these requirements and it pisses me off when I see people who don't. 

Why, you ask? One, it puts people at risk. You may not think the pandemic is a big deal but nobody cares what you or I, for that matter, "think". I could give you all the stats in the world and if you don't agree, nobody is going to change your mind. I get it. However, those are the rules. Deal with it. 

Two, because if we have another outbreak and the numbers spike, we are going to lose our entire season. Please. We can't fuck this up. 

Three, it's not fair to those of us playing by the rules. If I tell a client that I can only put one person in the boat and they shop around for someone willing to not adhere to these standards, that hurts my business and I'm not ok with that. 

Four, I don't want to look like an asshole for policing my cohorts but I will because it matters. We're threading the needle here with little to no room for error. If the numbers go up, we get shut down. It's that simple so instead of throwing caution to the wind, we need to make this work. 

I did guide on Monday. I had a single angler from Montana and we followed the rules. While I was putting my boat in, another outfitter was launching his boat. He had two clients with him and I'm not going to name, names at this point because I did some research and I think there has been some confusing information given out but now you know. If you're going to guide, follow the rules and I hope we can all salvage a good portion of our season. 

Keep 'em where they live...

P.S. I was informed that FOAM had spoken with the Governor's office and they were told to use the hairdresser's standards BUT outfitters and guides were suppose to call each individual county for specific standards set by those county health departments. Those standards for Lewis and Clark County are outlined above. If you're going to guide in L&C, these are the rules. And I would certainly advise you to call your local county health department so you know what's expected on the rivers you're guiding.

P.P.S. And if you are going to use the guidelines for hairdressers, that does mean PPE. They're required to wear masks and gloves and I'm certainly not seeing that on guides or their clients. 

Friday, April 24, 2020

Unemployment Update--Lucy!!!!!!!!!!!

Let's just cut to the chase. My guide brother's and sisters are hurting because many are independent contractors with no other source of income. This isn't just guides though, we also have a ton of IC's in the state who are everything from construction workers to mechanics to massage therapists and caterers. If you can work, great. If you can't I feel for you and if you've been trying to figure out the new unemployment opportunities to help keep us afloat, you know it's a fricken nightmare and well, Lucy moved the ball again.

Like many of you, I have been calling the unemployment office in Great Falls, because the Helena office wasn't answering their phones. The woman there was very helpful and admitted she didn't fully understand the process because it was new for IC's. She took down my information and told me someone would get back to me. No one did. That was on April 8th and it was over a week since I first started trying to figure this out.

Because of the new exceptions for IC's, they did open up the process for us to apply for assistance on the MT Works website and I was able to file a claim on April 13th. I didn't get a call, I just tried the website again and I was in. However, you have to wait a week to actually file a claim. So on Sunday the 19th, I did. Unfortunately, they were waiting on information from the business that let me go. That business was ME!

Basically, they were using the same system but making an exception for IC's, which meant you were initially denied by the standard rules, then you needed to reapply as an IC, but they still went through the same process of contacting your previous employer before making a determination, which is YOU!!! You are your employer! And this all takes time!

So on Wednesday, just a couple days ago, I received an email telling me there was a NEW site I needed to go to, to file a claim. That new program/site is called, Pandemic Unemployment Assistance. Here's the link: mtupa.mt.gov

Unfortunately, it will take them at least a week to process your request. AND, they go by your net income on your schedule C, which if you use a portion of your house, car, utilities, phone, and internet for your business, those are all deducted to get to your net income. So essentially, unless of course they "fix" it again, which takes even more time, none of the money you use for those bills will be counted towards what your benefit from UI will be.

Is it that fricken hard to figure this crap out? Does the State not have a fricken accountant advising them that would know this?


Keep 'em where they live...

Wednesday, April 22, 2020

Corona-Breakout!


Governor Bullock has given outfitters the go-ahead on providing guide services to clients starting April 27, 2020 provided participants and guides can maintain standards of social distancing consistent with phase 1 and phase 2 of his directive to reopen Montana.
This early reopening is a direct result of Montana residents' efforts to control the spread of Covid-19 through staying at home and social distancing. Montana Dream Fishing Outfitters LLC wants to thank our residents for their efforts.

Single angler, Montana residents that are not required to self-quarantine are invited to fish with us for half the cost of a regularly priced trip. Please call 406-403-8163 for details.
Availability and conditions will be in accordance with this directive and subject to change.

Unfortunately, our clients from around the country are still subject to all the social distancing requirements as well as a mandatory, 14 day self-quarantine period. However, this might be a good sign that we are on the path to opening up by June. Whatever it means, please trust that we are dedicated to doing whatever it takes to keep our clients and our friends safe. We will follow the directives as set by Governor Bullock and we'll pray we all get through this sooner than later. We love fishing with you and hope the relationships we've built go way beyond this season. 

Keep 'em where they live...

Monday, April 20, 2020

C19 Impact Update


S'up? This is my sexy guide look. Yeah, I didn't think so...

So where are we at, with this Corona-thing? I'll tell you where I'm at. I got nothin. I've given up on SBA loans because it doesn't appear that an independent contractor really benefits from it. The things that would qualify one for taking out one of the loans offered doesn't really make sense. We don't have employees and our operational costs are pretty low unless we are actually guiding so most of what we would be applying for, we'd have to pay back with interest. Besides, those loans are quite competitive and if you aren't a priority to a bank, you don't stand a chance. So if you can limp along with unemployment, I think that's the prudent thing to do.

There is a catch, though. UI ain't all that easy either as an independent contractor even with the new parameters. Although I have been able to get through to the unemployment website and have filed a claim, I have no idea what's going on with it. Anyone else have any luck, I'd sure like to hear about it.

Last week, I received three letters on the same day from UI. One said I didn't qualify for unemployment so I was denied. The next gave me a list of steps for "what's next." The third said I did qualify for benefits under UI II, which is essentially the exceptions due to Covid-19. Great. I finished applying and then filed my claim on Sunday like everyone else but I was never informed of what that benefit was.

I went to my business PO box today and received another letter, as a business owner, asking for an explanation as to why I let myself go. They needed a response by the 23rd in order to make a determination on whether or not my termination was justified. I don't know how UI works and who pays it. I know, as an employee, you pay part and your employer pays part while you are employed. If you fire someone without cause, you get dinged and it's my understanding, that your premiums go up. I have no idea if this is just a formality or if my business is going to be responsible for at least part of my unemployment benefits.

And then there's the, "stay the fuck home," checks we are all suppose to get. (Pardon me but between corona-virus and Cutter rolling in crap, I've developed a bit of turrets.) I didn't get that either. Not yet. I've had to pay taxes every year when I filed up until this year. Now that I own my OWN home, I actually get a tax benefit from it and I received a return for the first time in years. Unfortunately, my accountant didn't get around to filing my taxes until about 10 days ago so the IRS has yet to get my bank information. Who knows when it will come?

(I sure hope my cohorts have had an easier time with all of this.)

So who you gonna get pissed at? This is an unprecedented situation, which is incredibly fluid. Nobody could have predicted something like this happening, right? Well...

I ran into a buddy's parents at the end of February. One of their relatives, who works for the CDC, warned them at that time to start stock-piling water and other essential goods. They were told the shit's gonna get real. They told me that and it definitely got my attention but really? It's America.

Soon after that I was talking to buddies who were totally down-playing it but enough had been in the news for me to not feel as confident. But these guys are pretty smart dudes, so...and, it's America!

Hind-site is 20/20 right? Accept there were people who had the information that were warning us. And then there were other people who had the information that blew it off. Those are the ones I want to kick in the nads. But that will all work out in the end. Hopefully in November. Just sayin.

Governor Bullock was really good at getting out in front of this. He also benefits from having a less densely populated state but non-the-less, because of our efforts, we are looking at some of the lowest rates of infection in the country. His target date for loosening restrictions was, and still is, April 24th.  What does that mean for us as guides? I don't know. We can only speculate.

Whatever happens, we all know there are going to have to be precautions and measures taken to control any outbreaks. Life as a guide is going to be different for a while. Some of the things being floated out there are single angler trips in order to maintain social distancing. Also, clients might have to take their own vehicle to the boat ramps. Shuttles are going to be tricky. Lunches may have to be supplied by a commercial provider as well. We just don't know and there's absolutely no guidance.

I wrote a letter to Montana Outfitter and Guide Association and CC'd that letter to the Board of Outfitters, the Governor's Office, and the Public Health Department. I got a call from MOGA within a few minutes asking for feedback from me. I also received an email back from the Board basically saying they have no responsibility in either developing policies for guides or enforcing any policies. They said their only responsibility was that of a licensing agency. Really? Why do we have bi-laws then? Nobody else responded.

Even if the guiding industry is opened up this week, my feeling is that we would still have the 14 day self-quarantine for folks traveling into Montana. There aren't too many people out there willing or able to do that.

We need answers. I think that's the most frustrating part to all of this but honestly, does anyone really have those answers? The SBA stuff and other efforts to keep us afloat, I feel, have been a complete failure. We live in a state with one of the highest self-employment rates of any other state. The fact that we haven't figured this out and can't get answers is ridiculous. As for the rest of this, we just don't have much to go on but, and I'm sorry to go back to this, if the people who had the information early on would have taken this seriously, we could have circumvented a lot of this and I hope those people, and you know who I'm talking about, are held accountable.

But someone has to pick up the torch and let us know what we should expect moving forward. Someone has to come up with guidelines for how we can conduct our businesses and it has to come soon or we're just digging deeper and deeper in a whole we won't get out of. Trust me, that doesn't mean opening up the flood-gates and risk an even worse epidemic. I'm all for keeping it closed longer to mitigate risk but can someone please tell us what we should expect?

Ok, now it's time to for gratitude and I apologize for not getting here sooner. The past couple weeks, I've been volunteering at Helena Food Share. (It's a long story but I was drinking whiskey one night while watching the news. I kind of went off on Facebook and then felt guilty so I emailed HFS inquiring about volunteering since I live only a block away. The next day, still a little foggy, I got an email back and well, I was on the schedule.) It's been an eye-opening experience. I'm not talking like the Jesus touching me kind of experience. I mean just realizing how much food goes out their doors every day is mind-blowing. The fact that so many people in a town like Helena, where's there's only 70K in the county, rely on HFS for food is sad. And now, what people are going through just to put food on their tables?? Damn.

If you leave with one thing from this rant PLEASE make it this: support these places and PEOPLE that serve others in need. PLEASE. Not only do you not know when it might be you, and it definitely could be, but just do it because there are people out there hurting and you have an opportunity to help.

I'm glad I wrote the email. I'm glad I have the ability to help. I'm thankful for the folks I've met there and I'm overwhelmed and feel proud that I can give at least a few hours a week.

Keep 'em where they live...