Scott Darling of Auburn secures a new saltwater rod in the back of his pickup Saturday morning after a trip to Dag’s Bait & Tackle in Auburn. “Today I’m heading to Turner to fish in the Androscoggin River, but this is for the next time at the ocean. Gotta get out of the house.” Russ Dillingham/Sun Journal Buy this Photo

AUBURN — When the going gets tough, Mainers go fishing — at least they used to. According to Dylan Larose, owner of Dag’s Bait & Tackle, idleness because of the COVID-19 outbreak  has not sparked an uptick in business.

“It’s been disappointing. I thought that with a lot of people laid off, they’d have nothing to do but go fishing . . . we saw it during the recession and the housing crash, when a lot of people were idle, they did go out and fish,” he said.

Larose said it wasn’t like people were spending big bucks after mass layoffs, but they were still spending money on smaller purchases like tackle and bait. But — despite reassurances from Gov. Janet Mills that spending time in nature, as long as it was done as a solitary exercise and 6 feet apart from anyone else, is permissible — anglers are still staying home.

“They don’t want to go out in the world. As a result, yeah, we’ve seen a few new customers, people who would have never gone fishing otherwise and are taking this opportunity to fish without a license and test the waters. But, by and large, by and large, sales have been way down,” said Larose.

But still, being open is better than being shut down. Larose said there was a limbo period in between executive orders where he wasn’t sure if Dag’s would be able to stay open.

“When it came down to businesses being declared essential, it was intentionally vague. There was a short list of ones that were obviously essential, and a short list of ones that were obviously non-essential. We’re a weird in-between. We’re a retail establishment, but for recreation, and we were like ‘we don’t know.’”

Larose said Dag’s got an answer in the form of a letter from Janet Mills.

“We applied for exemption, and got a nice letter back. It said that Dag’s Bait and Tackle does align with the intent and interests served by the Governor’s executive order . . . we were like, alright, great, we’re essential!”

Like any other retailer, Dag’s has fixed costs like utilities and labor. Larose said Dag’s couldn’t survive closing down shop.

“We had to find a way to create cash flow . . . there’s huge concerns about what we could have done if we couldn’t stay open. We don’t have a contingency for a loan or to max out a credit card,” he said.

Larose said the shop is taking preventative measures, like cleaning and locking the doors when elderly customers come in, or the shop starts to see more than a few customers at a time. But the fish don’t stop biting because people are staying home.

Larose said the bigger lakes, like Sebago, are already iced out and being trolled by boaters. Streams and rivers are also overflowing, presenting great trout opportunities, and in the next few weeks Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife will begin to stock bodies of water with trout, presenting ample opportunities for anglers to net a nice catch as the season really gets underway.

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