Processing Your Payment

Please do not leave this page until complete. This can take a few moments.

June 12, 2020

Maine's storied guide businesses may be lost amid pandemic

Courtesy / Maine Outdoors Master Maine Guide Don Kleiner, left, who owns Maine Outdoors in Union and heads the Maine Professional Guides Association, is seen here guiding Florence and Bill Nestor on a “learn to fly fish" trip. The Maine Guides sector is seeing a steep decline this year due to the pandemic.

Maine Guides, responsible for an iconic sector of Maine’s tourism industry, are seeing a steep decline in their market because of the pandemic.

“This shutdown has been terrible” for Maine Guides, Don Kleiner, a master Maine Guide, told Mainebiz.

Kleiner owns Maine Outdoors in Union and is executive director of the Maine Professional Guides Association. “We’re only now starting to see the economic impact. I’m very fearful for the industry at this point.”

Kleiner, who founded Maine Outdoors in 1987, said he projected his business will do one-third or less of what he did last year. In 2019, he ran 130 short fishing and canoe trips, primarily in June, July and part of August.

He said he’s projecting that about half of Maine Guides will be forced out of business.

Although guiding is his primary livelihood, many guides run their business on a part-time basis, he said. However, he added, there are pockets of them around Maine, including in the North Woods, where guiding is a primary source of income.

There are about 5,000 licensed Maine Guides. The industry dates formally to 1897, when Cornelia “Fly Rod” Crosby was issued the first Maine guide’s license.

But guiding goes back even further, noted Kleiner.

“Thoreau went with a Native American guide” decades before the first license was issued, he said. 

Each Maine Guide is what Kleiner called a “microbusiness" of one person.

“Basically it’s service business,” he said.

Guides frequently provide not only outdoors expertise and backwoods navigation, but the equipment their clients need, with the exception of firearms used on hunting trips. In most cases, the adventures are turnkey for clients; they can just show up and start their guided trip.

“People think you need to be an expert to go with a guide,” he continued. “In fact, no one’s better qualified to take a beginner. They know what to do, when to do it, what equipment works best.”

The sector is linked to the broader tourism industry, he noted. For example, he has parties arriving from outside Maine who stop first in Portland to enjoy the city’s amenities. 

“So there’s a spinoff effect,” he said. 

As microbusinesses, Maine Guides were not well set up to take advantage of the Paycheck Protection Program, he said.

There was also a certain degree of optimism, initially, because the pandemic came to Maine in March, which is still the slow season for guiding. 

“Everybody said, ‘I’ll open in May,’” he said. “And here we are, almost July, and not open.”

Sign up for Enews


Order a PDF