HOLLAND – TJ Willacker was finishing his seventh season aboard a fishing boat chartered from Lake Macatawa when an unexpected policy change left his business in limbo.
“Thank you for spending the past few years with us,” read a letter from Willacker’s Marina, Eldean Shipyard, dated Monday, September 13. As such, there will be no leaflet available for you next season.
“There was no sitting or an opportunity to ease the issues,” Willacker said. “There was no conversation. It was just over.
The private marina, one of five in the Netherlands, had the right to prohibit access to fishing charters. No clause in the contract was broken.
“I don’t know why this is newsworthy,” wrote company president Wade Eldean in an email to The Sentinel. “We haven’t had fishing charters for 35 years, then we’ve tried them for the last 12 years, and now, again, without.”
Eldean declined to comment further, but the Marina Letter to Charter Owners noted that “Charter fishing operations have presented some issues with non-commercial customers and with this change we believe we will serve our customers better. based.
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The end-of-season decision leaves three charter companies, including Willacker, scrambling to find a place to dock in a port without many options. Indeed, finding a space to operate anywhere – business owners said – has become a growing problem in recent years.
“A few years ago when the economy weren’t so good, marinas were too keen to let in charter boats,” said Mike Flinsky, owner of Rod Boss Sportfishing, a member of Eldean Shipyard for seven years. . “But now the economy is better, and they are less inclined to do it. “
Of the five marinas in the Netherlands, only one remains that allows charter fishing, Flinsky said. This is Yacht Basin Marina, 1866 Ottawa Beach Road, across Lake Macatawa from the Eldean Shipyard.
All three charters involved – Flinsky’s Rod Boss, Willacker’s Bending Limits Sportfishing, and Mark Rapson’s Black Pearl Sportfishing – are on the waiting list.
“I’ve been trying to make the transition there for a while,” Flinsky said. “If we can’t get in, we might have to check out Grand Haven or South Haven. It’s a waiting game right now.
Willacker secured a spot at Yacht Basin for the remainder of the 2021 season, having pulled his business from Eldean Shipyard shortly after receiving the letter. But that doesn’t mean there will be room for him next season.
“It’s incredibly difficult to find space on Lake Macatawa,” said Willacker. “If they can’t find a place, I don’t know what I’m going to do. Relocating the ports is the only option after that.”
Willacker operates between 140 and 150 charters on Lake Michigan each season, and 70 percent of its revenue comes from loyal customers.
“We’re taking people from all over the country,” he said. “We spend six hours on the lake. Education is a big part of what we do – we deal with a lot of families, children and vacationers. We’ve built a really strong relationship with our clients, and that’s a really big deal.
Rapson, a ten-year Eldean member, also considered a port change.
“We’re going to try very hard to have a charter business again, but that’s what that could mean,” he said. “But it’s not just Holland that lacks slips. There are a bunch of charter boats in danger. I tried Saugatuck and South Haven but with the current economic situation we have a lot of boats and few slips.
Right now, these small business owners can’t do anything but wait.
“It could basically end my business,” Willacker said. “And my livelihood.”
– Contact journalist Cassandra Lybrink at [email protected] Follow her on Instagram @BizHolland.