TONKA BAY – Tony Grant was doing some practice casting Monday in his Lake Minnetonka neighborhood, anxiously awaiting “a better time” to get his 16-foot boat into the water.
“We had to wait a lot longer last year to go after the big ones,” Grant, 38, said, noting that his boat and motor are water-ready but his casting needs work. “The ice out is earlier this year, so I can get out there earlier too.”
Some anglers and boaters have already hit the water since the official ice-out date on Lake Minnetonka was declared at 9:48 a.m. on April 2, almost three weeks earlier than last year. It is declared after officials are able to boat through all of the lake’s 37 bays and channels without being obstructed by ice.
“Getting out there never gets old,” Grant said, glancing at the lake. “It’s what we are called to do, enjoy the lakes and catch big ones.”
Boat preparations and docking are underway at a number of marinas, including Tonka Bay Marina and Shorewood Marina, both owned by Gabriel Jabbour and his daughter Gigi.
“It’s going to be a very difficult year,” Jabbour said Monday while donning blue gloves and taking a break from cleaning inside the Shorewood office. “It’s going to be a totally different experience on Lake Minnetonka this year.”
Jabbour, who has “hundreds and hundreds” of boats stored at his facilities during winter months, said sanitization of boats will be imperative at this point, adding that there likely will be a sanitation policy in place for boat owners.
“Things will change out there,” he said, referring to the impact of COVID-19. “There won’t be the gatherings of 400 people or so at Big Island like there used to be. People have to be smart.”
Jabbour said it’s important for his staff to remain healthy as the boating season ramps up.
“If we don’t put your boat in the water for several weeks, the most that happens is you are upset,” he said. “But, if we don’t pull them out of the water in October for several weeks because of sickness, there are hundreds of thousands of dollars, millions, at risk.”
Jabbour said the relatively early ice-out declaration means people are anxious to get out on the water, especially since the virus-related stay-at-home orders.
“It will be nice for people to get out on the water,” he said, adding that many people in years past routinely have done their work at home from their boats. “It just makes you feel better when you’re out there.”
Jay Soule, owner of Al & Alma’s Supper Club and Cruises in Mound, was at Tonka Bay Marina Monday to oversee season preparations for his fleet of seven cruise boats stored at the marina.
“They’re all getting waxed and the bottoms painted for a season of running,” he said, noting that cruises typically start a couple of weeks after ice out. “Everything that needs to be done while they are out of the water is being done.”
When asked about season expectations business-wise, Soule said: “We don’t know. We’re like everybody else. We’re hoping for the best.”
While everyone may, excuse me, be in the same boat, so to speak, Soule emphasized gratitude to his staff and patrons during a difficult time.
“The community has been phenomenal. They’ve been supportive and caring,” he said. “When you are a legacy business and you’ve been around for a long time, they depend on you and you depend on them. We’re seeing that reciprocity happen in this process.
“People generally appreciate that our business is still open for take out,” Soule added. “Our staff is encouraged that people are still coming, but this certainly is a very difficult time.”
Eric Krantz of Tonka Bay, who captains one of the large cruise vessels in summer months, was applying antifouling paint to the bottom of one of those crafts Monday afternoon.
“This is the less glamorous part of the job that a few of us get to do,” he said with a smile. “I’m not too proud to paint a boat or sand it. You do what you can to get ready for the season, even though we’re not too sure exactly how it’s going to go.”