After 34 years in business, owner of Muskie Magic Charters retires | Company

MASSENA – After trying to circumvent the flooding of the St. Lawrence River in 2019 and the arrival of COVID-19 in 2020, Captain Donald J. Lucas closed Muskie Magic Charters after 34 years of operation and embarked on a new business – retirement.

“In 2019 we closed due to flooding on the St. Lawrence, which created dangerous navigation, and in 2021 and 2022 we closed due to COVID. Most of our business is from out of town or out of state and we didn’t want to help spread the virus by bringing strangers here,” Lucas said.

Despite the closures, he said he continues to pay all required insurance, his accountant pays the company’s business expenses and all equipment is registered – all out of pocket. But, he said, it was something he couldn’t go on doing anymore.

So, after more than three decades in business, Muskie Magic Charters’ final charter is in the history books. It comes with a thick scrapbook full of articles about his business and photos of his customers holding what they’ve picked up in the St. Lawrence over the years.

Mr. Lucas’ journey began in 1989 when he completed a small business development course taught by Edward J. Fay and attorney William F. Maginn.

“With the help of Massena Industrial Development Agency Director Frank Alguire, a business plan was developed and submitted to the SBA (Small Business Administration) and I secured a low interest loan of $50,000. With that loan and $25,000 of my own money, I started,” he said.

He hired the late Vincent F. Kirsch, a Massena attorney, to form a corporation and worked with attorney Daniel S. Pease on the paperwork.

“When (Mr. Pease) came out on his own, I transferred our business to him and he has advised our business for 34 years to date,” Mr. Lucas said.

Then he traveled to Snug Harbor in Plattsburgh to submit plans for a boat that would be built to his specifications. Once it was built and ready to launch, a booming business began.

“Over the past 34 years, I estimate that I have guided more than 5,000 passengers on the St. Lawrence River. We have had guests from every state in the United States and many foreigners. Our clientele was 90% from outside the region, family, friends, buddies and business partners. In recent years, we have been hired to eliminate government agencies and scientific researchers studying the Grasse River cleanup,” he said.

He said he’s had his share of celebrities on the boat, too. Among the passengers were Gail C. McDonald, former administrator of the St. Lawrence Seaway Development Corp.; celebrity chef Emeril J. Lagasse; and Frank Serpico, who was the subject of a book and film bearing his name.

“Frank used to rent a cabin in Barnhart,” Mr Lucas said.

Also on board were former baseball stars Dwight E. Gooden and Darryl E. Strawberry and, more recently, former professional basketball player Christian D. Laettner.

“We had booked a trip with Louis Gossett Jr., but it was canceled due to weather,” he said. “We’ve helped produce a dozen televised sports shows, including at least one that was televised nationally.”

Mr Lucas said he also has a large base of commercial accounts.

“But with the change in tax laws, corporations lost the entertainment expense write-off and business accounts plummeted,” he said.

One of his goals was to ensure that everyone, including people with disabilities, could enjoy fishing trips on the St. Lawrence River.

“One of our specialties on the boat was our handicap accessibility. We could accommodate up to two wheelchairs. To do this, we applied for a low-interest loan from Adirondack Development Corp. With this loan, we bought wheelchair ramps, as well as modifications to the boat. We purchased fishing reels with electric motors to help people with physical limitations land their catch,” Lucas said.

This allowed him to help amputees, quadriplegics and many injured veterans.

“After the loan was repaid, we received the Entrepreneur of the Year award,” he said.

This is not the only accolade he has received. Over the years, Mr. Lucas has received awards, letters of thanks, as well as personal expressions of gratitude from other Massena companies for his contribution to increasing business in the region.

“We even got a letter from Alcoa saying they had secured a contract from a company that appreciated the benefits of being entertained on our fishing trips,” he said.

He also did his part to promote Massena outside the region. Representing St. Lawrence County, Mr. Lucas has attended sports shows in areas such as Ottawa, Syracuse, Buffalo, Rochester, Ohio and Pennsylvania.

“I had the privilege of meeting a cross section of society, and I met some great people, even the one we lost when he died at the World Trade Center,” he said.

In addition to losing a friend in the September 11 attack, this event had an impact on his fishing charter. With tight security in place, a spot near the Robert Moses hydroelectric dam has become off-limits.

“It was the only place in New York State and many parts of the United States where you could catch such a wide variety of fish using one technique: muskellunge, walleye, trout, salmon and bass I was advised by the US Coast Guard that they were aware of my operations there but it was no longer allowed Business dropped off a lot after the news got out communicated to previous customers,” said Lucas.

He tried unsuccessfully to get an exemption, but business continued.

“We have readjusted our charter to the upstream fisheries and we have bounced back after a few difficult years,” he said.

But it took floods and COVID-19 to end the adventure after 34 years.

“When I came up with the idea for a fishing charter in Massena there were a lot of skeptics who said I would never make it, it was an industrial town, not a tourist destination. My goal was to succeed in the business for at least 20 years,” said Mr. Lucas. “In the 34 years, there have been mechanical breakdowns, medical emergencies, bad weather, competitors who have come and gone, downturns in the economy, deaths in the family, years of high water and poor fishing conditions, but in the end, I hold my head high and I’m proud of what I’ve accomplished.

As an Amazon Associate, I earn from qualifying purchases.

About Joan Dow

Check Also

Lawmakers are running out of time to pass the Secure Retirement 2.0 Bill

Secure 2.0 is the rare piece of legislation that has received bipartisan support. Eric Lee/Bloomberg …