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Buffalo: Charter Boat Fishing Mecca?

(This post highlights a member of the Great Lakes United coalition who lives in our Buffalo community. Throughout the summer, Great Lakes United’s Nate Drag will talk and visit a variety of environmentalists to discuss their lives, their groups and our lakes.)
There is an old fishing saying that while Ponce de Leon was looking for the Fountain of Youth, he had the chance for eternal life the entire time he was on the boat. All he had to do was to use a pole to catch a fish. I spent a beautiful summer afternoon recently aboard a fishing vessel with Charter Captain Tom Marks. Tom and I discussed the joy of fishing, the threats to Lake Erie, and the even more challenging work to get people to care about it. This two-piece interview will cover all of these topics as well the realities of charter fishing industry that could very easily take off here in the eastern Lake Erie Basin.
Tom wears many hats. In addition to being a charter boat captain, he is a freelance writer, a member of the Erie County Environmental Management Committee, New York Director to the Great Lakes Sport Fishing Council, Vice President of the Federation of Fly Fishers, Lake Erie Chapter, Corresponding Secretary to the Southtowns Walleye Association of WNY Inc. (Past President), a member of the Botulism Task Force, and is on the Fisheries Committee for the New York State Conservation Council. All of this experience has made Tom almost an expert on all things recreational and sport fishing, a multimillion-dollar industry full of economic spin-offs. Every year, anglers from all across North America come to the Eastern Basin of Lake Erie for what Tom says many believe to be the finest walleye fishing on the continent. Fishing tournaments occur all along the lakeshore, like this week’s Basseye Tournament. Beginning this past Wednesday night with the Bait, Beer, and Boats party, this celebration and tournament is meant to raise awareness and funds for the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation. It is also a beautiful opportunity to bring people to and out on the water to partake in our regions wonderful fishing and recognize the vulnerable balance our Great Lakes have.
In addition to fishing tournaments, charter fishing vessels exist in our section of the Lake. Tom is a part of the Eastern Lake Erie Charter Boat Association, a group with captains and boats at ports from Dunkirk to Buffalo. Tom estimates there are between 20 to 25 members in the group. There is room to grow this group however. Charter boat associations in other Great Lakes cities far exceed the number in our basin of the lake. As long as it done with responsible management, the charter boat industry could use Buffalo as a port of call to send boats all over the eastern Lake Erie Basin. Becoming a licensed charter boat captain might not be a bad new career. Tom became a licensed captain after retiring from his career as an engineer at Dunlop. Fishing, however, has always been his life.
Tom remembers his first trip in a rowboat with his father. After crying the whole way out, his father never thought four-year-old Tom would ever fish again. He couldn’t have been more wrong. Tom has fished Lake Erie his entire life any way you can whether it be drop line, downrigger, or fly fishing. Tom could tell stories of the Lake’s days as path for rum-runners and the details the Lake of his childhood. While those childhood Lake Erie memories of shores choked with seaweed and a ‘dead zone’ are gone, Tom’s passion lives on.

(Check later this week for the a post on the challenges invasive species present to the charter fishing industry and what Tom and other advocates hope to do.)

Photos:
Charter Boat Captain Tom Marks finding the secret spots on Lake Erie.
Charter Boat Captain Tom Marks with a little Lake Erie gold, a nice small mouth bass.

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