From fish-crazed kid to fish-crazed captain, some things never change.
Capt. Tom Markham, a fourth generation Floridian, spent his teen years less than a mile from where his charter boat, a 32-foot Sabalo called the Simply Hooked, is docked. The creeks and channels of the Intracoastal Waterway that were his playground as a kid are now his daily commute to work. His childhood dreams of getting to go chase giant fish every day are also a part of his life still, as he wakes each morning to an exciting, new, fishing challenge.
“I love offshore fishing in the Gulf of Mexico,” explained the Indian Rocks Beach skipper. “There’s such a variety of fish that we get to catch. And the possibility of something amazing. . .the fish of a lifetime. . .could happen at any second. When we get offshore and the bite is going off. . .there’s no better place.”
Before he was 10 (and weighed 50-pounds), Tom was fighting and landing tarpon nearly three times his weight. He remembers spending nearly every day of his Summer vacations chasing tarpon with his dad.
“If we weren’t tarpon fishing we were catching bait,” said Markham. “I loved every minute of it.”
He and his father Wayne would fish from the Gulf beaches as far north as Honeymoon Island, south around the tip of Egmont Key and then all the way to the furthest reaches of Tampa Bay. Then there were teenage trips to Cayo Costa and Pine Island Sound, where he chased the “poon” with his buddy Jeff Malone, who is now a top-notch fishing guide in the Florida Keys. Days of endless sight-casting to milling pods on the beach and laid-up fish in the Sound reinforced the tarpon bug his father instilled in him as a child.
“It’s all about the hunt,” he said. “Finding that perfect school of fish and then making the perfect cast. I still get a rush from it, 30 years later!”
Like most of his friends, Tom spent the majority of his teens prowling the flats of the bay for snook, redfish and trout.
“I was an inshore kid growing up,” said Markham. “We’d get to go offshore every once in a while but even when I first started guiding, I fished the bay for about a year or so.”
But his heart was in the offshore game. In his early 20’s, he jumped at the chance to work the deck for Capt. Dave Mistretta on the Jaws Too and fish the Gulf every day with one of the area’s top skippers. When Mistretta purchased a second boat to expand his growing business, he hired Markham to run it. Eventually, he bought the boat, the same 32 Sabalo that 14 years later, he still runs.
“Hard to believe I’ve been doing this for almost 20 years already,” Markham said. “But I still get up every day at 5 a.m. excited to go to work.”
In between charter seasons, Markham stays busy running two and three day commercial rod and reel trips. He catches fresh grouper, snapper, amberjack and hogfish for many local seafood restaurants. Seasonal stone crabbing helps Markham get his salty fix as well as pay the bills.
“You’ve got to love it to stay as busy as we do,” said Markham. “But I just can’t imagine any other place I’d rather be.”
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