Promoting fishing and the outdoors is important

Bill Hilts Jr With King Salmon In Lower River

It was 35 years ago that I was hired by Niagara County to start up a brand-new program. I was brought in to serve as the county’s Sportfishing Promotion Program Coordinator. Yes, it was a mouthful to say. To shorten it up, Town of Newfane Supervisor Tim Horanburg would simply call me the “Fish Head.” Sometimes it would “Head Fish.” Either way, it was to create a program in the Niagara County Tourism office that would focus on the area’s angling resources.

In the early years, it was focused on running the county’s two big fishing events – the Lake Ontario Pro-Am Salmon Team Tournament out of Wilson and Olcott, as well as the Niagara County Fall Classic Fishing Derby. Both needed a point person and that became me by default. I needed all the help I could get from the Niagara County Fisheries Development Board and the Niagara County Derby Board, two boards I became intimately involved with.

I also served as secretary with the Niagara County Federation of Conservation Clubs. I found that it was important to establish relationships and create a rapport with the local sporting community. I needed as many contacts as possible to maintain a weekly fishing report and hotline that was accurate and informative.

Those relationships began to expand as other counties followed the lead of Niagara. Orleans County hired a fishing promotion person in Jerry Senecal, soon to be followed by Mike Waterhouse, and Wayne County hired Chris Kenyon. Erie County contracted out to Jim Hanley and Chautauqua County had Craig Robbins on staff. We all worked together on various projects through the years, combining funds to make our money go further. Every little bit helped.

In the early 1990s, DEC cut back on stockings of salmon in Lake Ontario. It was not handled very well by the state agency and they needed some help with damage control. As a result, the Lake Ontario Sportfishing Promotion Council was born. Made up of the 7 counties along Lake Ontario, we all worked together to market this Great Lake as a destination. It worked then  and it continues to work now.

Later in that same decade, we started up the Lake Ontario Counties (LOC) derbies together and ran 2 events a year until it became too much of a drain on the tourism offices. We needed to get back to the business of marketing and promotion. Dave Chilson took over in 2003 and he has been doing great since then, offering all our counties a fishing event that extends through the spring, summer and fall.

As we returned our focus to marketing, we started to attend more sport, travel, and outdoor shows. Springfield, Mass.; Harrisburg and Pittsburgh in Penn.; Suffern, Syracuse, Hamburg, and Niagara Falls in NY; Columbus and Cleveland in Ohio; Edison in New Jersey – just some of the shows that have attended through the years as a LOSPC group and before that as an individual county.  However, with no shows this year, the group is turning to social media apps like Instagram to help get the word out. There is also a new website at www.lakeontariofishing.com. There is also a new chairperson.

Dawn Borchert of Orleans County will be assuming the role of leader because of my retirement the end of February. Yes, I have finally pulled the plug with Niagara County and with Destination Niagara USA, the Destination Marketing Organization for Niagara. That does not mean I will no longer be writing. I will continue to perform all my writing tasks for NY Outdoor News, the Buffalo News and more. However, everything else is off the table. It is time to slow down, spend more time hunting and fishing, and do a bit of traveling with my wife Sandy. We are not getting any younger. I also have a dozen grand kids to have some fun with. Where did that come from?

Occasionally I may reflect on some of the important efforts we were part of as we fought to include fishing and the outdoors as an important promotional tool for the state’s tourism empire. Even DEC, under the leadership of Steve Hurst and the Bureau of Fisheries in recent years, understand the importance of marketing and promoting our outdoor resources. Hurst reached out to the LOSPC group to work together to not only promote Lake Ontario, but to get a certain message out to the public about new programs that have been put into place. Unfortunately, COVID-19 hit and slowed up any progress that was made.

After 35 years of promoting our outdoor resources with the county and working closely with the Destination Niagara USA tourism team the last 2 decades, it is time for some fresh blood. Frank Campbell, a charter captain for the last 30 years and a past member of the Niagara County Fisheries Development Board and the Niagara Tourism and Convention Corporation board of directors, will now be steering the Outdoor Promotions ship. He will continue with many programs that have proven effective through the years, but he also has his own ideas – fresh ideas – that are needed to keep things moving forward. Change is one true constant and it is time to make one in Niagara County. I am not going away. I will work behind the scenes to help Campbell and the team that he will put together.

One final question: Where did the time go?

Categories: Blog Content, New York – Bill Hilts Jr

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