Meet the father and son trash fishing on the Detroit River

The pair have pulled everything from tires to water skis from the Detroit River this summer with friends.

A trash fishing event is scheduled for September 1

Mark Nardone holds up a water ski he caught while fishing for trash with his father Tom on the Detroit River. (Submitted by Tom Nardone)

Tom Nardone and his son Mark were practically hanging off of the edge of their boat on the Detroit River this August, trying to reel in a catch they would be bragging about for weeks.

"We found a tire!" recalls Mark, 11, who has spent a chunk of his summer fishing junk out of the river that stretches between Windsor, Ont. and Detroit, Mich.

"We didn't know this but a tire on a rim will still float," said Tom, who pulled the tire into the boat and set it beside a stack of empty champagne bottles. 

This tire is the prize catch for Tom while Mark prefers to tell the story of the water ski he plucked from the river. (Submitted by Tom Nardone)

The pair have started what they call the Trash Fishing project, collecting garbage which has trickled its way into the Detroit River. 

"There's a lot of trash on land, but there's some more on the water," said Mark, who lists a pair of water skis as his most impressive catch.

Mark and Tom Nardone sit inside their boat with the custom made trash grabbers. (Chris Ensing/CBC)

The pair have gone out a handful of times with friends and have slowly started to gain a few extra sets of oars to add to the cause.

"We're trying to get like a movement going," said Tom, who lives in Birmingham, Mich.

"The most people we've had is six..."

"Seven," interrupted his son, proud to point out the growing number of trash fishers.

From land to water

These men know a few things about a movement. Tom started the Detroit MowerGang, a group of volunteers who roam the Motor City looking for parks abandoned by the city that they can mow and refurbish. 

"A lot more people can access the land, a lot more people can pick-up trash on a lawn but not a lot of people go on the water to pick it up and that's why we started doing that," said Mark. 

Mark plucks a cooler from the Detroit River using his extendable claw. (Submitted by Tom Nardon)

As for the haulage, they're pulling in everything from water bottles to buoys once owned by the U.S. Coast Guard. 

"You can fit a lot of trash in a little boat," said Tom, who said they use a plastic bin to collect the junk and usually fill a few bags of trash each trip.

"It's not hard. Picking up trash isn't hard to do. And it's a little more fun when you get to putter around on a boat."

Special equipment needed

The pair, who are inviting everyone to an event this Saturday at the St. Jean boat lunch, have pieced together a secret weapon in their quest to collect junk — a pair of lightweight, extendable claws.

"We modified ours with some pipe insulation so that if you drop them over the side of the boat they don't sink," said Tom.

While they do pluck a fair amount of waste from the river, it's clearly also about having fun.

They recently handed out awards at the first ever "Trash Fishing Competition" on August 19:

  • Most Unusual
  • Most Trash Collected
  • Biggest Piece of Trash
  • Trash Fishing World Champion

The reigning world champion is Mark, who has participated in all of the events so far. 

But he's not slinging any trash talk ahead of this weekend's event — just a message to everyone who plans to hit the water this weekend.

"The city puts these trash cans around. Use them."

About the Author

Chris Ensing

CBC News

Chris Ensing is a Video Journalist for CBC Windsor.