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Ethics is something we all learn as anglers and hunters from childhood. Fair chase, stewardship of our lands, making the right choice. These are values that I and my fellow outdoorsmen share out of a respect for the world around us.
Making ethical choices for the environment is really easy, and if we want our children to love and enjoy the outdoors as we do, it is our responsibility. When I was a kid, it was picking up after ourselves, gently releasing fish to be caught again and following regulations to the letter.
Today, modern technology and tools enable us to create more diverse products and ideas for protecting our environment. From plastics that decompose to new groundbreaking designs that can keep you and your catch safe.
It is my personal practice to do everything I can to help the environment, to try to give back more than I take from it. With that said, I wanted to take a look at some of today’s groundbreaking and environmentally-friendly fishing gear, no matter how small or large the design. After all, any effort to make fishing safer is groundbreaking in my book.
So, I have chosen a few different but essential types of fishing products offering safer, eco-friendly alternatives. In addition, I also offer up some personal observations and tips that, I hope, will help us all to be better stewards of our natural resources.
From Driftwood to Plastics
Plastics were invented in 1907and quickly became an inexpensive material used in the production of a plethora of everyday items that persist to today.
It took some time for plastic to reach fishing products. However, when it did, it changed the market forever. It became the prevailing material across many product lines, ranging from artificial lures to tackle boxes and beyond.
The early history of artificial lures saw driftwood and basswood as the go-to materials for crankbaits and plugs. They were relatively cheap and easily accessed materials at the time. However, as with many industries, fishing lure makers soon became aware that plastics were more cost-effective and adopted the new material in their manufacturing.
Fishing lures used to be hand-carved from these and other similar wood and were painted and had metal bills, propellers and other attachments to attract fish. Today, it is rare to see an artificial crankbait with metal other than the hooks and eyelet.
As a child, I learned to carve my own lures from driftwood we brought home from the beaches of the Puget Sound. Even then, it was a dying art, but my elders felt it was very important that my brothers and I learned this skill.
Unfortunately, we do not yet have many good alternatives today to plastic lures, and plastics will likely continue to dominate the artificial lure scene in the foreseeable future.
But there are some other areas where the recreational fishing industry is making progress, and there are things we can do on our own to help sustain our fish populations and preserve recreational fishing for generations to come. Let’s see what they are.
Alternatives to Lead Weights/Sinkers
We have known about lead’s harmful effects for many years now, but unfortunately, the fishing industry was a little slow in its response and we continued to use lead weights for many years before we finally began to change our ways.
Part of the reason this was possible was state game regulators enacting laws that prohibit the use of lead in sports such as fishing and hunting. Lead weights left behind in the water can have a devastating effect on fish and local wildlife.
Weights today are still predominantly made from lead, but there is an increasingly larger proportion being made from materials more friendly to the environment such as tin and tungsten.
While tin may not have the density of lead and tungsten is slightly more expensive than lead (though its cost continues to come down), they are, without question, better for the environment.
Biodegradable Fishing Line
Fishing line has always been dangerous for the environment. Fishing line often gets ingested or tangles into animals, harming or even killing them. This is why it is important to never leave a pile of line where you are fishing.
Many fishing access sites have a receptacle to not only dispose of spent fishing line. The collected line is often recycled as well.
There are two schools of thought I have with regards to fishing line to make a better impact on the environment. The first is to buy a quality line that lasts – the less you change your line the smaller your impact will be.
The second is to maintain the line by drying it as best you can between uses and covering your unused reel from the sun with a cover. UV rays break down gear faster than you think. Consider how fast a hat can sun-bleach on the dashboard of your car.
For saltwater fishing, one type of line that is popular is cloth braid. This is the most environmentally friendly fishing line in my opinion. The reason being, cloth fabric most certainly breaks down faster than plastic.
Most brands make a biodegradable fishing line and they are moderately priced. Some lines are easier to make biodegradable and others are harder. Monofilament and Mono-Braid are easier to decompose than Fluorocarbon.
Barbless and Circle Hooks
I do not always keep fish when I go out. Often I just enjoy catching them and letting them go. So when I do not intend to keep them, I go with barbless hooks. When it comes to protecting yourself and the fish, you cannot beat a barbless hook.
Winter trout here in Montana can be a bit lazy at times and they’ll take your bait without you even knowing. When they do this, they “gut” the hook, and instead of unhooking from the lip, you will find yourself performing complex surgery.
When I fish for lazy winter trout, I always use a barbless hook. It is near impossible to remove a barbed hook from the guts of a fish, you are going to end up taking him home even if you didn’t want to.
Barbless is a good ethical choice and it does not have to be an extra cost. A pair of needle-nose pliers and almost any hook in your tackle box can be barbless. Just simply crimp the barb down and make it barbless.
Circle hooks are a handy hook to have for a few reasons, mostly, it is also harder to hook deep into fish. Aside from fishing barbless, this is a good option for any angler trying to avoid gutting a fish instead of hooking its lip.
Arguably, the circle hook is better at holding certain lures, baits, and setups. Plastics such as worms seem to hold very tight on these hooks and Texas Rig setups can work as well with them.
A brand that comes to mind for its durability and reliability is Gamakatsu. They make a wide array of barbless and circle hooks of different sizes and designs. I keep some of their products in my tackle box at all times.
Whatever hook you choose you should have one principle in your mind to reduce injury to fish and that is to keep your hooks very sharp. Simply put, a sharp needle will do less damage than a dull needle.
I like to keep a small fine metal file in my tackle box just to keep the edge on my hooks. It’s lightweight and really saves me some headache. The benefit of sharpening your own hooks is that you will not need to buy them as often.
Most circle hooks have a slight curve at the tip of the hook where a flat file might not do the job. Go to your local hardware store and grab a fine round file that is small enough to file that hook tip without damaging its shape. That shape is what makes that hook safe after all.
Any time you have the opportunity to avoid burning fossil fuels, the better the environment will be. This being said, there are many options of watercraft that can be enjoyable and at times easier to use than a motorized boat.
I have kayaks and I enjoy the ability to pull over anywhere, grab my lightweight kayak and launch from anywhere. No matter how nice your motorboat is, you can’t launch just anywhere.
When I go home to Washington in the summer I love bass fishing and I see people out fishing in their motorboats and enjoying the water. I honestly always preferred a small motorless vessel to get into the nooks and crannies of the lake where the bass love to be on a hot summer day.
I have seen anglers fishing in the nicest inner tubes that have attachments and bags as well as frames and rod holders, and I have also seen folks in a tractor inner tube fly fishing. An inner tube offers a great way to just drift and let the water take you wherever it is heading.
Fly fishermen love inner tubes and there are some great products available. One thing I have noticed anglers doing with these fancy inner tubes is to attach floating items such as coolers and bags for fish.
The obvious benefit for the environment is that it takes no fuel to operate an inner tube but often there is a sizable amount of recycling that goes into making an inner tube. Other gear that can accompany an inner tube is a life jacket and flippers.
Inflatable Pontoon Boats
I love Inflatable pontoon boats. They deflate and pack small enough to fit in an SUV and they travel the water very well. I have a good friend that fishes from one of these exclusively in the summer and he loves to troll from it.
These move so well in the water that they can troll very easily. Some have multiple rod holders and if it is legal in your area you can troll with two rods. Or you can have two setups ready to go and you can switch rods quickly.
The other aspect of these that I like is that they are relatively cheap. I see them on sale in sporting goods stores for under $400 every spring. They usually have a durable metal frame and bags attached for keeping gear. Just like the inner tube, it is possible to attach items that float as well.
Water Triggered Life Vests
Life Vests are very important to the safety of boaters and they can be bulky and made from not so green materials. Today’s life jacket is made from much less plastic material and is much less bulky to wear than traditional life vests.
These life vests have a small sensor that detects moisture when you fall in the water and the small canister inside inflates the vest. I recommend these vests to anyone boating but especially for those kayaking or rowboating because it offers great mobility.
Recharging these life vests is fairly inexpensive and the canisters can be found or ordered from your local outdoor retailer. You may worry about how sensitive the sensor is and that was a concern for me as well. I can tell you that it is very unlikely that a small splash will set the vest off.
Composting: From the Lake to the Garden
This one is not about a piece of gear but about what we can do. One ethic I have for being green and helping the environment is to compost what you do not use of a fish. This may not apply to everyone but if you have a garden and you want to really give your plants a good diet, consider composting your fish carcasses as I do.
A simple composter can be found online for a very cheap price. They simply need a little starter dirt and whatever you would like to compost. Just give the barrel a spin every day or two.
I really enjoy being able to utilize everything I take from the land and making myself as friendly to the environment as I can, and my garden thrives without the need for chemicals to help it grow.
Why Stewardship Is Important
We have a responsibility to the land and to ourselves to be better to the world around us. For centuries all we have done is take and now we are slowly starting to try and give.
Products that consider the world around us are always the products that get my money and my support and those types of products are becoming more and more available.
I recommend exploring other options for gear that can be green and environmentally friendly. Sometimes the best thing for the environment is not a product but a choice. Choosing to fish from shore instead of a boat a few times for example.
I enjoy simple fishing, motorless and green, where you connect with the sport. If you love the sport you should do what you can to preserve it. More and more, products are getting better at helping us preserve the waters we love and I hope this list aids you in making a green choice for your fishing adventures.
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