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Five Reasons to Fish Lead Free

Glasswater Angling Co-Founder John King shares five good reasons to give lead free fishing a try.

Five Reasons to Fish Lead Free

When we started Glasswater Angling our initial purpose was to supply anglers in the six states with lead free fishing laws with lures and tackle to replace the lead items in their tackle box. However, it was not long before we realized that there was a receptive audience of new generation anglers as well as older fishing enthusiasts all over the country who were also looking for alternatives to lead. By and large their desire was based on a concern for the environment and the creatures within it. Losing a dangerous neurotoxin into our waters by the ton defies common sense for many. Thus, the search for different materials to replace lead fishing tackle has become a growing interest in the angling community.

The good news is that a fisher can be just as successful in their fishy pursuits and often more so without ever touching a lead weight or lure. Afterall, we do not fish to save the world we fish to catch fish. We are going to use what works. But that goal is in no way dependent on lead-based fishing tackle. Thus, expanding beyond the indisputable environmental benefit of fishing lead free there are many reasons to try lead free tackle not least of which is more fish on the line and more skill in the mind.

1). Better Fishing-What does one mean by better fishing? More strikes? More catches? More grip and grin proofs of prowess? It can mean all that but for most there is a whole lot more. Better fishing embraces a consciousness of a larger picture of the ecological web wherein our quarry is placed. The perspective emanates from empathy and appreciation for where and how our fish fit in and make their living. On the practical side of things good fishers know that by acting as dedicated custodians of the environment means more places to fish and more fish in those places. Lead free fishing is just another thing we can do, along with all the things sporting anglers already do, like disposing of fishing line properly, releasing fish quickly and following fish and game laws, to demonstrate our deep appreciation of the natural world. An appreciation that leads to a real payoff in tight lines and good times.

2). Better Catching- Better fishing also means catching the heck out of fish plain and simple. And fishing lead free doesn’t get in the way of that but indeed can do more to help one achieve a successful day than lead ever could. I say this because anglers have always looked at materials other than lead even before the benefit to wildlife was proven. Why? Well, for one, being a soft metal lead distorts and it is not much of a noise maker either. And so emerged bullet weights of brass, steel and tungsten. And with this change bassers are punching grass and slaying bass like never before. Examples are endless. Steel and brass spoons, brass bodied spinners, glass beads and tungsten ice jigs are all made with materials that have been chosen over lead simply because they make a bait that fishes better. When I do talks on lead free fishing I often joke that all fishers are looking for an advantage and we’d use lures made of uranium if we thought it would get’er done at the fishing hole. It is this inquisitiveness; this urge for many of us to tackle tinker and try it out that keeps things interesting and moving forward in terms of tackle crafting knowledge. Which takes us to reason three.

3). Advancing Tacklecraft- The examples in the foregoing paragraph talk about changes in approach to lure and weight materials based on specific fishing needs. For example, the need to effectively fish mats of algae and hydrilla did drive advances in tackle such as the hollow plastic frog and tungsten weights. However, fishing lead free invites innovation based on an environmental need. The desire to quit leaving deposits of a deadly neurotoxin lying about contaminating the ecosystem calls for an eventual full replacement of lead tackle in a fishers’ kit. Thus, lead free tackle designers are scouring high and low for materials to meet or beat the performance of lead in all areas. With this motivation has come deeper reaching discoveries of alternative materials. Tin/bismuth jig heads are a good example. At first anglers turned to tin/bismuth alloys because they lived in states where lead jigs were outlawed. But more and more fishers, especially those that fish moving water or for suspended fish, are finding that the difference in drift and drop in tin/bis alloy provides an effective tool for unlocking the bite. Without pro-environment impetus among designers to meet and defeat lead in all cases and fisher’s willingness to go along and try out lead free alternatives a great material like tin/bismuth alloy would have gone unexplored.

When it comes to change, we lead free tackle designers need all the help and open mindedness we can get. Often, I am asked “why is lead so prevalent in fishing tackle?” the answer is pretty straightforward. Lead is cheap, it is widely available, and it is craftable. It really is an awesome metal for low temperature metallurgical applications. Except it is one of the deadliest neurotoxins on the planet. The ease of use, price and availability of lead presents both a challenge and an advantage for the lead-free movement.

The challenge is getting people to try lead free in a market where lead tackle is often cheaper and definitely more familiar. Here’s the advantage. If one concedes, as lead tackle manufacturers must do, that lead is cheap and available they must also own the fact that lead was often used in the historic development fishing tackle simply because it was laying around. It was not because it was the only or best material necessarily but because it met a need easily and inexpensively. By pushing beyond the cheap and convenient anglers using lead free tackle drive forward investigations into alternative materials. These investigations inevitably take us to the best materials. We may begin with a wish to reduce stress on the environment but will end up with a lead-free product that performs as well as or better than lead. And that is a long-term reward we can all enjoy.

  1. Better Citizenship-When one decides to try lead free fishing one immediately climbs to higher ground in terms of dedication to their fellow citizens. Dedication to our fishing peers first and foremost but also to the public at large in a greater sense. Even if one only fishes lead free for fish catching advantage and the benefit to the planet is some small sugary bonus like sprinkles on one’s mental donut one is still helping out. Cleaner water and one less toxin in the home are positives we can all share.

And that is great for the reputation of fishers and fishing. Sporting anglers give our pastime the high reputation and well deserved recognition as being one of the best ways to interact with the natural world. According to a survey by the Theodore Roosevelt Conservancy 9 out of 10 anglers support conservation and a cleaner environment. Fishing lead free is just one more way to show by example that we care.

Another boon we receive by fishing with lead alternatives is that we keep the issue of our conduct out of the statehouse. In short, it means fewer laws. I agree with the reasoning behind restrictions on lead tackle in the northeast and northwest. These states had an ecological crisis on their hands that required immediate and drastic action. Changing fishing regulations was seen as the best way to avert waterfowl disaster. Wildlife biologists have made it abundantly clear that restricting lead has had a profoundly positive effect on shorebird numbers in general and among the loon in particular. The question is are such laws necessary everywhere? As for me, I have always felt that given a fair choice for replacing lead tackle our fishing community will make the right choice. Fishing litter happens, reducing the impact of lost fishing tackle has become a matter of general concern. Sporting anglers are on it. Everyone I know takes time from their fishing at various points throughout the season to clean up litter, fishing or otherwise. In light of such an attitude of action I am confident that when lead free tackle is widely available, comes closer to lead tackle in price and fishers’ are confident it performs as good or better than their more familiar lead based stuff they will make the switch on their own. In the meantime, we can let them wrangle at the statehouse over something else while we all go fishing.

5). You Will Enjoy Fishing More-I started fishing lead free in 2011. And frankly, I am enjoying fishing more than I ever have before. When one learns about the dangers of lead there is really no turning back. The science is so compelling that no matter how hard one may try and ignore or deny it a little nugget of doubt will persist in the brain. I shudder to think of the number of jigs I have lost in 54 years of crappie fishing. I do not think 5,000 would be any exaggeration. The fact is anglers lose a lot of lead. And this lead is targeted to natural areas where fishers spend their time. The most conservative model shows that fishers lose at least two thousand tons of lead litter every year. That sounds like a lot and it is a lot especially when one considers an amount of lead the size of a grain of salt can toxify the body. That tonnage is dispersed into the ecosystem in the form of 500 million lead objects every year. That’s 150,000 tons of lead, 35 billion lead objects, scattered in our waters and on our shores since the 1940’s. All lead litter from fishing.

But not from me, not anymore. And that feels good.

Pathway to the Future: Dedication to the goal of reducing lead litter as one of a vast plethora of toxins contaminating our world need not provide impetus for an austere religion. There can be no judgement. Fishing time is too hard to come by and one of the finest virtues of a good fisher is stubbornness. When it comes to changing angler’s point of view it is best to coax than coerce. As more and more alternatives to lead become available the more the angling community will recognize the worthiness of a better way. In this one must keep in mind that patience and empathy are also virtues of a fisher.

On the other hand, I am not interested in bickering over whether the problem is “real”. There is a problem. Lead contamination from fishing litter is real, ongoing and detrimental. Lead is a neurotoxin, fishing concentrates lead litter in natural areas, wildlife is dying because of it. That is undeniable by the precepts of science and common sense. However, this problem is also 100% solvable. That too is undeniable. But we are not going to get there by forcing people into corners. And problem solving that begins in human empathy demands we go forward with patience one step at a time. Lead free fishing is a fledgling movement but it is growing. Still, we have a long way to go before we can fairly say we have all anglers covered in every way for every kind of fishing. And until we can provide an honest choice we cannot find fault in folks who still use some lead to get it done. Far be it from me or anyone to throw shade on the way a person was taught to fish. Because we are generally taught to fish by our loved ones, a Dad, a Granny, a friend. The lead-free fishing movement is not here to create division or defensiveness. But we are never going to give up and quit. Our numbers are growing rapidly as people seek to become agents of positive change. We are going to get the toxic out of the tackle box. Because the stakes are too high, the blight of lead litter from fishing too pervasive, the legacy created by leaving things the way they are too bleak.

So, I eagerly encourage anyone and everyone who loves the feel of a fishing stick in their hands to give lead free alternatives a try. Make them a part of your angling whenever they can be applied to your methods and strategies. I guarantee that you will get more out of your fishing five ways over.