We all could be better towards our environment. And being more eco-friendly doesn’t have to be as expensive as buying an electric car or as time consuming as collecting trash on the side of a road. Every fisherman can take some simple steps to be better towards the bodies of water we fish and the fish that live in them.
Below are five important steps we can all take on our next trip to the lake to make sure fishing thrives for years to come. They are all either cheap or free as well, don’t take extra time, and are easy to implement. So please consider implementing at least a few.
Carry out what you carry in
This is maybe the most common sense approach that I hope you are already incorporating in your fishing – but looking at a few local ponds obviously not everyone has learned it.
Do not leave anything at the lake when you go fishing. Beer bottles, discarded soft plastics, worm bags, bait containers, etc. I know that it’s easier to just leave it but you’re doing much more than just littering.
First, property owners don’t want to pick up your trash. If you want a sure fire way to make lakes and ponds private – it’s leaving your garbage for someone else to pick up. Generally most people don’t care if you fish a lake or private pond if you leave it exactly how you left it. Or better yet, even clean up after some of the litterers who came before you.
But it’s also harmful to the environment. Plastics contain toxins that leach into water supplies over time and never fully degrade after hundreds of years. Animals can choke on soft plastics and die from an inability to pass them. Other animals can get entangled or trapped in discarded plastic packaging which has fatal consequences if they can’t get untangled.
So if you want to be able to fish at your local holes in the future and keep the wildlife around them healthy – don’t litter. Better yet – carry a trash bag in your tackle box or backpack with gloves so you can pick up trash to keep your fishery thriving. The landowners and wildlife will thank you for it.
Encourage or build a fishing line receptacle
Maybe you even want to go a step further and try to encourage other fisherman not to leave their trash at a lake. In that case, this tip is just for you.
A trash can near the water can be an eyesore and hard to maintain. But a fishing line receptacle is a smaller, easy to build depository that can be helpful for fisherman and encourage safe disposal of plastic fishing line.
The example below is taken from a local pond and shows how simple and cheap a fishing line receptacle can actually be. Just a couple pieces of PVC pipes put together with a bracket to hold it onto something – even a tree!
Fishing line is perhaps the easiest thing for a fisherman to litter. When the line gets pulled off of a reel, it’s hard to keep and throw away later. It seems small and insignificant, but can be a real hazard to all forms of wildlife. From birds getting it caught around them to fish swallowing and swimming with it – it can be dangerous. And like all plastics, most fishing lines leach over time and don’t decompose even after hundreds of years.
So building a very simple fishing line receptacle or encouraging your lake or property owners to install them at various locations can be a great eco-friendly move to keep fishing line out of nature and into the trash where it belongs.
Follow catch limits and other regulations
But there is much more than just not littering you can do to be eco-friendly as a fisherman. One of them is just as simple as following your state or lake owners catch limits and regulations.
Often, you can only harvest (keep) a certain number of fish from any fishery. And they need to be within a certain size limit as well.
Abiding by these regulations is important for a few reasons. First, you can only take away so many fish from a fishery before they can’t reproduce themselves. Maintaining a healthy population of all types of fish is really important. You want to leave a population for other fishermen to enjoy. But all other forms of wildlife depend on fish as well for survival.
A great example is the overharvesting of predator species like bass. If bass levels in a lake drop significantly due to over-harvesting it’s very likely the prey they feed on (like bluegill) will raise significantly. This sounds great for bluegill and bluegill fisherman, but it actually isn’t.
Bluegill feed on insects, zooplankton, and other smaller organisms. The number of bluegill may grow because they aren’t being eaten by bass, but the insects, plankton, etc. are not growing. So bluegill end up starving or not growing significantly. As they get bigger there just isn’t enough food to sustain them, so they die. You end up with a lake overpopulated with small fish no one wants to catch, and nothing grows larger.
Then all of the species (like humans) that need larger fish to feed on are left starving as well. No eagle wants to feed on small bluegill – they want nice big fish to eat. So by overharvesting one species of fish you have thrown the whole ecosystem of the lake out of balance and hurt every animal that depends on it. And made the fishing awful in the process.
So adhering to catch limitations is important, but so is adhering to slot limits. Slot limits generally mandate that you can only take out fish that are between certain lengths or weights. This is usually to ensure that a fishery keeps a healthy range of fish in it.
Like mentioned above, every fishery needs a healthy balance of small fish and larger fish to sustain the entire ecosystem so that everything has something it can feed on. Slot limits are designed to make sure fish from one size range are not the only fish removed resulting in a gap in the food chain.
They often also regulate the number of fish that can be harvested which are of good age for reproduction. The fish in the lake producing more fish is another extremely important facet of making sure fishing stays possible for future generations – so adhering to the slot limit is extremely important.
Usually, these regulations come with a hefty fine as well if you don’t abide by them. You may even lose your license and all ability to fish after several violations. So if you don’t do it to help the ecosystem, do it to help your wallet.
Catch & Release
Maybe you want to step up from adhering to limits and regulations and only practice catch and release. That’s what I do and I suggest you do too if you really want to help the ecosystem and future fishermen as well!
Fisheries are usually really great at maintaining themselves when there is no human interference. If you go to most any farm pond – you will probably see this for yourself. You can catch dozens of bass under 2 pounds but then every now and then you’ll get a real giant. Or you will catch hundreds of perch with a few large bluegill.
Even the smallest of ponds have the ability to obtain a varied ecosystem with multiple fish species and great food sources to maintain a healthy, natural balance. So why get in the way of that?
Fish are a delicacy and there is something special in the taste of fresh caught fish. So I am not judging anyone who eats fish (within regulations) that they catch. But it’s extremely helpful to the environment and fishing as a whole to adhere to CPR (catch, photograph, release) whenever possible.
Frankly, we have gotten a lot better at fishing over the last few decades than any time in human history. We have electronics to locate fish in 50 feet of water. We have more bait options, specialized equipment, rods, lines, you name it.
We are almost too good at catching fish. If we wanted to, we could overharvest fish within a few years from most lakes. Given this unfair advantage we have over the natural ecosystem – it becomes really easy to overfish even with regulations and slot limits in place.
So if you already have a freezer full of fish and want to leave your fishery more healthy for wildlife and future anglers alike, please do consider releasing all of the fish you catch.
Use barbless hooks
Finally, here is my last practice to be more eco-friendly and humane to the fish you are catching. And that is to use barbless hooks.
If you ever look at a hook closely, you are likely to see a small triangular shaped metal piece near the point of the hook. This is called a barb. The purpose of a barb is to hold a hook in place after it has penetrated a fish’s mouth.
When you hook a fish, there is nothing beside the barb of a hook and the pressure of the fishing line that keeps a hook from falling back out of the hole it just created. And if you’ve fought a particularly aggressive fish, you know how hard it can be to keep tension on the line at all times.
So barbs are really great at making sure you catch every fish that you hook – but they are more dangerous for the fish you are catching.
Think of it this way. When you hook a fish with a barbed hook, you are essentially making two holes. One when you catch the fish, one when you are taking the hook out. So if you care simply about inflicting the minimal amount of pain on a fish as possible, a barbless hook is a good way to do this.
But the major concern is what the larger hole left in a fish because of a barbed hook can do. Infection can spread more easily into a fish’s mouth with a larger hole. Eating can also become problematic if a larger hole is left in a fish’s mouth and it doesn’t heal correctly or quickly.
Then finally, you don’t always hook a fish in the mouth. If you don’t feel a bite or aren’t paying attention, a hook can very quickly go down a fish’s throat. Which sounds great for catching a fish, but is often deadly from the fish’s perspective when you get it back out. A barbless hook is much easier to retrieve from a fish that has swallowed a hook than a barbed one. Very often a fish that has swallowed a barbed hook is dead.
So you are giving up the benefit of knowing that a fish you hook is unlikely to come off when using a barbed hook. But if you want to be more eco-friendly and humane to the fish you’re catching, consider using a barbless hook. You will lose more fish, but it also makes the fight even more exciting. The ability to lose a fish at any time makes the ones you catch even sweeter.
If you are very concerned with losing fish, try out these hooks from Owner which are barbless but designed to hold onto fish for longer.
Above are 5 great ways you can be a more eco-friendly fisherman starting today. All are free or cheap and great ways to show some love to nature and the environment that give us so much enjoyment. I love fishing and I want to make sure that it’s around for my children and their children. Even the smallest of eco-friendly practices can help make sure that happens.