Winter is the perfect time to clean out your tackle box of any unwanted or illegal lead tackle. You might start by cleaning out the illegal tackle: Maine bans the use and sale of lead sinkers and unpainted lead jig heads weighing 1 ounce or less and measuring 2.5 inches long or less. But since this ban only includes some of the lead tackle that is out there, you may want to take a closer look at what’s in your tackle box. Handling and fishing with any form of lead can pose health risks for us and the wildlife we love. Lead poisoning from lead tackle is the third highest cause of death in Maine’s loon mortalities, after trauma (from boat strikes) and fungal respiratory disease.
How do you know if your fishing tackle has lead in it? Lead looks dull and dark gray in color whereas lead-free alternatives have a shinier appearance. A quick and easy way to tell is try to write with it on a piece of paper. If it makes a mark, there’s lead in it! (Remember when pencils used to be made with lead?) Another sure way to tell is if you can make an indentation in the material with your fingernail or pliers. Lead is softer than other alternatives and can be easily molded—which is one of the reasons lead was originally used in tackle before we knew about its adverse health effects.
Lead is embedded in other types of fishing tackle as well and it can be challenging to know when your tackle contains lead. Lead weights are often enclosed in larger lures made of hard and soft plastics. The packaging of any tackle that contains lead is required to disclose that. Be sure to check tackle packaging before purchasing, especially when shopping online. When searching for lead-free tackle online be sure that there isn’t a Prop 65 warning (required under CA law)—that means your tackle will have some amount of lead in it.
Although the lead tackle ban does not include artificial lures, weighted line, weighted flies or painted jig heads, we recommend fishing entirely lead-free. There are many lead tackle alternatives, such as tungsten, bismuth, steel, tin, glass, stone, and metal composite, that are just as effective, although they each have slightly different properties that can take some getting used to. Tungsten is denser and harder than lead, which allows you to “feel” the bait more effectively, in turn allowing you to feel the bite more. Tin, bismuth, and steel alloys are lighter than lead and provide a more natural appearance and presentation. Steel and bismuth are harder than lead making them less likely to get hung up on rocks while angling.
If your tackle box is anything like mine, it’s a smorgasbord of tackle bought and collected over the years, along with tackle passed down to me from my father, uncle, and grandfather. If your tackle was purchased before 2010 the chances are quite high there’s lead in it. In addition, many other states do not have lead tackle bans in place, so if you have purchased tackle outside of Maine it could contain lead.
So cozy up next to the fireplace and dig in to your tackle box! Remove anything that you suspect is lead or has lead in it (even small amounts)—especially if it is within the illegal limits (weighing 1 ounce or less and measuring 2.5 inches long or less). You can drop off or mail your lead tackle to us at Maine Audubon or click here to find a list of other disposal sites. Or better yet, find us at one of Maine’s three Sportsman Shows coming up in March (dates below) to exchange your lead tackle for lead-free alternatives.
I will be collecting any and all unwanted lead tackle at the Orono, Presque Isle, and Augusta Sportsman Shows in March. Bring at least 1 ounce of unwanted lead tackle to exchange for some lead-free samples or vouchers for $10 worth of lead-free tackle at participating retailers. There are currently five retailers to choose from, but we hope to partner with other tackle shops at the shows so there can be a wider variety of lead-free tackle options for anglers.
Additionally, I will be collecting any old or unwanted lead tackle at some upcoming ice fishing derbies. Anglers need to bring at least 1 ounce of lead tackle to receive lead-free tackle samples in exchange. I will be at Trout Unlimited Sebago Chapter’s ice fishing event on Chaffin Pond on February 18. This event is already fully booked but if you’ve already secured your spot, be sure to bring any old lead tackle with you! I will also be collecting lead tackle at a free ice fishing clinic on Lower Mousam on February 19 hosted by MDIFW and Cast and Call Guide Services LLC. Spots are still available for registration. If you plan on attending another upcoming fishing derby or would like to host your own tackle exchange, please reach out to me at firstname.lastname@example.org so we can coordinate an exchange. Click here to see where we purchase our lead-free tackle.
SPRING SPORTSMEN’S SHOWS
Eastern Maine Sportsmen’s Show
University of Maine Field House, Orono
March 10, 11, 12
Presque Isle Fish and Game Club Sportsman’s Show
University of Maine Gentile Building, Presque Isle
State of Maine Sportsman Show
Civic Center, Augusta
March 31- April 2