This column is intended as a thank-you to the B.A.S.S. Federation Nation state conservation directors out there who have recognized the need for us to be better stewards of our fisheries and are doing something about it.
These guys and gals are volunteers with families, jobs, and other responsibilities, but they are taking the time to make a difference.
I’m speaking specifically of their dedication to educate and involve anglers in properly disposing of used plastic baits, or, even better, recycling them.
Ray Scott did a great thing when he extolled the virtues of catch-and-release decades ago. Millions of anglers bought into the idea, and, as a result, both the face and the nature of sport fishing were changed for the better.
But we’ve ridden that tailwind long enough. It’s time to do more for conservation, especially in light of growing anti-fishing sentiment in our increasingly urban society. When we don’t take responsibility for maintaining a positive public image, we allow others control of our destiny --- and that’s not good.
Why target used plastic baits? Here’s why:
At Florida’s recent Junior State Championship on Lake Okeechobee, Cody Bigford of the Lakeland Junior Bassmasters turned in 130 pounds of baits that he had collected from various events in his area. That’s one person, in one town, accumulating more than 6,000 used baits.
Now, think nationally and you easily can see the massive quantity of used baits that millions of anglers discard annually.
Too many of those are being tossed into lakes and rivers or discarded along shorelines. Anecdotal evidence suggests that some bass eat those baits and, as a result, suffer intestinal blockages, which leads to death by starvation.
The real problem with trashing our waters with used baits, though, is that it’s irresponsible, plain and simple. Leaving trash of any kind behind is wrong --- even if it is at the bottom of a lake.
But Cody and others are spreading awareness and building a new ethic worthy of the Ray Scott legacy. Of course, in the early going, incentives help.
In Illinois, Allen Severance staged a plastic baits weigh-in at the end of a tournament. The challenge, he said, “was finding a way to convince anglers to participate.”
He did that by convincing Bass Pro Shops to donate gift cards for the winning clubs.
Michigan’s Jarrod Sherwood tried something similar for his state’s championship tournament. He spread the word as early as possible that prizes would be given to the clubs that turned in the most baits. “I am sure the clubs have been ‘cheating’ and collecting baits throughout the year,” he said.
“Our course, that was the point of letting them know ahead of time.”
Wisconsin’s Ken Snow said, “Our guys really like the idea (of turning in used plastic baits). Our youth director, Jessie Heineke, took the baits to melt down and recycle into some hand-poured baits.”
South Dakota’s Jeff Brown added, “Our anglers are pitching in and getting the hang of keeping their plastics that they typically discard. We hand out plastic bags for lure collection prior to the tournament and have a receptacle at the weigh-in for used baits.
Brown also said that he has “worked out a deal” with Minnesota’s Mickey Goetting, who is also the owner of MG Lures. “He specializes in hand-poured lures and has agreed to re-manufacture the baits into something our youth program can sell.”
Adopting the name “ReBaits,” Florida’s Eamon Bolten was the first to envision a program in which used baits could be turned into new baits. Ideally, he would like to see it go national as a coordinated project, with conservation directors collecting and sending in used baits. Proceeds from sales of new baits would go to conservation.
But logistics of such a large-scale undertaking have yet to be worked out. Right now, he has contracted with one company, Reel-Feel Baits, to melt old baits into new. He then gives those baits to those who turned in used plastics.
“Maybe eventually we will sell them,” he said.
Meanwhile, he is encouraged by what he sees happening nationally, not only with other conservation directors but with anglers in general.
“People are starting programs all over the country,” he said. “Some are even using the ReBaits name.
“We’re getting the message across and keeping baits out of landfills and fisheries.”
(Reprinted from B.A.S.S. Times.)