Texas Parks & Wildlife Magazine   


Get the Lead Out

By Larry D. Hodge

Anglers tackle lead-free sinkers and jigs.

To protect the health of the birds they are hunting, waterfowl hunters have changed from lead shot to steel, bismuth, tin and tungsten. Now environmentally conscious anglers may want to follow suit by using lead-free fishing sinkers and jigs.

Scientific studies have shown that lead poisoning from ingesting sinkers and jigs is a factor in the deaths of a small number of waterbirds, primarily loons. Birds can swallow lead tackle when feeding or getting gravel from the bottom of a lake or river to grind their food, and by eating fish that have swallowed lead sinkers or jigs. A single small lead sinker or lead-headed jig can be fatal to a bird. Symptoms of lead poisoning include loss of balance, inability to fly and decreased ability to feed, mate, nest and care for young. Weakened birds are more vulnerable to predators as well.

Three northern U.S. states have banned the use of lead sinkers and jigs below a specified weight, and Canada has prohibited the use of lead weights of less than 50 grams in national parks and wildlife refuges. But the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, after studying the problem, has not restricted their use in the United States.

Bass fishers are familiar with brass weights used in Carolina and Texas rigs. Weights and jigheads made of other nontoxic materials such as steel, bismuth, clay, tin, glass, rubber and tungsten are available from major retailers in the United States such as Bass Pro Shops and Cabela’s. Cabela’s claims that steel not only is economical but also outperforms lead because it retains its shape and has clean holes that will not cut fishing line.

“We know that waterfowl will ingest small lead fishing weights, just as they will ingest lead shot,” says Dick Luebke, research program director at TPWD’s Heart of the Hills Research Station in Ingram. “There is not enough data available now to justify a total ban of lead weights in Texas, but the way to look at it is, any heavy metal in the environment is not a good thing. Even if people are not required to use lead-free fishing weights, it’s a good thing to do.”

Anglers can do their part to reduce the amount of lead in the environment by switching to lead-free weights and jigs. Lead-free tackle is safer for youngsters to handle, too. Lead tackle should be disposed of at a recycling center or hazardous waste collection site. To learn more about the hazards of lead fishing tackle visit these Web sites: <www.moea.state.mn.us/reduce/sinkers.cfm> and <www.cws-scf.ec.gc.ca/fishing/alter_e.cfm>. Both sites contain contact information for United States sources of lead-free tackle.

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