Getting the lead out just got easier – and it’s the law

jigs ice fishing          Free fishing sinkers and jigs were handed around the table at the annual meeting of the Minnehonk Lake Association a couple weeks ago. I didn’t take any because I’ve already swapped out my lead sinkers and jigs for those that don’t kill loons and other critters.

If you haven’t gotten around to that yet, I’ve got good news. And you ought to be paying attention because larger lead sinkers and jigs will be illegal soon.

Maine’s Fish-Lead Free campaign is a partnership between Maine’s Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife, Maine Audubon, Maine B.A.S.S. Nation, Sportsman’s Alliance of Maine, and Maine Lakes Society. The campaign, over the next two years, plans to add at least 150 community groups to the effort. A website and social media campaign, informational material, and events will be part of the aggressive campaign. They also hope to establish 20 tackle exchanges throughout the state, with enough lead-free tackle for 2,000 anglers.

Of course, 2,000 anglers, while a good start on getting all of Maine’s fisher folk free of lead, falls far short of the 350,000 who fish in Maine. You will be lucky if you are able to grab some of these free lead-free sinkers and jigs, but it’ll be most likely up to you to rid yourself of lead.

And here’s why you should do that. YOU ARE FISHING WITH TOXIC WASTE!

I learned the hard way just how bad this can be when I tried to assist with the rescue of a loon that was struggling in the water directly behind my house. We made a mighty effort but that loon died of lead poisoning.

jigs lead free            And that’s why, after working to limit Maine’s 2002 lead ban to sinkers of one-half ounce or less, I testified last year in favor of a new more comprehensive law. The sinker that killed the loon behind my house weighed 5/8 of an ounce. I felt like I’d killed that loon myself.

The new law strengthened the ban on lead sinkers by including both the use and sale of lead sinkers and jigs. The new law bans the use and sale of lead sinkers up to one ounce and bare lead-headed jigs up to 2 ½ inches long. The ban on jigs is phased in. Sales are banned starting in September 2016 and use in September 2017.

The phase-in was a concession to bass anglers who initially opposed the bill, but stepped up to support it with the phase-in and the change that applies the ban only to bare-headed jigs.

It’s my hope that anglers won’t wait for the law to kick in. Susan Gallo, Audubon’s outstanding Maine Loon Project Director, reports that, “We collected as many loons that died from lead poisoning in the eleven years after the ban on small lead sinkers went into effect (in 2002), as during the eleven years before the ban.”

We’ll be killing loons and other critters for a long time, even after we stop using lead sinkers and jigs. Trust me, you don’t want to hold a dying loon in your arms, knowing your intransigence in getting lead out of your tackle box may have killed that wonderful bird.

Since 2002, most retailers have begun selling lead-free fishing gear including LL Bean, Kittery Trading Post, Cabela’s, and Dick’s.

“No one cares more about the environment than those who recreate or make their living in it,” says Steven Wilson, President of Maine B.A.S.S. Nation.

Let’s prove Steve right. It’s time, my fishing friends. Go lead free, today!


George Smith

About George Smith

George stepped down at the end of 2010 after 18 years as the executive director of the Sportsman’s Alliance of Maine to write full time. He writes a weekly editorial page column in the Kennebec Journal and Waterville Morning Sentinel, a weekly travel column in those same newspapers (with his wife Linda), monthly columns in The Maine Sportsman magazine, two outdoor news blogs (one on his website,, and one on the website of the Bangor Daily News), and special columns for many publications and newsletters. Islandport Press published a book of George's favorite columns, "A Life Lived Outdoors" in 2014. In 2014, George also won a Maine Press Association award for writing the state's bet sports blog. In 2016, Down East Books published George's book, Maine Sporting Camps, and Islandport Press published George and his wife Linda's travel book, Take It From ME, about their favorite Maine inns and restaurants.