Rubber worms are killing our fish!

rubber wormsThe message from my friend Henry Whittemore was alarming. “Rubber baits are killing both our wild and hatchery fish.   We need to convince Maine IF&W to regulate the use of rubber baits on our lakes, ponds, rivers and streams.  And, we should convince the manufacturers of those baits to begin to make them from biodegradable/ digestible/ nutritive-to-fish materials.  As it stands now, the fish in our Maine waters are unwittingly – and tragically – becoming vacuum cleaners, hoovering up fishermen’s throw-aways or ingesting rubber baits when nibbling but not becoming hooked.  The baits are indigestible and subject the unsuspecting consumers to a long, slow starvation process, completely clogging their intestines.”

Today I’ll share Henry’s story with you, and tomorrow I’ll tell you about the last unsuccessful effort at the legislature to address this problem. In part three of this series, I’ll give you information that a fisheries researcher shared with me, and in part four I’ll share the testimony of the American Sport Fishing Association in opposition to the legislation to ban rubber lures. Finally, on Friday, I’ll tell you about a troubling report from Maine’s Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife.

Henry’s Story

I fished Grand Lake Stream last Sunday from about noon until nearly 8:00 PM.  Never took a break.  Caught 29 fish – all Landlocked Salmon.  Mostly on dries (Hendricksons) and a few on nymphs or emergers.  But the fish were all looking up and definitely keying in to what I was offering.  It was one of those times when other fishermen shake their heads in disbelief.  Right place, right time.

I finally left the stream to catch a late dinner, a beer and early bed for Monday morning’s fishing.  I caught eight more beautiful salmon the next morning before getting into my car to head home.  I have never killed a fish at GLS before Monday morning.  However, we always like fresh fish, and there was something about an 18-incher that said to me that fish is not quite “right”.  It was very racy: springtime lean, not yet fattened up from the mayflies, stoneflies, caddisflies and other aquatic invertebrates that are so abundant in GLS.

I brought the fish back to Weatherby’s, cleaned it, inspected the gut and found – to my horror and disgust – a 6-inch rubber worm about 5/8” in diameter completely filling the salmon’s gut.  I actually am still in disbelief that the fish (which was gorged-full) even swiped at my nymph.  But it must have been hungry, seeking some much-needed nutrition.

Can we talk about this sometime?  Whom should I contact at IF&W?  Is there any chance that Maine’s fishing regulations can be adjusted to attempt to control this?  And, more importantly, is there any hope that manufacturers of such baits could make them from materials that could be digestible, biodegradable, even nutritive?  I believe corn starch, brewery waste and other such materials might be able to be adapted to such a purpose.

Have you run into this before?  I think the situation is analogous to the lead sinkers/ lead shot concerns that have such devastating impacts on loon and other diving duck populations.  Is there a chance that salmonids and bass could become similarly appealing to the public and successful in leveraging a change in the rubber bait regulations and industry?

Anyway, please look at this photo of the salmon I killed (before it died from starvation…).  This was taken on the canal-side of the Dam Pool this past Monday morning.

Well, if you’ve read this far, thanks for your interest!  I hope there is some meaningful change we can effect.


Tomorrow tell you about the unsuccessful effort at the legislature to address this problem.

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.