"Harmful" Soft Plastic Baits?

Posted by Ayne St Martin on

“There’s no excuse for throwing anything in the water that isn’t going to break down immediately. A crusty sandwich is one thing, but old plastics, fishing line or any tackle should be carried to shore at the end of the day. I encourage you to share this information with other fishermen and convince them to keep damaged plastics in their boats until they get to land where it can be disposed of properly. We have to lead by example.”

Kevin VanDam


Lizards, creatures, worms, grubs, flukes, tubes, crawlers, toads, and sticks are all great lures and have their place in our sport and in our tackle boxes. They come in every conceivable color, size, and resemble most swimming, crawling and flying creature a fish could imagine eating. In addition, their texture and action make them irresistible to fish.

Soft plastic baits are relatively inexpensive and can withstand repetitive use.


How can something this good be “harmful”? Well, it’s like most anything that, if abused, it can be detrimental. In the case of soft plastic baits, it’s potentially harmful to fish if these types of baits are improperly discarded.


In the act of changing to different soft plastic bait, or when worn bait is replaced, it’s easy to just pitch the old bait, or pieces of it, into the water. This seemingly innocent action has significant consequences.


When thrown overboard, soft plastic baits are consumed by fish. Not so surprising, this is how they are caught. The difference is, when there is a hook involved, the bait and hook are removed after the fish is landed. When discarded into the water, soft plastic baits are totally consumed by fish, and, according to an experiment conducted at Unity College “…fish retained the lures in their stomachs for 13 weeks without regurgitating them,” according to Dr. Danner. “They also began to act anorexic and lost weight within 90 days of eating a soft plastic lure.” A report on the project was published in the Northern American Journal of Fisheries Management. It is available at afs.allenpress.com/perlserv/


Without regard to the chemical toxicity of ingested soft plastics, the fact that these lures are occupying space in a fish’s stomach limits the amount of space available for natural food. There is a lot of veterinary medical evidence that foreign bodies in the digestive tract cause ulcers, weight loss and anorexia.

In the last 20 years, food mimics made of soft plastic have begun to compete with these nutritious natural forage items. The effects of soft plastic lure pollution on freshwater ecosystems are not well understood yet, but it is unlikely that eating soft plastic lures will be found to be a good thing.

“The wide assortment of soft plastic fishing lures is staggering,” Dr. Danner said. “Soft plastic lures come in every color, a myriad of sizes, and resembling every swimming, crawling and flying creature a fish could imagine eating. Large fish searching the waters are bound to come upon brightly colored soft plastic lures lost or discarded by anglers and consume these imitators of natural food items.”

There are estimates that as much as 20 million pounds of soft plastic are being lost in freshwater lakes and streams annually in the U.S. The average life expectancy for these soft plastic lures is more than 200 years.

Lastly, discarding soft plastic baits in the water is plain and simple littering.


We need to continue our vigilance and maintain our high standards of sportsmanship and conservation. These are the principles upon which the sport of fishing was founded.

Each of us should:

  • Look into using biodegradable baits.
  • Use a trash receptacle also for worn, or used soft plastic baits.
  • Properly dispose of used or remnants of fishing line and other potentially harmful items that would be detrimental to our fish and to the waters we share.


Jim Cardillo,



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