In a world where environmental catastrophes happen all too often, it would be easy to dismiss as insignificant the footprints we anglers leave every time we go to the water.
Our footprint is not just the mark in the mud or snow. The gasoline we burn, the litter we leave, the fish we harvest, the lures we lose and probably a dozen other deeds we do are footprints every bit as real as the outline of our shoes in the earth below our feet.
They pile up to affect our air and water and our flora and fauna. Eventually, our footprints will obscure the beauty and bounty.
So what’s an angler to do? How do we avoid trampling the environment?
We begin by paying attention to details – the big things and the little. It may not seem significant if your sandwich wrapper blows into the lake, but can you imagine if everyone on the water that day let their paper fly?
What do you do with your soda cans, water bottles, chip bags and bait containers? Judging by the trash I see on local causeways, I’d say lots of people are OK with just leaving that stuff on the bank.
If you smoke, do you toss the butts in the lake? When you blow your nose, does the tissue go in your pocket or ride the wind?
Sometimes, litterbugs aren’t deliberate. They aren’t necessarily bad people who care not about the next angler to visit the lake. Many, I suspect, simply are not aware of the damage they are doing.
Consider the boater who goes to the lake with an outboard motor that needs a tune-up. Who cares, right? It’s no big deal if the motor is spewing blue smoke and spitting unburned fuel out the exhaust port, is it?
Tell that to the fish that swim in your lake and the people who drink that water. Ask them if they are OK with you lugging out the Evinrude your grandfather bought in 1958.
Have you ever caught a fish and discovered it was gut-hooked? Did you carefully extract the hook or snip the line to free the fish? Or did you yank the hook and pull the fish’s stomach into its throat?
How many of us have released a mortally wounded fish when the right thing to do would have been to make sure someone made it into a meal?
Conservationists counsel us to reduce, re-use and recycle.
Have you ever kept more fish than your legal limit? Those who do are leaving too big of a footprint.
Have you ever tossed a pop can in the barrel at the launch ramp instead of taking it home to your recycling bin? You have a recycling bin at home, right?
Have you discarded a perfectly usable plastic worm in favor of a fresh bait? We all are tempted by the seemingly endless supply that a 100-pack of plastics promises.
Here’s one I recently caught myself doing: I tossed a torn plastic bait into the lake instead of stashing it in the boat for proper disposal at home.
And what happens to all of that fishing line we replace each year? I consume no fewer than 1,000 yards a year myself. Tens of thousands of miles of anglers’ used line ends up in landfills and – worse – streams, lakes and trails where birds, mammals, fish and reptiles get tangled, maimed and killed.
Those are mighty big feet we take to the water. But by being aware and doing what is right, we can do something to keep from trampling our planet.
Next week: Details for properly discarding fishing line and used plastic worms.