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Fish Lead Free: Getting Out on the Ice!

It was a slow start to ice fishing season in Maine this year, but in February the ice fishing events were stacked so I decided to join in the fun and was out on the ice educating anglers about the benefits of lead-free fishing. Why?  Because lead poisoning in loons is one of the  leading causes of death for recovered loon mortalities throughout the state. As a result, Maine state law bans the use and sale of lead sinkers and unpainted lead jig heads weighing 1 ounce or less or measuring 2.5 inches long or less.

Maine Audubon's Laura Williams at Chaffin Pond
Maine Audubon’s Laura Williams at Trout Unlimited Sebago Chapter’s ice fishing event on Chaffin Pond on February 18.

But what I discovered surprised me. The number of anglers unaware that a lead tackle law exists in Maine was staggering. It can be complicated to keep up with the various fishing regulations throughout the state but the lead tackle restrictions apply statewide and sadly seem to be not that well known. With many anglers either getting their tackle from out of state sources or using older tackle passed down to them, it’s quite easy to end up with these illegal sizes in your tackle box.  (Tips on cleaning out your tackle box here!)

The biggest question of the weekend I got was: What does the paint on a lead jig do? In truth, not much besides making it seem like a safer option and adding a flash of color to attract fish. The reality is, this paint can chip off easily while bouncing around along lake bottoms or in your tackle box. Lead-free jig heads come unpainted or painted so if you’re looking for that flash of color you can still get it.

Between the two events this weekend, I was able to collect 135 pieces of lead tackle from anglers. Although the total weight of these items doesn’t seem like a lot at 1.7 pounds, 26.9 ounces, the most striking number to me is the 135 pieces of small lead tackle. That’s 135 less pieces of lead that could end up in our lakes and ponds; lessening the chances of these small lead tackle pieces ending up in a loon’s stomach. 

It was great to partner with some other organizations in the state to spread the word about fishing lead-free last weekend during Maine’s free fishing weekend. These ice-fishing events are a great place to meet anglers, collect lead tackle, and distribute lead-free tackle and information. Thanks to Trout Unlimited Sebago for hosting their ice fishing event on Chaffin Pond in Windham. And thanks to Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife’s Hooked on Fishing not on Drugs program along with Cast and Call Guides Services LLC for hosting a free ice fishing clinic on Lower Mousam in Shapleigh.

Remember to bring your old lead tackle with you if you are going to any of Maine’s three Sportsman Shows in March. Find me at the Maine Audubon booth and you can swap out your lead for some lead-free alternatives!


Eastern Maine Sportsmen’s Show
University of Maine Field House, Orono
March 10, 11, 12

Presque Isle Fish and Game Club Sportsman’s Show
University of Maine Gentile Building, Presque Isle
March 25-26

State of Maine Sportsman’s Show
Civic Center, Augusta
March 31- April 2