The Plastic Problem
The issue of plastics in our environment has been highlighted significantly in the news during the last year. Ron Taylor looks at plastic within fly fishing and what we as anglers should be doing about the plastic problem…
As you are reading this you are probably already a fly angler and share a desire to improve our environment and to prevent pollution in all its forms. We are, of course, totally reliant on the condition of rivers, lakes and seas for our sport and the good health of the fish that live there. The environment is currently under threat in various ways, none more significant than the threat posed by plastic waste in numerous forms. I have seen many times, as most of you will have done, plastic bottles, bags and containers left on river banks, lake side’s and on the beach. The really troubling aspect of that is they could have been discarded by other anglers, but I prefer to think not.
The Plastic Problem
The media has been full of startling statistics of how much plastic is dumped in landfill, chucked in the sea and lobbed out of car windows each year to create havoc for humans, animals and fish alike. This is not the place to investigate the ways in which plastic is causing harm there are daily reports of that for all of us to read, see and hear. There is however, universal agreement from the Government to the public bars that progress must be made to substantially reduce and eventually bring an end to single use plastics. There are immediate steps that can be taken against obvious culprits causing indestructible plastic waste, for example glass bottles for plastic ones, card packaging for plastic, recyclable bags.
Plastic In Our Sport
The situation for fly anglers presents similar problems, which need to be addressed, not only by each of us but by the tackle manufacturers, dealers, in fact everyone connected with the sport. Some of those issues are relatively simple to solve others are far more complex and actually prejudice the fundamentals of the sport itself. Looking in my tackle bags reveals an array of plastic, which whatever I do is likely to be around long after I am casting a celestial fly. There are plastic fly boxes which I have resolved to stop acquiring and in future when I need additional storage I will buy wood, metal, leather or cloth boxes or pouches which will work perfectly well and can be safely disposed of when their useful life is over. My plastic boxes however, I will continue to use as I face a bigger problem in deciding how to dispose of them. They will last for hundreds if not thousands of years, apparently, if buried under ground. They shouldn’t be burned because the noxious substances given off can be even more hazardous. I shouldn’t break them into pieces as that converts the plastic into small sharp bits, which can cause all sorts of damage. Therefore the sensible thing to do is to continue to use them, as the safest place for them is to be full of flies in my bag or vest, till someone discovers a method of safe disposal; but in the meantime I won’t be buying anymore. I would urge you all to make the same decision and eventually there will not be any more manufactured.
Reels, Leader Spools And Nets
The use of plastic in the manufacture of fly reels is common place and can be avoided but the cost to the angler will no doubt be much higher if all cassette reels have aluminium spools, but so be it, the thought of the spools being around longer than my children’s, children’s children is horrifying.
Plastic landing nets, which protect fish and are odour free, seem a good idea but what threat do they pose to humans and the environment long term when we try to get rid of them. I think it makes more sense long term to use ordinary knotless nets and put up with a bit of a pong now and then in the car to remind us of a successful day. Tippets are another problem, most on plastic spools and with the capacity to survive for centuries, hopefully in very small lengths, as no well-informed angler would fail to cut them up before safely placing them in the bin.
Single Use Plastic
Opening the recent edition of my favourite monthly fly fishing magazine I realised I had a clump of single use plastic left in my hand. I feel sure it is unnecessary for fly fishing magazines to be wrapped in plastic; surely they can be posted to me in a large paper envelope. Virtually every magazine that arrives through the post is covered in the stuff and that thin piece of wrapper will be around for generations if publishers don’t address the matter and stop using it.
Most of the plastic used in packaging fly fishing products, as well as magazines, is totally unnecessary and manufacturers could source alternatives if they are given the incentive and with a little ingenuity. A really good incentive would be for us fly anglers to make it clear that if things don’t change we won’t buy products if they remain packaged in plastic. That is easier said than done and probably a little too confrontational, as it is very difficult to buy fly line that isn’t presented on a plastic spool. Of course the line on which we have all come to rely is coated in the offending product and therefore every line we buy is going to be still around somewhere when we are not. That presents a huge problem as plastic coated lines have almost become essential for modern fly fishing. We could advocate a return to silk lines, but that is completely unsupportable and is just not going to happen, or is it?
Eradicating The Plastic Problem
To have any chance of eradicating plastic completely from the sport we have to come up with an alternative or a practical method of destruction. The manufacturers must have this issue at the top of their agenda, as they can’t be oblivious to the problems of plastic disposal. I am aware that a company in Montana will recycle fly lines and make all sorts of handy little gadgets out of them. However this doesn’t solve the problem, it just puts it off; just like me continuing to use my fly boxes. One day the useful gadget needs to be destroyed and the same issues arise. The only answer is to find an alternative product, which is easily degradable, or one that can be destroyed without trace or threat. There is an organisation already promoting the safe destruction of fishing line run by some of our coarse fishing colleagues so moves are afoot. I wonder if the manufacturers could reuse the plastic coatings off old lines to make new ones, again this does not solve the problem just reduces the amount of new plastic being used and created. They might consider introduction of a returns policy, post free, which most of us would be pleased to cooperate with when a new line is required. That policy could remain in place till an alternative product is launched or the scientists come up with a suitable method of safe destruction.
Sourcing The Alternatives
Whatever happens to stop the reliance on plastic, something must, and I fear it is likely to take a considerable amount of time and the exercise of a considerable amount of expert grey matter. I suspect that any solution is likely to cost us more than we pay now for our tackle. I am also acutely aware of the significant profits that are generated from the production of plastic fly fishing equipment and any change may be regarded as a threat to those profits. We have to start somewhere and the sooner we do the better. I really do not need plastic to be used for the clips on my waders, the quick releases on my net, the clasps on my tackle bags or even my sunglasses; there are perfectly satisfactory alternatives?
We fly anglers have a role to play in this conundrum, I accept it is only a small one when considered against the World Wide crisis but that is not a reason to do nothing. We can start by looking in our own tackle bags and identifying all the plastic. We can resolve to reduce the amount we use, that in itself will be a step forward. The sooner we get to it the better and contribute to the progress that must be made to resolve this catastrophe. We owe it to future generations of fly anglers to face up to the current state of affairs, commence improvements and make progress towards a solution, no matter how difficult, controversial or insignificant our individual efforts may seem.
Over fifty years have elapsed since Ron first cast a fly and he remains as fascinated by the sport now, as he became then. A retired Solicitor, UKCC Level 2 Game Angling Instructor and a former contributor to Total Fly Fisher magazine. Ron has fly fished all over the world from Alaska to the Amazon, Vancouver Island to South Africa and Alberta to Australia and his home club Macclesfield Fly Fishers in Cheshire.