The Danger of Discarded Fishing Line

Photos and Article By Bill “Heywood” Howard


A few weeks ago I was fishing the south shore of Tampa Bay with my good friends Rik Llewellyn and Greg Becker and we were fishing opposite sides of a small mangrove island. I had just lost a pretty big snook which had taken my Zara Spook Jr. when Rik comes paddling around the far side right across where I had just lost this snook. As I yelled at him not to go across he just waved me off, “No Bill, you need to get over here. We have a rescue mission to perform”. What I saw made me sick. A pelican was hanging by its wing, completely tangled in fishing line. Upon further inspection we noticed a fish hook stuck in its beak also, so with a complete team effort (me holding the bird, Greg removing the hook and line and Rik cutting the line off its wing) we free’ d the bird from this death trap and released it. Unfortunately for a few others, we didn’t get there in time.

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“Sometimes people suck”, said Greg. I couldn’t agree more. We removed more line, as much as we could reach, to only find three more dead pelicans. The three of us pondered the outcome of our new friend, hoping he would regain his strength and fly off. Spending about half an hour removing more line, we could only speculate where it had all come from. The Skyway fishing pier, the largest in world would be my first guess. With the amount of fishing that takes place there, the large amount of bait that is attracted to the pier it wouldn’t surprise me that pelicans are getting hooked. While this is purely speculation on my part, I would guess that once hooked, instead of reeling the bird back up to the pier, anglers are just cutting the line and letting the bird fly away. Again, just speculation on my part. I do know that they have used fishing line collection points out there, but I guess anglers feel like they are doing the bird a favor by cutting the line and letting it fly away.

FishingLineReceptacle_zps0902dcc6So fast forward a few weeks, I’m fishing the last tournament of the’s Challenge Series. “Spooning the South shore”.  Anglers could only use two spoons provided by Aqua Dream Spoons. I paddled one mile to an area that I have been fishing and set about working the area with the spoons. Just before 9am, 8:45 to be exact I hook up with a really nice fish, I feel a couple of head shakes and then “Pop”. Leader is frayed, like someone hit it with a belt sander. So I cast my last spoon out and “BAM”, I get another hit. A little bit of drag runs out, then “SNAP”.  “What the @#$%!!!!!”  Another big fish chewed through my leader. And just like that I’m out, no more lures.

SO what does this have to do with dead birds and discarded fishing line? Well suddenly finding myself with some extra time on my hands, I went back to the bird island and what I found made me sick. Yet another Pelican hung up in the mangroves. Without my partners there for support, I covered up (I’m a bit of a germ-a-phobe) and headed in to try to get this bird unstuck. Just as I was climbing up in the tree, it popped free and landed in the water, where thankfully it flew off. I then went to work removing all the used fishing line from the entire island, well as much as I could reach. There was still a small amount that I couldn’t get to, but I got as much as I could. This small island has turned into a bird killing field; I found eight dead birds, mostly pelicans. And this isn’t counting the three we had found a few weeks back, one was banded and in an obvious spot.

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It wasn’t all bad though; this island is a roosting place with lots of nests and a variety of sea birds there.

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So the bottom line to all of this is this, discard you’re used fishing line in a recycle container if available, if not cut it up into small pieces so it cannot cause an entanglement trap. If you do hook a bird, DON’T cut the line and let it fly off. Capture the bird if possible, and remove it or call a rescue organization in your area. We owe it to the wildlife to do everything in our power to protect them from a slow and agonizing death.