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Paddling Articles In the Same Boat

Our Readers Write

Disentangling the Deadly Web —
What Paddlers Are Doing About Monofilament

May 29, 2007

Spring has come to Canoe Country. In fact, it's come and gone. Summer's well and truly begun. The last time "Our Readers Write" aired, snow was drifting deep outside our windows and paddling wasn't an option — not without an icebreaker, at any rate! Still, we kept busy: writing, planning trips, and working out, not to mention trying to solve the mystery of the "Adirondack Wheel." Truth to tell, the latter remains a bit of a puzzle, but many readers helped us get closer to the solution. Thanks to them, the fog is lifting.

That was then. Five months have passed. January's ice and snow are only memories now, and we're exploring our home waters once again. But there's a downside. Every year the piles of trash in the backcountry seem to grow larger, and monofilament is a big part of the problem. Tamia wrote a column about it not too long ago ("A Tangled Web"). We didn't really expect much response from readers. Who wants to talk about garbage, after all? That's not why folks go paddling, is it? But we were in for a surprise. A BIG surprise. We got mail. A lot of mail. In fact, we haven't gotten so many letters around a single column since the first "One Foot in the Grave." Clearly, Tamia's article hit a hot button. So once again, "Our Readers Write" is devoted entirely to what you had to say about a single topic, in this case the monofilament problem — and what you're doing about it, both in your home waters and "abroad." We learned a lot, and we're betting others will, too. Happily, this is one tangle we can tackle!

— Tamia Nelson and Farwell Forrest, In the Same Boat

The Problem —
A Picture's Worth a Thousand Words

A Tangled Web, Indeed

Homer, Alaska; July 4, 2003

Dear Tamia,

Your article struck a nerve. Here's a picture of a pile of monofilament that I collected around just half of the fishing pond in Homer, Alaska, on July 4th, 2003 (that's a 55-gallon drum in the background). My back was killing me or the pile would be twice as big. I commented on the mess to a woman, who blamed it on "Outsiders." I questioned why Outsiders would spend thousands of dollars to get to Alaska and then fish in a pond. Besides, I was an Outsider, and I was the one who was cleaning it up. The woman then admitted that she and her husband first moved to Homer a year prior, and conveniently shifted the blame on to the Natives, who, she confided, "have a drinking problem." I think my eyebrows must have hit my receding hairline at this point, and I explained to the woman how the Natives in Quinhagak had put us up for two nights when our plane couldn't fly in. At that point it was apparent she wanted to discontinue the discussion, so I walked away.

I guess if you don't want to take responsibility, you fix blame.

Richard A. Janke

Later, Richard followed up his first letter with this …

I should also mention experiences like seeing a loon with monofilament trailing from its mouth, unable to call but emitting a pained squeak, and a small gull impaled through its bill, trailing line, sinker, and bobber. In both cases, the birds probably pursued bait. And there was the young goose, with line so tightly wrapped around its leg that it was gangrenous, being comforted by a young boy. The gull was captured, untangled, and released. The goose went to a bird rehabilitator. The loon probably perished. We can't eliminate the loon's and gull's instinctive urge to snatch at the fishermen's bait, but we sure can help reduce the monofilament snares that cause such slow and painful deaths for whatever creatures they trap.

Thanks for your efforts. I'm sure most people just don't realize the extent of this problem and need to "see" it. Maybe the people of Homer will pay a little more attention to this — I'd hate to see one of their eagles so entangled.

• • •

Tamia replies:

Your photograph speaks volumes, Richard. That's a big pile of monofilament you collected. If we all followed your example, the backcountry would certainly be a healthier place.

And One Solution —
Monofilament Disposal Tubes in Florida

Dear Tamia,

This past January, we were privileged to spend the month at an RV park on the edge of small Lake Josephine near Sebring, Florida. We paddled up to a launch ramp and noticed something I had not seen before — a piece of PVC pipe affixed with a sign saying that it was for the disposing of fishing line. I subsequently noticed another similar setup elsewhere in Florida; I think it was down in the Keys. While it really is a simple matter to just take old line home to the garbage can, I thought that at the very least the pipe setup would serve as a poignant reminder to folks not to discard their line in the water.

Thanks for your article.

Gerry Bauder

• • •

Tamia replies:

Sure looks like a good idea to me, Gerry. And the news is spreading fast. Check out the next letter.

More Florida Cleanup Efforts

Dear Tamia,

Nice article. We spend a lot of time on the water here in Florida cutting monofilament out of the mangroves. Since the weather is great all year round, we have lots of people fishing almost every day of the year. It's really amazing how much line is in the trees along with fishhooks, fishing lures, etc. We carry scissors, a knife, and a plastic juice bottle (to put the line in) with us on every paddling trip.

Each year Audubon and Tampa Bay Watch sponsor a mono cleanup day. We always participate and clean the same two or three islands in Tampa Bay every year. If you'd like more info, you'll find it on the Bay Watch website under " Mono Cleanup."

Tampa Bay Watch has now started installing mono tubes on fishing piers and at boat ramps to give folks a place to safely discard their used mono. The program seems to be working pretty well.

Bob Minthorn
Tampa Bay Sea Kayakers
Gibsonton, Florida

Later, Bob sent these photos and a description of cleanup efforts in Tampa Bay …

Tampa Bay Cleanup Triptych

The three photos above show my wife and me arriving at Whiskey Stump Key in Tampa Bay. (If I knew they were taking my picture I would have looked at the camera. My wife is always more photogenic anyway with her pink Explorer.) The second and third photos were taken on Green Key (also in Tampa Bay) a few days later. A local bait shop has a monofilament recycling station. We have to remove leaders, hooks, etc., and separate out any braided line before they will accept it. We normally do our cleanups at low tide so we can get out of the boats and reach higher in the mangroves.

A Bucket of Monofilament

The picture above is of a partially filled bucket, and shows about how much line we usually get in two to three hours. If we just cleaned up line, we could probably fill the bucket in a single day, depending on the site. We normally fill the bucket about every three to four paddles.

Monofilament Recycling Tube

Tampa Bay Watch has installed mono pipes at a number of the fishing piers in the area. This one is located at Williams Park at the mouth of the Alafia River. Since it's fairly close to our house, we've volunteered to maintain this pipe. We clean it out every two weeks.

• • •

Tamia replies:

Great program, Bob, and an inspiration to us all. Monofilament collection tubes are just starting to show up in Canoe Country now. I hope the trend continues.

Putting a Little Back by Taking Away "Something Extra"

Dear Tamia,

I just read your latest article and it struck a chord with me. I can relate to your granddad's loathing of "slobs," although I don't take it quite as far as he did. I DO teach my kids to keep their own trash policed up when we're out, and to take "something extra" in the form of someone else's leavings to the trash.

Most of my paddling is on small lakes in a few state parks that are close to home here in Pennsylvania. I haven't been out a single time that I didn't find trees festooned with tangles of fishing line. I make it a habit to bring at least some of it back with me on every outing. I know I can't get it all, but I do what I can. At the very least, I use the knife that lives on my PFD to cut off the dangling ends as high as I can reach. I usually come back from each outing with a softball-sized rat's nest of old monofilament to put in the trash. It also affords me a chance to supplement my own tackle box with a few more bobbers and weights in the process.

I enjoy your articles and look forward to each week's edition.

Keep up the good work,

Tim Lehman

Later, Tim added this …

I just wanted to mention that your column has been a big motivating factor for me to get (re)involved in outdoor activities in general and paddling in particular. I hadn't done any camping (other than the military type) in 15 years or so and I had NEVER been in a kayak. Now I build and paddle my own boats.

A lot of your writing has revived fieldcraft lessons learned a long time ago in my Boy Scout days. I've also picked up a lot of useful information about paddling technique and strategy. I enjoy reading about the "grand adventures" that you and Farwell go on. Most of my paddling trips are day trips or the spontaneous type. You know what I mean, I'm sure. It's a beautiful afternoon and I just got off work, so I grab the boat and gear bag (similar to your Getaway Pack, but it holds my PFD, miscellaneous gear, and paddle), drive to the nearest creek, and paddle for an hour or so. I have a dream of doing a Big Trip one day. It's one of the things that I ponder and plan during the winter months. Looking over maps, making up gear and supply lists; you know the routine. If it materializes, I'll send you the story.

Thanks again to both of you for all the great stories.

• • •

Tamia replies:

Thanks for the kind words, Tim. And thanks, too, for telling us about teaching your kids to do that "something extra." You're an example to paddling parents everywhere. By the way, most of our "grand adventures" are just like yours: day trips and weekenders near home. Big Trips are great — and we look forward to hearing about yours! — but miniature adventures can be every bit as enjoyable. (Plus, you can still get to work on Monday.)

Marine Mammals and Monofilament

Dear Tamia,

You wrote a good article. Something I could add is that I paddled on Monterey Bay, California, quite a bit. I think the saddest thing I saw was a young sea lion, its neck cut open by line that it probably was caught in as a pup. By the time I saw the animal, it was clearly doomed. The line had cut a solid two inches into the open flesh in a perfect circle. Even though I had a knife, there was no way to approach a 300- to 400-pound animal in such a condition to perform a rescue. [In fact, it would have been illegal to try, as well as very dangerous. -Ed.] Even if the animal realized I was trying to help, extricating the line from the wound would most likely have created additional health problems that could only be treated at a rescue facility (there is a sea lion rehab center in nearby Santa Cruz, but I had no way to contact them at the time). It was a pathetic sight, and the pain the animal was experiencing was clearly visible in its eyes and movements: sea lions move with an easy grace that this animal could not duplicate since every head motion caused obvious pain.

I did contact the Marine Mammal Center later, but have no idea whether they were able to rescue the animal since they did not report back to me.

Thanks for the article. I hope it will open some eyes.

Rick Donnelly

• • •

Tamia replies:

A sad story, Rick, and one that's repeated again and again. Still, you did what you could. Contacting the Coast Guard, the Harbor Patrol, a rehabilitation facility, or state wildlife officials and telling them where an injured marine animal was sighted can sometimes turn things around, even in seemingly hopeless cases. It's always worth trying.

It's a World-Wide Tangled Web —
A Letter from Down Under

Hello, Tamia!

Just wanted to thank you for raising the issue of discarded fishing line. I live close to the Nepean River, 38 miles west of Sydney, Australia, and so I often see the misery this causes to wildlife. I kayak on the river regularly, but the problem is most noticeable when I walk my dogs along the banks. The common thread (no pun intended) with anglers that leave behind their tangled line is that they will more often than not leave behind food wrappings, drink containers, and, sadly, fish that they didn't want in the first place.

I have challenged these morons on occasion only to be abused or get the usual response: "It's not ours." The only problem with your article is that it probably won't reach those that need to get the message.

Thanks again.


Garry Champion

• • •

Tamia replies:

As your letter makes crystal clear, Garry, the trashing of the backcountry is a global problem. And yes, you're right, columns like In the Same Boat mostly preach to the already converted. (None of our readers are slobs, right? Right!) Still, the response I got to my original article encouraged ME to spend a little more time cleaning up my home waters, so at least one person got the message.

When Izaak Walton addressed his secular hymn in praise of the "Contemplative Man's Recreation" to the "Honest Angler," he didn't have to worry about monofilament tangles. But a lot has changed since 1653, and today's honest anglers readily acknowledge the inconvenient truth that their gentle art can do deadly harm to far more than fish. Luckily, much can also be done to limit the damage, and since so many anglers are also paddlers, we're well placed to address the problem. The letters reprinted above point the way. The rest is up to us.

As always, our heartfelt thanks go out to everyone who took the time to drop us a line. Keep it up. After all, it's "Our Readers Write." And a special thank-you to every paddler who works hard to make the places we all love a little safer and more beautiful!

Now here's the fine print: We'll assume that it's OK to reprint any letter you send us, unless you tell us otherwise. (Just put "Not for Publication" at the head of your letter.) We will never put your e-mail address online unless you specifically ask us to, however. Letters may also be edited for length and clarity, and we'll add links to articles or other resources wherever and whenever appropriate.

Copyright 2007 by Verloren Hoop Productions. All rights reserved.

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