Ed Engelman

Ed Engelman.com

Low Budget Fishing And Fly Tying

Getting the Lead Out!

22% of 202 Common Loons found dead in New England had swallowed lead objects, principally sinkers and jigs.   If you consider only the adult loons that were collected from fresh water, the percentage that died due to lead jumps to 57%.

These results suggest that lead exposure is a major mortality factor for Common Loons in Eastern North America.

Through experimenting with captive waterfowl it has been shown that a single dose of .3 grams of lead per bird will result in death. Lead sinkers and jigs generally weigh between .5 and 15 grams.  This means that the ingestion of even one small sinker can be fatal to a loon (Twiss, 1998).

Many non-toxic alternative sinkers and jigs are available. Currently there are alternatives on the market made out of bismuth, tin, stainless steel, tungsten, ceramic and natural granite.  The cost of the non-toxic alternatives is more expensive than current lead materials.  However for the budget minded fly tyer or jig tyer there are readily available inexpensive alternatives.

Short pieces of nails or threaded rod can be tied onto a hook to provide the desired weight for a jig.  Plastic coated steel wire, sold as paddle wire at craft shops, can be wound onto a hook to give it just the right amount of weight.

For fly tyers, the same paddle wire can be used in place of a bead head, or a lead dumbell.  Steel beaded chain (pull chain) has been used for years by fly tyers on Clouser minnows.  I have cut and used sections of brads (small finishing nails) to get those nymphs and streamers down to the big fish (such as on the olive leech shown above).   Old buttons can also be used to weight the heads of streamer and leech patterns.


New Hampshire enacted a bill, "prohibiting the sale of lead fishing sinkers andlead jigs in fresh waters of the state, relative to lead studies and reports, and establishing a lead education program concerning the effects of lead on loons and other water birds and wildlife."   This bill took effect on January 1, 2000.

In 1987  England and Wales passed a ban on lead fishing weights to protect swans.  The numbers of swans has increased since the ban on lead weights was issued.

Since the spring of 1997, it has been illegal to use lead fishing sinkers or jigs in Canada'snational parks and national wildlife areas .

Bans on the use of lead fishing weights are in effect at, Yellowstone National Park, Redrocks Lake National Wildlife Refugee, and the National Elk Refugee in the US.


It is up to sportsmen and women like you, to help get the lead out.

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