Fishing With Soft Plastics

Soft Plastic Baits

All of these lures were found in the stomach of a 14 lb. lake trout caught by
George Manley of Sidney, maine in Maranacook Lake in 2009.

Soft plastic lures are popular fishing tackle; and just like all other equipment, it’s your responsibility to properly maintain and dispose of them. There is no doubt, discarding soft plastic lures on land or in the water is littering and poses environmental concerns. Over the years, discarded plastic lures have been improperly disposed of and have ended up on lake bottoms or in fish stomachs. Fish can ingest these lures off the bottom, and that can negatively impact their health.

Do your part to help keep Maine's waters clean and fisheries healthy:

1. Properly dispose of soft plastic lures

Dispose of used lures in a trash can or recycling canister – never toss used lures into the water or on land. Several Maine boat launches offer bait recycling canisters, and many local fishing clubs and retailers also offer bait recycling programs.

2. Secure your lure

Secure your hook to help your lure stay where it belongs. Technology has come a long way since plastic lures were first introduced, and many on the market today are made with more durable materials for a longer lifespan and have built-in lure retention devices. If you are working with older lures, there are various products and methods available to extend their useful life, including but not limited to O-rings, zip ties, swimbait keepers, twist locks, bait stops, and super glue.

3. Check your bait often

Soft plastic lures can wear out and get brittle, stretch, or rip, increasing the likelihood that they could fall off your hook. The best thing you can do to prevent that is inspect your soft plastic lure frequently, including every time you catch a fish. Remember, it is time to replace or repair your lure if:

  • The lure keeps sliding down the hook
  • The lure has a minor cut
  • The plastic is stretched or brittle
  • You have caught several fish and worked the lure over abrasive cover

Frequently Asked Questions

How do soft plastic lures impact the health of a fish?
Fish readily feed on discarded or lost soft plastic lures found on the bottom of Maine’s waters. Limited research indicates some fish like bass can regurgitate plastic lures, but other fish like brook trout may not and since soft plastic lures do not readily decompose in fish or in the water, and they also tend to swell over time, their accumulation in fish stomachs may alter feeding behaviors and adversely impact fish health.

I have never found a lure in the stomach of a fish, is this really a problem?
Anglers commonly report catching fish that contain soft plastic lures. Soft plastic lures are most often found in lakes with bass, since they are a popular lure for bass fishing. Bass are found primarily in the southern and coastal portion of the state. An examination of 18,000 stomachs from fish by MDIFW revealed on average only 2% of the fish had soft plastic lures in their stomachs. However, some waters experience elevated rates of ingestion influenced by water clarity, bottom type, type of fish, and availability of other prey. Since soft plastic lures do not tend to decompose in water, they can accumulate.

What is MDIFW doing to protect the state’s fisheries from soft plastic lures?
The Department is committed to educating anglers on the environmental concerns related to soft plastic lures in the water and on the land, proper disposal of soft plastic lures, and steps to take to prevent unintentional loss while fishing. MDIFW’s goal is to significantly reduce the number of soft plastic lures ending up in Maine’s waters and land while keeping this popular fishing lure available to anglers.