Fishing conservation story and photos by Marian Giannulis
Whether you’re planning your first fishing trip to Alaska or you’re a seasoned resident angler, the basic gear you need to minimize impacts to fish and their habitat are the same. Here’s a list of the standard gear you should outfit yourself with to help ensure the fish you love to catch are around for generations to come.
Rubber-soled Wading Boots
Felt-soled wading boots or boots with fibrous soles were banned in all of Alaska’s freshwater in 2012. Felt and other fibrous materials trap and transfer a variety of harmful organisms, including pathogens and invasive species. Rubber-soled wading boots help keep the rivers you love to fish free from contamination that can harm local fish populations. If you’re traveling to Alaska from outside or spending time fishing in different areas across the state, you should clean your rubber wading boots between uses. Consider studs for your boots or a collapsible wading staff for maximum traction.
Losing gear is an inevitable part of fishing for every angler. A great way to maintain clean water is to fish with lead-free weights. Lead-based weights are harmful to fish and wildlife. When thousands of pounds of gear are lost each year, the accumulative effects of that lead leeching into the water can have damaging effects. Many brands are making good alternatives now, like Orvis’s non-toxic split shot.
Pliers and Hook Remover Tool
A good pair of pliers are a must-have for any angler. They are a very helpful tool to pinch barbed hooks when practicing catch-and-release. You should match the pliers you use to the fish species you are chasing. Removing small flies from the mouth of a rainbow trout you are releasing requires pliers that are small and precise enough to not cause damage to the fish. Or better yet, use a hook-removing tool to help minimize the amount of time fish are exposed to the air. Chances are your local fly shop sells them, or you can easily make your own.
If you’re practicing catch-and-release fishing, a rubber net is critical. These nets greatly reduce harm to fish. Rubber nets won’t remove scales or the protective coating on fish. They also allow anglers to land the fish faster and control the fish better while removing the hook, vastly reducing the amount of stress on the fish, and increasing their chance of survival after release.
The paramount rule of ethical angling, or really any recreation in the backcountry or front country, is: “If you pack it in, pack it out!” When you spend a day on the water you will undoubtedly generate trash. Sandwich bags, empty beer cans, used tippets and broken flies should all come home with you. Bring along a trash bag to contain the trash you generate or find! Every small act of caring for our rivers and streams really adds up. There are small trash containers specifically made for anglers, like Fishpond’s Piopod Microtrash container.
Personal Waste Kit
Another important thing to pack out is the waste your own body generates! I recently joined an annual river clean up on the Kenai River and could hardly keep down lunch after finding pile after pile of human feces and toilet paper strewn about everywhere. Don’t be that guy or gal! Fishing in Alaska often draws anglers to remote places where restrooms or even outhouses are not readily available. Be prepared “to go” in the backcountry by bringing along a kit to bury or pack out your waste and warn guests that their #2 options are limited. WAG Bags are a hygienic option for containing waste to be removed. Kula Cloths are an ingenious technical antimicrobial pee cloth for anybody who squats when they pee. They are reusable, waterproof, smell resistant, and easily snap to the outside of pack.
Fishing Conservation for the Future
While they may feel insignificant, the small actions we take as anglers can release trophy trout unharmed and ensure we personally leave no more than boot prints in the sand. Together our combined efforts will shape the future of Alaska’s remarkable fisheries.
Trout Unlimited’s mission is to protect, reconnect and restore North America’s coldwater fisheries and their watersheds. Learn about our work in Alaska at tu.org/alaska. Marian Giannulis is the Alaska Communications & Engagement Director for Trout Unlimited.
For more fishing conservation content, check out Fish Alaska’s entire Conservation blog.