A note to fishermen: How to catch more fish and help the birds at the same time.

Most of the fishermen we talk to enjoy being out there and seeing the herons and egrets and grebes and other birds while they fish. And most of them have expressed appreciation for our cleanup efforts. So I know that they don’t want to harm the birds. They just don’t know how to prevent it without putting an end to their hobby.

We recover a surprising amount of lost fishing line on Lake Hodges every single week. I can see the lake from my house and I see how many fishermen are out there and it seems like, on the average, maybe a quarter or more of them must lose at least one length of line every time they go out. It seems that they get a snag and just cut their line, leaving sometimes 50 to 150 feet of line drifting in the air or water waiting to entangle a bird. I think they do this because pulling until the line breaks will weaken the whole length of it and they will have to throw it away, anyway. It is a poor decision, but I think that is the reasoning.

I am an almost lifetime fishermen (quit in 2017 when we moved out of salmon and trout country) and I doubt that I’ve lost three pieces of line longer than a few inches in my life. I can’t actually remember losing any of my main line, ever. And I’ve never once, in almost 60 years of fishing, just cut my line to release a snag. I’ve pondered on that for the last couple of years and I suddenly realized why.

It has always been my habit to use a light leader on my line just above the hook or lure. This makes the line harder for the fish to see and makes the lure or bait look and move more naturally, resulting in more strikes. So how does this help the birds? If your hook snags on something when you are using 12 pound line and a 6 pound leader, for example, you can pull until the leader breaks. It will break before the main line ever starts to stretch. This will leave a hook and a few inches of line snagged on the bottom or in a tree, but a hook buried in wood will rust away without harming a bird and a few inches of line is not enough to entangle a bird.

So if you are a fisherman – anywhere in the world, not just at Lake Hodges – please tie a leader between your main line and your hook or lure that is lighter in weight than the main line. It will hurt nothing, will probably improve your strike rate, and will help keep those birds alive that you enjoy watching while waiting for the fish to bite.

If you bait fish, please consider either attaching your weight to the leader or using a three-way swivel and hang your weight by a piece of light weight leader from the third eye. That way you can also safely pull and break the leader if the weight gets stuck somewhere.

If you are afraid the fish is going to break your lighter leader and get away, learn to adjust your drag. Besides, this is supposed to be a sport, so make it sporting. If the fish doesn’t have a chance, then you might as well be pulling in tuna cans.

Covid trash

Robin entangled in surgical mask
This Canadian robin was found entangled in one of the billions of blue surgical masks used and discarded during the Covid-19 pandemic. Sandra Denisuk, A.-F. Hiemstra et al/Animal Biology 2021

Well the list of covid related problems just keeps growing. Researchers in the Netherlands have been documenting a lot of wildlife which are being killed by discarded masks and latex gloves. They are also inviting individuals from all over the world to post their own observations of wildlife that has been affected by covid waste. (Negatively or positively – many animals are dying while some birds have been using masks and gloves in nest building.)

You can find their website, see the results, and make your own report here: https://www.covidlitter.com/

A story about it in Science News can be found here: Science News Covid Trash Article

Our volunteers are very diligent about pickup up trash as well as fishing line. While a mask is dangerous until we find it, we usually find and remove them pretty quickly, thus reducing the danger. So far we have not found any wildlife entangled in covid litter at Lake Hodges.

If you would like to help us – at Lake Hodges or at your own local fishing area – please contact me.

Spring status at Lake Hodges

Lake Hodges has been open to fishing for over two months now. We have a number of new volunteers and we are able to cover the entire lakeshore almost every week. It would be good if we could do it twice a week – after the weekend of fishing and after Wednesday fishing – but we’re getting there.

I looked back through my records and the last egret we found hooked or entangled was in 2019! That is good progress. Birds such as cormorants and coots will try to take the bait from fishing line that is still in use by the fishermen. The fishermen could reel those birds in and remove the hook or take them to wildlife rehab, but most just cut them loose and leave them to die. This is something that I think we can reduce through education. We still lose grebes to underwater fishing line entanglement, but fewer of them. Finding and removing underwater line is a challenge. We are actually getting pretty good at it along the shoreline, but offshore underwater line is a problem that we have not yet solved.

If you would like to help us proactively save birds and wildlife by removing threats from their habitat, then we can sure use your help. Training is provided. Contact me for more information.

Some good news for a change

We found a lot of birds affected by fishing and/or boating activities at Lake Hodges in 2019. We have only found two since March of 2020 and those both appeared to have been the victims of deliberate attacks (possibly a pellet gun in one case) rather than incidental hooking, entanglement, or boat strikes.

This means that we are finally catching up and making a measurable difference in the bird fatality rates at Lake Hodges. That is very good news and gives us encouragement after 2.5 years of hard work.

When we started we would poke the boat into the shore, pull all of the fishing line that we could find, back out, move over 2 to 5 feet, poke the bow back into the shore, pull all of the line that we could see, etc. It took months to make our first complete circuit of the lake at this rate.

Now we have a good group of volunteers, some of them quite regular, and we are pretty well caught up with old fishing line. So we are able to cover almost the entire shoreline each week. That is a really big deal because the sooner you find the line after it was lost, the less chance it has to catch and kill a bird.

I’d like to thank all of the people who have helped us get to this point. Some are out there every week, some have only been able to come once or a few times. All are appreciated – we never know which piece of line that we retrieve might have been the one that killed a bird.

Now the end of the season is approaching. The lake will be closing on October 28th and will reopen in February for the 2021 season. We will not be accepting applications for volunteers until mid-January. We will be scouring the lakeshore through the winter, trying to get every last bit of line and litter that we can find. That will put us in really good shape for opening day of fishing season.

We usually lose some volunteers over the winter. And a lot of line is lost during the first weeks of fishing season. So I will likely post a call for new volunteers in January. If you’ve been thinking of joining us, please contact me at that time and I’ll get you started.

Winter birds at Lake Hodges

San Diego county is an important bird hotspot in the US. Lake Hodges and the surrounding land is a very large natural area in the county and so is very important for birds and is very popular with wintering birds.

The winter residents have begun showing up and in just the last couple of weeks we’ve seen these newly arrived winter birds and others that we failed to ID:

Bald Eagle
Northern Harrier
Winter egrets (most go away during mating season)
Eared grebes
Ruddy Ducks
Lesser Yellowlegs
Solitary sandpipers
Belted Kingfishers
Yellow-rumped Warblers
Common Yellowthroat

On Again, off again … currently on!

A lot has changed in the 4.5 months since we were originally locked out from the lake due to the Corona virus pandemic. We were invited back in late June prior to the re-opening of Lake Hodges so that we could clean up and prepare. Then after a couple of weeks we received a boilerplate email from the city which appeared to cancel all volunteer activities again. Now, after two more weeks of delay we have been welcomed back again.

So our status right now is that we are back to work! “Work” sounds like such an unpleasant word. We do work hard, but it is some very enjoyable work.

And we are once again looking for help. If you’d like to volunteer some of your time to help save the lives of the birds of Lake Hodges, and have fun doing it, we’d like to hear from you.

Corona Virus News

The city has closed all of its lakes and reservoirs and halted all volunteer programs. So we are suspended at Lake Hodges until things settle down. As far as I know, hikers are still allowed on the trails and so individuals could still “bank walk” for line and litter, but we cannot do it as volunteers, nor can I do any recruiting or training at this time. If you are interested in helping us, please be patient and check back when things start to normalize again. We will still need you.


I made a posting on Nextdoor.com, yesterday, looking for more people who might want to volunteer at Lake Hodges. Something in how I worded it drew a lot of responses from non-kayakers.

A lot of the fishing line and litter that we pick up is also accessible from the shore. Some of the worst problem areas are those most popular with bank fishermen who walk in. So beach walking is a very good way to help.

I am going to create a section on the website out how you can help on foot. It may take me a day or two (and longer to perfect) so in the mean time, please feel free to contact me for more information.

The season changes this Week…

Lake Hodges – our local lake – opens for fishing this week. We have spent the winter scouring the shoreline and getting the lake as cleaned up as we possibly can. But it’s time to go back to the more urgent work of collecting the newly lost fishing line before birds can get caught in it.

We have a small, but dedicated group of volunteers, but there are miles of shoreline and keeping up with all of the fresh line is a challenge. If anyone is interested in helping, please read the Volunteers Needed and the About pages and then Contact me to get started.

Balloons – they just keep getting worse

Here is a video taken by Carolyn, one of our volunteers. This large bunch of balloons were found along the shoreline of Lake Hodges. Half of them were full of mylar confetti. Why in the world they do that, I don’t know. You can’t see the confetti until the balloon pops. That’s basically deliberate littering. The confetti is very hard to pick up out of the water. And it shimmers and glitters just like little fish, making it very tempting to aquatic birds to try and eat. That would probably be certain death.

Please don’t buy balloons. They kill birds. Yes, they are festive and fun, but how festive do you think it is to die from entanglement in the strings; how fun is it to starve because you ate the balloon or sequins?