Something We can All Do
Updated: Feb 10
Wading along the riverbank casting to longnose gar as they hovered in the shallows, a glint caught my eye. Over on the rocks a Bud Light can was wedged between some woody debris. I walked over, grabbed it, and while lifting it up a mouse's head popped through the can opening. Recoiling, I dropped the beer can. But the mouse was waterlogged and dead, so I tossed the can next to the trail to pick up on my way out. I like to think the little fella went out of this world a little boozed up and stoked as it rode the waves.
License plates, phone chargers, skateboards, and dead mice in beer cans, picking up river garbage gets interesting. Yet, it is something we can all do to look after the resource we love. Our rivers get hammered, especially the urban ones, and even though time spent on the water may only be a couple hours it still gives us the chance to be stewards and give back. It is not only to the benefit of aquatic species and their habitat, it also benefits our own health as well: a great article on waterway pollution, plastic litter, toxic chemicals, and its affect on our health is over at fishforgarbage.org.
A few years ago, after trying to carry out handfuls of garbage I started making a conscious effort to remember to pack a grocery bag into my sling bag. Before leaving the river I pull it out and fill it with garbage, I don't have to walk very far to do that on urban streams. For areas I continuously fish, the effect is noticeable after time and on occasion I started noticing other anglers (who also frequent the river) to do the same. It is a never ending task but one that shows people care about these public spaces especially urban watersheds.
Off the river, there are also ways to give back. There are a number of organizations and non-profits that coordinate clean-up days, promote stewardship principals, and provide other ways to be involved in looking after the health of our waters. A few nation-wide organizations are:
Leave No Trace - they host a wide variety of clean-up days, they also provide a ton of resources and classes on the ethics and practices of leave no trace (LNT). You might have already seen their logo on trailhead signs across the U.S.
Backcountry Hunters and Anglers and Trout Unlimited - Both organizations have state/regional chapters which organize clean-ups and information on things you can do to help look after habitats in need.
Beyond those organizations, I would also recommend searching the internet for smaller, more local, groups that may already be out cleaning up the rivers, lakes and streams. For example, on one of my local urban rivers there is the Friends of the Lower Olentangy who schedule clean-ups, report on the health of the waterway, and provide educational resources. Also, check in with your local fly shop. I frequently head up to Michigan to fish and on one weekend Gates Lodge put together a river clean-up day. Anglers picked stretches of river to wade or float and we ended up gathered a dumpster-load of trash.
Along the shallow flats, carp were tailing and kicking up mud blooms into the slow current. A skateboard nearby, with its trucks anchored into the mud, looked like an interesting challenge. I hopped on, leaned my weight back, and lifted the nose of the board up. While "riding" the skateboard, I tried to make an accurate cast at one of the carp. It was a lousy cast and once the fly slammed into the water the carp spooked. It was a fun challenge though. I was done fishing for the day so I grabbed the board, filled a bag with other river trash, and headed out. One small positive impact.