Originally Published in the July/August 2018 Issue of Tail Magazine

The Plastic Plague

Tail Fly Fishing Magazine – July/August 2018 Issue

By: Kyle Schaefer

As fly anglers, we are some of the luckiest people on the planet.  We have a great privilege that allows us to access the most wild and untamed environments.  We get a front row seat to the beauty of this delicate world.  Fly fishing has become synonymous with conservation, environmental protection, and stewardship, which is an honor for anglers to take part in but comes with a great responsibility. As caretakers for this world we have the opportunity to lessen our impact everyday as we continue to learn how our habits affect the world around us.  

Plastics are silently taking over our oceans.  Our current trajectory supports a staggering projection. There will be more pounds of plastic in our waters than fish by the year 2050. 

Single use plastics are consumed everyday with the major culprits including plastic bags, single use water bottles, to-go containers, takeaway cups and straws (5gyres.org).  As consumers, we have the power to make changes that protect our waters, and the marine life that depend on the standards we are setting for ourselves. These changes only require a little education, a small shift in thinking and, of course, action to back it up. 

The anatomy of our plastic problem is as complex as it is simple.  We use far too many single use plastics. 8 million metric tons enter the ocean every year (5gyres.org).  You may be thinking “well, I recycle,” but the truth is less than 30% of plastic single use water bottles are actually processed in the recycling system (A Recycling Revolution, “Recycling Facts” ARR).  These wasted plastics enter our waters, begin to breakdown into smaller pieces, and act as sponges for toxins. 

A single microbead of plastic is a magnet for pollutants, and can be one million times more toxic than the water around it (5gyres.org).  The compounding toxicity levels of our plastic trash can have big implications as they invade the food chain. They show up in fish markets, and end up in our bodies.  “Microplastics have been found in mussels wherever scientists have looked” says Amy Lusher, a NIVA researcher. Lia Colabello informs us that a single plate of mussels can contain up to 90 pieces of plastic. 

Plastic is an amazing material, but it never truly biodegrades, so why are we utilizing it in so many single use applications?  The answer comes down to economics.  It’s cheap for corporations to package in plastic, and profits soar as a result.  Our environment is paying dearly for the decisions we are making. It’s not all bad news though; we can kick plastic, and take back our oceans by making some small changes in our daily habits and bringing awareness to what we consume and throwaway. 

Americans use three million plastic waters bottles every hour of everyday (5gyres.org), so let’s start here.  Fishing guides all over the world have relied on plastic water bottles to keep clients hydrated and happy while on the water.  Typically you’ll find a cooler stocked with single use bottles, so lets track that plastic across the guide season.  Let’s say a guide spends 150 days on the water with an average of 2 clients.  This single operation has the potential of producing 1,200 plastic waste bottles every year.  When you magnify this footprint across the worldwide guiding community it’s easy to understand how big the impact is. 

The barriers have never been so low to incorporate reusable water bottles into every guide’s routine.  Companies like YETI, and Klean Kanteen are giving us the tools to NEVER purchase a plastic water bottle again.  It just takes a shift in thinking and a small initial investment to switch to reusable bottles. Nick Colas estimates that consumers are buying bottled water for 2,000 times the cost of tap water.  Over a single season, guides could be saving hundreds of dollars by switching to reusable water bottles while protecting their fisheries as a result. 

Guides are in the perfect position to inspire progress on this issue.  They are role models in the fishing community, have a vested interest in the resource and have the power to influence change.  We are at a cross roads and our choice is clear. We must reduce our plastic intake if we want healthy oceans throughout the world.

Costa Sunglasses has been a major advocate for the issue and have invested a lot of energy into their #Kickplastic initiative. Costa has set a goal to kick plastic in every guide operation across the globe by 2026.  Let’s join the fight to take back our oceans.  The fish deserve a plastic free ocean and so do our grandchildren. 

In 2016, Costa helped facilitate the removal of plastic water bottles from the largest guiding operation in the US, WorldCast Anglers in Jackson Hole, WY.  The successful elimination of plastic water bottles across the 43 person guiding staff has a huge impact and sets an important precedent.  If WorldCast can do it, we all can.  Costa has continued their mission by looking at their own footprint.  They are analyzing everything; from packaging to manufacturing materials, Costa is taking the right steps to mitigate their own impact.  Recently, Costa teamed up with Oliver White, helping to eliminate plastic water bottles from Abaco Lodge and Bair’s Lodge in the Bahamas.  Oliver said, “It was a no brainer to participate in the kick plastic campaign”.  Ultimately, Oliver is saving money while protecting the environments we all hope to preserve and fish from one generation to the next.  David Mangum of Shallow Water Expeditions is making the change as well.  Mangum goes on to say, “a simple shift in thinking is helping to protect our oceans and save costs along the way… it’s a win-win”. 

Bringing awareness to this issue is the first step.  Look around the grocery store, your coffee shop, or any retail environment, and just notice the epidemic of single use plastics that surround you.  These plastics will end up in the ocean and negatively affect our waters for countless years to come.


So what action can we take? 

-REDUCE: Purchase a reusable bottle for coffee, water, etc. and keep it close by.

-INFORM: Talk to your friends and family and become an influencer on this issue.

-AWARENESS: Continue to be aware of the single use plastic you consume everyday.

-CHOOSE: Spend your dollars wisely and place a higher value on the environment than short-term conveniences.

-ACT: Support responsible brands and check out the plastic free shopping guide:





Matthew Boesler, “Bottled Water Costs 2000 Times as Much as Tap Water” Business Insider


Lia Colabello, 5 Gyres & Costa Sunglasses

A Recycling Revolution, “Recycling Facts” ARR8