War On Waste – Lee Brake 2017

I fish for fun and food – simple as that.  I won’t apologise for bringing home a tasty, nutritious feed of fish to feed my family, and I like to keep a few feeds in the freezer for between trips.  So, I will never give anyone a hard time for putting some fillets in the freezer. What has always hit a nerve with me though, is waste.  I hate to see it.  It makes me angry.

Whole fish fought to death and then chucked overboard because they aren’t top shelf table fare, frames chucked at boat ramps because some idiot was too lazy to use them or give them away, rubbish thrown overboard – it’s simple stuff that shouldn’t happen.

Having watched the recent ABC War on Waste with some interest, I found myself getting angry, shocked and dispirited at the state of our country’s waste problem.  We live in a use once, throw-away society and many people have no idea where their food comes from, and how much waste is involved before it gets to shelves.  This is where anglers have an advantage. We know where our fish comes from, we process it ourselves and we can directly influence how much is wasted.

With that in mind, I thought I’d declare a little war on fishing-related waste and give you some tips to help you save money, reduce waste and get more out of your trips.

Fish frames and bycatch

When it comes to fisheries, ours are healthier than most, especially when compared to countries in Asia.  But that means we often get complacent with our catches and a lot goes to waste.

Say what you want about the fisheries of places like the Philippines and Thailand, but they use every part of the fish – nothing goes to waste.  We mostly just slice the sides off and bin the rest.

One tip I picked up from fellow Fish and Boat scribe Anthony Davies has been a game changer for me.  After reading Anthony’s recipe book, I now have a heavy duty metal table spoon in my filleting kit.  I use it religiously and after most reef trips it produces for me about one to two kilos of fish mince – more if the mackerel are about.  All it takes is simply scraping the spoon over the filleted backbone to remove the flesh between the bones that is left behind.

The scrapings are just like mince and make excellent fish cakes, fish tacos, risotto, pasta, curries etc.  And it’s literally fish you would have thrown out!

Of course, there are other ways to maximise the yield from your frames.  Take the wings for the barbeque, make your own fish stock by boiling them up, and never discount whole baked fish – you haven’t lived until you’ve tasted the cheeks of a baked coral trout.

Of course, we can’t boil up every frame or bake every fish, but there are plenty of other ways to upcycle fish frames.  The most obvious is turning a frame into a mudcrab – the world’s greatest magic trick in my opinion.  And do you know what, some fishos crab a lot more than they fish, so if you have too many frames for your freezer, chuck them on Facebook with the proviso that anyone who takes them remembers you if they have a really good haul of muddies.

The same goes for chicken frames, meat bones and out-of-date hams etc.  Stuff it all in an old mesh bag and freeze it.  And don’t throw out those bacon rinds – crabs smell the fat from a mile around!

If you don’t crab, chuck it all in an old mincer or sacrificial blender and make up burley bombs.

Or, if you’re into gardening, a fish head at the bottom of your hole when planting trees, shrubs or hungry plants like tomatoes does great things.  If you’re really keen and live on a big property, chuck a few in a drum of water – with a tight fitting lid — well away from the house and after a few weeks, presto, your own fish emulsion fertiliser.  Dilute with water, pour it on, and your vegi beds will love you.


If you’re anything like me, you have more lures than you know what to do with, yet you still buy more every time you step inside a tackle shop.  Now, I’m not saying to buy less lures, that’d be pretty close to blasphemy, I’m just saying think twice before throwing old ones out.

We have a tendency to only use our favourites, and anything with some peeled paint goes in the bin, or sits in the box.

When I first started fishing with lures, my old man had a big lure clean out.  Every old gold bomber, Flatz rats and Manns 5,10 and 12+ (because that was mostly what we used back then) that was faded, chipped or lacking paint was given to me.  And do you know what I did?  I got out the Niko pens and hook file, and I painted them insane colours and touched up every hook point.

Even the old timber C-Lures that had cracked bibs had the cracked bibs filed back.  They became very good top walkers!  I treasured that first tray of hand-me-down lures.  In fact, I still have a lot of them.  One old C-Lure that I painted white with old house paint and then attached with a red Niko was nicknamed “The Joker” because it had a red slash for a mouth.  That old lure caught me fish until the timber literally rotted away from the tow point!

So, why not make up a tray of lures that need some love and find them a good home.  There’s plenty of keen young fishos out there who would give them a new lease on life.  And if you’re worried about them going to a good home, contact your local church or charitable organisation.  I’m sure a lot of them would know a family that’d appreciate them.

Soft plastics are another item we often waste.  How often do you split the front of your softy and just throw it overboard?  It’s not good.  In fact, there’s a fair chance they aren’t great for a fish or turtle’s insides, so it’s probably better to take them home for the bin.

That obvious point aside, many of us are spending a lot more than we need to.

A perfect example of saving a bit of money and helping the environment is downsizing.  I first saw how useful downsizing your plastics can be many years ago while fishing for fingermark with the then manager of BCF Mackay, Jason Crofts.  Crofty used Gulp plastics for his fingeries, but as the inshore fish were around the 50cm mark, he found the 7″ Jerkshads weren’t ideal.  However, he liked the fatter bodies of the 7″ shads.  So, what’d he do?  He’d keep his old 7″ plastics that’d ended up with busted heads from rigging, he’d trim them down and keep them in a little tub of Gulp liquid.  It meant he got twice as much fishing out of a plastic and actually had a better lure for the job at hand.  Also worth keeping in mind is that old skirts, paddle and curl tail plastics make great dangly bits hanging off octo jigs etc.


How often do we go and gather bait only to throw a large portion of it overboard at the end of a trip?  It’s a waste, that’s for sure.  Did you know that freshly gathered bait will keep much better than store bought-bait if you treat it right?  Simply seal things like herring, prawns, even yabbies and worms up in a zip lock bag with a small handful of rock salt.  Make sure you dry them first on some paper.  The result is bait as good or better than you’d buy in the shops and you’ll be doing your bit to reduce waste.  As for old bait that’s a bit past it.  Chuck it in a sealed container and add it to your burley bombs rather than putting it in the bin.


Here’s one where the tackle companies can do their bit.  If you’re going to sell barra lures, sell them with barra-rated hooks.  Otherwise, those light gauged bronzed hooks just end up in the trash.

That being said though, there are usually uses for a lot of the hooks we throw away.  Home-made bait rigs are a good example.  A few lumo beads and a string of small sharp hooks that’d otherwise have been binned and you have one lethal bait jig that costs you next to nothing and likely outperforms a store-bought model.  Just check your regulations first before using too many hooks.


Lead is far from cheap, so don’t waste it.  Melt down old sinkers that are unused into sizes that you do use, or if you’re not a smelter, enlist someone who does have the equipment and offer them a cut of your lead in exchange for the service.  And don’t forget that you don’t always need lead.  Old rusty dog spikes, nuts and bolts make excellent dropper weights and often turn up at the tip shop or demolition yard.

Rods and reels

How often have you tossed out a rod because you’ve snapped off the tip, and it’s now not as tippy as you’d like?  Buy a new tip and some hot glue, re-tip it and give it away or sell it.  Reels too are often not worth repairing, but there’s plenty of tinkerers, or reel repairers, out there that would value old quality reels for parts, many of which are very hard to come buy these days.  Sometimes your local tackle store will even take them off your hands, rather than see them binned.


Everything comes wrapped in plastic these days and most of it can’t go in your recycling bin, but did you know it can be recycled.  Both Woolworths and Coles have bins that you can drop your plastic bags and packaging into and they make park benches etc out of it.  We’ve been dropping a shopping bag full of plastic packaging in our local one every week when we do our groceries.  It’s nice to know they aren’t ending up in the ocean and get made back into something useful.

Obviously there’s a lot more that can be done, but if you end up with a little more fish in your freezer and a few more dollars in your pocket because of the above tips, this article has done its job.  If you’ve got any other tips for reusing and recycling fishing resources, then I’d love to hear them.  Shoot the editor a letter or email, or let us know on Facebook.

Until next month, fish hard and stay safe.