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Paddlers Responsibility: How to deal with Zebra Mussels

Kayak fishing has taken flight, and some would say it is the fastest-growing area of the fishing industry. With the portability, low cost, and overall peace and quiet it brings the paddler, the popularity is easy to understand. But with that, portability and popularity come an unforeseen ecological nightmare. The Zebra Mussel has taken over so many large lakes and streams, and the danger is so high it is posted at every boat ramp warning boaters to clean their live wells, wash their boat, and other information about the responsibility boaters have. Now enter the kayak into the equation.

The reality is, Kayaks and their sky rocking popularity add a whole other dimension to the dangers of the ecological threat, which is concerning. Add to this the portability to small bodies of water that the traditional boats cannot access, and it can be downright scary to think of the impact a little plastic boat can have on the future of fishing in the United States.

The Dreissena Polymorpha, aka Zebra Mussel, is widely known to be an invasive species stripping the nutrients and plankton out of our lakes, rivers, and streams. Originating from the Caspian Sea, This tiny aqua threat is no more in size than a fingernail and is as dangerous as a toxic chemical spill to our waterways. The Zebra Mussel is thought to be introduced by ships traveling to our waters in 1988. This tiny mussel can attach itself to the underside of your kayak if given time, but the reality and most common ways are:

Paddlers Responsibility: How to deal with Zebra Mussels


When launching on rocky banks, it’s not uncommon to use our paddle to push off, and our natural paddling has the paddle exiting the water and throwing water, weeds, sand, and yes zebra Mussels onto and into our Kayaks.


We launch our kayaks every single time by walking in the water, often in non-traditional pathways, Kayak launches, and boat launches. The muscles can be caught in your tread or simply lifted into the kayak as we enter from the launch. To put it in perspective, how many times you have started off with a clean Kayak and then at the end of the day or trip have mud, sand, and vegetation packed in each crevice. Never once has my Jackson Coosa HD been “clean” after a day on the water.


This 3-pound piece of potted metal does not easily set itself into the bottom, sometimes it takes a few tugs to get a secure hold. When it holds, the anchor is buried in the mud, sand, and weeds below. Pulling it up is never a pretty sight. Full of mud, sand, and aquatic vegetation, and you guessed it Zebra Muscles. Adding to the mess your water shoes brought into the kayak, this only adds to the possibility of having these dangerous hitchhikers.

Paddlers Responsibility: How to deal with Zebra Mussels


It’s always a thrill when a Smallmouth on a rocky point crushes a crankbait, but, in those waters where Zebra Mussels have taken over those treble hooks catch them and we often clean them off the hook onto our kayak.

The examples above are the reality, and the truth is we tend not to clean our Kayaks from a trip to trip and certainly not when the pond or lake is hopping. It is more common than not to fish multiple bodies of water a day when we can just load up and move with little effort and, in all honesty, it can be reckless fishing if you have a lack of concern, and yes, I am guilty as charged.

Paddlers Responsibility: How to deal with Zebra Mussels

The challenge:

You can see signs are posted about prevention, but the problem is how to follow best practices in paddle sports. How is an angler supposed to maintain an expected duty of care for our waterways with little availability of hoses at the ramp or in a kayak launch with little or no facilities in rural waterways? It’s up to the angler, and it’s a responsibility to carry a bucket, a brush, and a towel to give the kayak a rinse down as best as we can until we can get to an area in which we can certainly maintain a clean kayak for the next fishing adventure. Simply fresh lake water will work well in a pinch with a two-dollar brush. Give it a once overlooking in areas where the little things get stuck, most commonly on the platform, under your seat if in a sit a top model, and anywhere you usually find those lost soft plastic baits from the previous fishing season.

The final wash down is after you get back to the house. Be deliberate in the takedown of gear on your kayak. With that, remove the seat, the tackle storage, and everything off the deck of your kayak. When you are done removing accessories, all that should remain in the kayak. Yes, even the Ram Mounts, Yak Attack gadgets, all get removed. Why? The mount rails need to get cleaned, and the less cluttered the tracks are, the more thorough you can clean.

Paddlers Responsibility: How to deal with Zebra Mussels

Start with the rinse. Using a high-pressure hose will get the majority of mud and sand. Then a clean brush, and would recommend even using a toothbrush to get the specific and hard to reach areas. Then as it appears clean, start with a mild detergent or vehicle wash. In the past, it’s not uncommon for me to use a cleaner with bleach to get the slime and the stink off. (Please check with your manufactures approved cleaners before using aggressive detergents). Once it’s clean, dry the kayak thoroughly, and in the summer, it won’t take long to have it dry and ready to set up for your next trip. Not only is this a good practice to keep your kayak clean, but it also gives you a chance to inspect the various areas and equipment which may need to be cleaned such as seat mounts, seats, mounts, and the hull of the kayak.

This practice of proactive stewardship of kayak angling is a time-consuming process, but the dividends for the ecological health of our waterways are worth your time. The kayak angler has traditionally been an excellent role model for how it should be done. Lake cleanups, river trips for trash are everyday activities we see. Taking the time to reduce the risk of the spread of the invasive Zebra mussel should be a no-brainer. Stay safe on the water and tight lines!