Is Fishing with WD-40 Illegal? Does It Even Work?

Through this blog, you’ve discovered that you can use many strange items as fish bait, everything from dog food to pepperoni and cheese. Yet the suggestion your fishing buddy offered takes the cake. They recommended using WD-40. Can WD-40 catch fish? Is it even legal to do so?

It’s illegal to spray WD-40 into a body of water, and putting some of the lubricant on your fishing hook might be illegal as well. WD-40 does attract fish, but the manufacturer recommends using it instead on your fishing equipment to prevent corrosion.

Unlike fishing with ham or bacon, which doesn’t harm the environment, WD-40 can be a different story. If you’re thinking of using this lubricant as fish bait, we highly recommend you keep reading. We’ve got lots of great information ahead. 

What Is WD-40?

Before we can get into the prospect of fishing with WD-40, what exactly is it?

WD-40 is a water displacer that can also work as a penetrant, rust preventative, and lubricant. It’s a common household product with a blue can and a trademark yellow logo. 

The origins of WD-40 trace back to the early 1950s, although who exactly invented the lubricant is disagreed upon to this day. Some historians say it was Iver Norman Lawson who came up with the WD-40 formula. Others claim that Norman B. Larsen was the creator. 

Whoever the founder was, they were part of the Rocket Chemical Company, which is today known as the WD-40 Company. The WD-40 name is shorthand for Water Displacement, 40th formula. 

We’re sure you’re wondering what’s exactly in WD-40, right? That’s the thing, so is everyone. The WD-40 Company claims that the lubricant’s ingredients are a trade secret. In 2018, the original copy of the ingredients for the formula got locked in a San Diego bank vault.

Even still, other experts outside of the WD-40 Company have cracked the code for what generally is contained in a can of WD-40. 

WD-40 is about 50 percent isoparaffin, a type of aliphatic hydrocarbon with low vapor pressure. Another 35 percent or so is heavy paraffin or another type of nontoxic petroleum base oil. 

Roughly 25 percent of the formula includes another aliphatic hydrocarbon. Unlike isoparaffin, this hydrocarbon is flammable. Then another two or three percent of the formula is a propellant carbon dioxide.

It’s worth noting that in other parts of the world such as Australia and Europe, the formulation of WD-40 is different. 

For example, in Australia, WD-40 includes about 60 percent naphtha, which is hydrotreated heavy petroleum. Roughly 25 percent is petroleum base oils, then 10 percent is another source of naphtha with hydrodesulfurized heavy mixed isomers, xylene, 1,3,5-trimethyl xylene, and 1,2,4-trimethyl benzene. The last four percent or so is carbon dioxide.

In Europe, WD-40 includes about 80 percent hydrotreated heavy naphtha, then about five percent is carbon dioxide.  

Does WD-40 Attract Fish? Why?

You’ve probably treated a squeaky door hinge with WD-40 before, so it suffices to say you have some in your home. Maybe you used some of the lubricant on a spinnerbait that was no longer spinning quite as well as it should. 

That might have put an idea in your head. Perhaps you could try using WD-40 as fishing bait. It sounds crazy enough that it just might work. Will you have any fishing success?

Yes and no.

The days of anglers fishing with WD-40 as bait goes back to the 1970s and has endured to this day. Some anglers totally swear by it, saying it’s helped them catch a lot of fish. Others try it and state that it doesn’t do much of anything for them.

The prevailing belief among anglers is that WD-40 contains fish oil. We’re not sure where this rumor started, but many forums and even articles mention the inclusion of fish oil in WD-40.

Yet if you look at the ingredients we listed in the section above, you won’t see fish oil mentioned anywhere. That goes for the US formula for WD-40 as well as the Australian and European versions.

Now, admittedly, we don’t know with 100 percent certainty what’s in WD-40, but we’re positive it’s not fish oil. How do we know? The WD-40 Company addressed the matter itself on its website.

Here’s their statement in full: “Consumers have told us over the years that they have caught some of the biggest fish ever after protecting their fish hooks and lures with WD-40. We believe this legend came from folks assuming that the product must contain fish oil since it appears to attract fish. Sorry Charlie, it just ain’t so.”

While it’s true that fish oil–as well as fish extracts, guts, and slime–will get more fish biting, WD-40 is not a source of fish oil. You heard that from the WD-40 Company themselves.

So why does the lubricant help some anglers reel in amazing catches? Until we know what’s in WD-40, we can’t say for sure, but we have some ideas.

Like fish enjoy certain scents, other aromas repel them. One such smell that fish don’t like is human skin oils. L-serine, an amino acid, determines how stinky our oils are. Since everyone has differing levels of L-serine, some of us produce stronger-smelling skin oils than others. 

When you touch your fishing hook and lure, you’re transferring your skin oils onto them. Then the hook and lure go into the water, where the fish can smell you. They consequently stay away.

Now imagine you spray your hook with WD-40, then you sink it in the water. The hook smells like lubricant, not skin oils. By masking the odor of your skin oils, that could very well be why more fish bite. 

Is It Illegal to Fish with WD-40?

Now that we’ve established that WD-40 can work as a fish attractant, we must discuss the legalities of using the lubricant in bodies of water.

In 1972, the Clean Water Act became a US federal law. In Section 311(b)(1) of the Clean Water Act, the legislation states the following:

 “The Congress hereby declares that it is the policy of the United States that there should be no discharges of oil or hazardous substances into or upon the navigable waters of the United States, adjoining shorelines, or into or upon the waters of the contiguous zone, or in connection with activities under the Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act or the Deepwater Port Act of 1974, or which may affect natural resources belonging to, appertaining to, or under the exclusive management authority of the United States (including resources under the Fishery Conservation and Management Act of 1976.”

Yes, that was one long paragraph, so let’s try to break it down into layman’s terms. It seems like at the very least, you cannot go spraying your can of WD-40 into a body of water in the US. However, whether you can lubricate your hook in WD-40 and then put that fishing hook in the water remains murkier. 

Technically, putting WD-40 on a fishing hook would count as a “discharge of oil,” even if it’s not a particularly big discharge. 

If you want to take your chances, that’s fine, but it’s not smart to be on the wrong side of the law. 

Should You Use WD-40 to Catch Fish?

With those legal rules explained, what about the moral implications of fishing with WD-40 as a fish attractant? 

Well, WD-40 is mostly petroleum, an ingredient in which production contributes to greenhouse gases that are (less) slowly yet surely warming the planet. On top of that, WD-40 contains small amounts of carbon dioxide, which is the primary greenhouse gas.

Getting back to petroleum, it could toxify the waters that fish and other marine species live in. Pollution writes: “Petroleum-derived contaminants constitute one of the most prevalent sources of environmental degradation in the industrialized world. In large concentrations, the hydrocarbon molecules that make up crude oil and petroleum products are highly toxic to many organisms, including humans.”

Yes, the keyword there is “large quantities,” in which WD-40 cannot produce on its own, especially when you’re using a bit on your fishing hook.

That said, even if you’re not polluting the water by using WD-40, you’re doing our planet no favors by buying and spraying the product.

Even the WD-40 Company doesn’t want you using their lubricant as a fish attractant. In the webpage we linked you to above, they state the following: “While WD-40 can be used to help protect fishing equipment from rust and corrosion, WD-40 Company does not recommend using WD-40 to catch fish.”

That’s a pretty open and shut case, wouldn’t you say?

Final Thoughts

WD-40 is a lubricant that some anglers adore since it supposedly helps them catch more fish. It’s not due to the fish oils in WD-40, as the product has none. Instead, these anglers are likely so successful because the lubricant masks their skin odors, which fish find repelling.

The WD-40 Company does not recommend using its product as a fishing lure, and we don’t either. WD-40 contains carbon dioxide–the top greenhouse gas–as well as petroleum, another significant greenhouse gas contributor that might pollute the water in large enough quantities.

You can use WD-40 on your reels and hooks, but spray the stuff in your garage at home rather than on your fishing boat. 

Tim Butala

My name is Tim and I have been a fisherman my whole life. My favorite fish to go after is a Striped Bass.

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