Felt-Soled Wading Boots Hurt Fish
By Debbie Kay
Editors Note: This article appeared in 2014. We have updated it for the beginning of the shopping season, if you are asking Santa to replace your felt soled waders.
Felt-Soled wading boots are a terrific invention. The fabric can make a slippery log or rocky bottom feel easy to navigate, and can even make a long day of standing feel a bit easier. But as great as these boots are, their fabric-coated soles are a known cause of transmitting certain invasive species and diseases into different streams, severely impacting the creeks and the fish in them.
Felt-Soled Wading Boots – The Controversy
Beginning in 2011, several states have begun to ban these boots. If you are fishing in Alaska , Missouri, Maryland, Nebraska, Rhode Island, South Dakota, and Vermont they are completely banned. A bill in 2011 failed in Oregon, but there are many in both Washington and Oregon who frown on the use of felt-soled wading boots.
The Technical Stuff What do They Transmit?
There are three different species that have been known to be transmitted to different waters by felt-soled wading boots:
· Didymo (Rock Snot): This bright-green algae grows in thick mats. It sucks up all of the oxygen from the stream, and blocks sunlight from its bottom. A bad case can kill almost everything in a stream.
· Whirling Disease: This disease affects salmonids (salmon, trout, steelhead, dolly varden) – you can tell that they have it by the “whirling” swim pattern that they have. It is particularly deadly on the West Coast, where fatality rates of 90 percent have been recorded.
· New Zealand Mud Snails: Anyone who has dealt with the crusty surface of an area coated in tiny zebra mussels will see the similarity with the way the New Zealand mud snail takes over a stream. Every rock and surface will quickly be coated with these tiny creatures. They don’t kill other species directly, but starve them to death by eating all their food.
But I Love My Felt-Soled Wading Boots!
Currently, the boots are not banned in Oregon and Washington. However, if you are coming from a region where these other invasives are common, consider leaving them behind. If not, then try giving the soles a very extreme cleaning before bringing them into pristine waters.
Alternatives to Felt-Soled Wading Boots
If you are headed to Alaska, felt-soled wading boots are out. Period. If you need an alternative, there are two choices: rubber or spikes. The most reliable rubber that grips in slippery conditions is a Vibram sole, so look for a company who sells Vibram. Two good companies who sell these are Simms and Orvis. Spikes require the ability to either take them off when on other surfaces or cover the spikes when walking in places where they can dig in. They sell spike covers for shoes, and there are shoe companies like Korkers who sell shoes that have changeable bottoms. Some strap onto the outside, while others actually flip upside down and reattach to the bottom of the shoe. The biggest issue with this is when a fast-moving current traps things between the shoe and the sole, and mud will occasionally pull them off. But this is rare, and for the most part, people are pretty happy with them.