Felt-Soled Wading Boots

The Issue with Felt-Soled Wading Boots

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.

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One thought on “The Issue with Felt-Soled Wading Boots”

  1. There is a sensible compromise for felt soles. Get the interchangeable soles like the Korkers mentioned here. On the back side of the sole in large letters write the name of your home river and ONLY use them in that river. Get soles for other rivers you fish often. This ensures safety while eliminating the risk. Game wardens could inspect the backsides of the soles to make sure we are all playing by the rules. No, we do not work for Korkers, but we are always concerned for the safety of our rivers and anglers.

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