Monday, December 13, 2010

What's on your feet?

I've been thinking (daydreaming) a lot about winter trout fishing. As some of you have probably gathered, I would rather fish for Smallmouth Bass than any other fish that swims, but when the Smallies aren't biting I turn to other species that are willing. Although I do fish for trout year round, winter fishing means trout fishing to me. Kelly and I are planning to do some trout fishing sometime around Christmas, but haven't worked out the details yet.

While daydreaming about how much fun we will have freezing our rears off in a river, I reminded myself that I recently got a new pair of wading boots. I have only worn them once so far. After another trip or two I'll probably write a review. They are White River Fly Shop ECO-CLEAR wading boots from Bass Pro Shops. As the "ECO-CLEAR" name vaguely implies, they are designed to limit the unwanted transport of invasive species from one body of water to another. These boots, and others like them without felt soles, are soon to be essential equipment for fly fishers in many areas. I have read online about felt sole bans in Alaska and Vermont, and know several other states (MD, MO, and OR) have bans in the works.

Much of the reactions I have seen in online forums have been very negative regarding this new conservation oriented legislation. What is extremely ironical to me is that these efforts to ban felt are supported, even commended, by Trout Unlimited. TU is a group of mostly fly fishers... probably some of the same ones who are spreading a lot of the negativity about felt sole bans all over the internet.

I'm also a bit surprised that it's being treated like it's a hot new topic among the fly fishing community when it's not really new at all. I wrote a report and made a presentation on whirling disease for my college Ecology class in 1998... over 12 years ago. One of the major take home messages of what was then current knowledge was that felt soled wading boots worn by fisherman were largely responsible for the spread of whirling disease. Even knowing I was the only fly fisher in the class, my presentation provided information on how to prevent the spread of the disease including instructions for cleaning felt soled wading boots. I also suggested wearing rubber sole wading boots instead of felt, but that was not my original idea. I got it straight from one of the sources I used for my report. I also remember L.L. Bean introducing their Aqua Stealth soles over ten years ago as an alternative to felt... to prevent the spread of whirling disease. I really wanted a pair of Aqua Stealth boots back then, but I was a fly fisher on a budget in college.

Pretty much every major name in the business offers alternatives to felt soles these days, and Simms has even enacted their own ban by no longer offering felt as an option. My new boots are just one of the many options out there, and I have found them to be perfectly functional. The reviews online are horrible, but you can't expect rubber sole boots (without metal studs) to grip as well as felt on slippery rocks. Maybe some of these folks who wrote negative reviews should get wading staffs... or boats.

Most of the time I am wearing something other than traditional wading boots altogether, so it's not something I spend a lot of time thinking about. For me, my wading boots are a winter/coldwater necessity and that's about it. There are a couple of Arkansas tailwaters (Norfork and White Rivers) where I almost always wear waders year round, but everywhere else (when the weather is favorable) I am wet wading. I wet wade as long as I can stand it. I even wrote an article for back in July on what I consider to be the best options for wet wading footwear. I know there are even felt soled wading sandals out there, but you won't catch me wearing them. I really don't want to contribute to an ecological nightmare, and I'm proud to say the Snowbee boots Kelly and I wear aren't likely to transport any didymo.

Snowbee flats boots modeled by yours truly

I guess I'm most fascinated by the fact that there is still so much controversy surrounding this issue. Has the fly fishing community not learned anything in the last 15 years or so from whirling disease that might help us control more recent invaders like didymo? I know that felt soles may not be the only source of our problems with aquatic invasives, but they certainly aren't helping either. Anybody that looks at a felt sole knows that it isn't the kind of surface that can be cleaned on a microscopic level, and thoroughly drying your boots can take a long time... often times much longer than we stay out of the water between fishing trips. I've read lots of commentary from people saying that the laces, seams, cracks, and crevices of our boots will still carry hitchhikers so they shouldn't have to give up their precious felt... and this may be true. I'm just satisfied knowing that I'm doing my little part by not wearing felt. After all, if you're not part of the solution you may just be part of the problem.

Ultimately, I think felt soles are on the way out. Simms is just ahead of the pack on this forefront. Knowing what I have known for the last decade, I'm surprised they haven't been banned already in more places.

Please weigh in and tell me what you wear, what are the ecological issues that concern you as fly fishers, and whether or not felt sole bans will matter to you. I can't wait to hear your comments.


  1. I wear felt with rubber toe and heal, I need to stay on my feet If Im going to help out with hitch hikers. The only prob with banning felt is.. The snot.. nothing else can beat the snot clung to the rocks.
    Buddy of mine has the new simms smart rubber guide boots,, he is always doin "the dance"

    I just dry mine good between uses and hope for the best.

  2. I currently wear felt, but I'm shopping around for a new pair boots. I'll do some more reading and studying on it before I buy. I am concerned about the foreign invaders, but I'm also concerned about falling on my Azz. I don't heal as quickly as I used to. I also let mine dry thoroughly between moving to different water.

  3. Thanks for the comments guys. It's always nice to get the CO perspective on the issue. I occasionally do "the dance," but figure that's just part of the fun. Actually falling on the other hand is no fun, and even at my age I don't heal as quickly as I did when I was 20.

  4. Fashionably speaking...not too sure about those snowbee flats. I mean...they're so runway 2007. C'mon, Jay. Step it up a notch. At least Bedazzle the darn things;-).

  5. Jen, maybe I can ship some gear to you for Bedazzling? I don't own my own Bedazzler yet... well, maybe I should just get my own. At the amazingly low price of $19.95 +S&H, I could have my very own for less than the cost of shipping gear to you for Bedazzlement. If I order now, I get the bonus Mini Bedazzler for free!

  6. Jay
    I started out with felt and still wearing felt. I am more comfortable in this type of boot as opposed to the rubber. I can remember a trip last year on the Caney, where this gentlemen slipped and fell twice with rubber sole boots; he had just bought the boot before his trip. He was not satisfied. I need all the traction I can get so the felt works best for me. I do clean the boots with hot water once I get home. For drying I always take the strings out and open them up to speed up the dying process. If I could find an alternative I would but so far I haven't it.

  7. Thanks for the comment, Bill. I haven't tried but a couple pair of rubber sole boots myself, and I know felt is inherently better for gripping slippery wet rocks. I'm hoping the next generation of eco-friendly boots will have new designs and materials that are equal to or better than felt. Only time will tell.

  8. This year we bought some Korkers with the interchangeable soles. I cannot say enough good things about my boots. Here in MO, we have to worry about the didy, zebras but no so much the whirling. In CO, definitely all of the above. The rubber soles with the studs keep me upright in some very snotty areas. I also changed out the soles and hiked miles in miles in them during my volunteer trip. They felt great on my feet in the water and out of the water. We looked at other boots, but really liked the comfort and flexibility of the Korkers. We haven't even used the felt soles that came with the boots yet. With all of that said, we still disinfect our gear. This, I think, is the best way to make sure you don't carry hitchhikers to another destination. -stephanie

  9. Thanks for the comment, Stephanie. Good information.