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 Examiner.com 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.