Didymosphenia geminata, otherwise known as "rock snot", is one invader that is spreading like wildfire in our rivers and streams. Conservation groups, like FFF and Trout Unlimited, are trying to do their part to help prevent the spread of such invasives, including this single celled algae, from one waterway to the next. Its unfortunate but fly fisherman seem to be bearing the brunt of the criticism over the spread of invasives.
Lately, there has been a huge push for a ban on felt soled wading boots but it is going to be difficult to implement a government regulated ban on felt soles, as New Zealand and parts of Alaska have implemented. Felt is a problem, but is it really the only part of an anglers wading system that harbors the spores of these aquatic hitchhikers? I think not but I'm not a scientist. It seems to me that the stitches, fabrics, laces, creases and crevices (that come with attached gravel guards), are perfect places for these little creatures to hide out.
Therefore, I believe more has to be done than just calling for a felt sole ban. What I'm concerned about is that a switch over to rubber will give anglers a false sense of security. Its human nature. Many will become apathetic and less vigilant in inspecting, and cleaning their gear because they consciously or subconsciously think that their gear is safe. Call me a pessimist but think about it.
Orvis' stance on the matter is far more conducive to nipping at the problem at hand. All your gear needs to be inspected, cleaned, and dried, regardless of your soles. Here's what Orvis has to say about the issue:
Invasive species are a real threat to our fisheries across the globe and it’s encouraging that all companies that manufacture wading gear are looking at alternatives to felt soles and other fabrics that prevent these aquatic hitchhikers from moving from one place to another. Orvis is working on this problem from many directions, and below is an explanation and clarification of their position on the subject.
Are felt soles becoming obsolete? Will I have to throw away my felt-soled wading shoes? Should I even buy a pair of felt-soled wading shoes or waders?
There is no doubt that felt, along with porous fabrics in wading shoes and laces, help transport invasive species without proper care. However, if you always fish the same watershed, felt soles are not a problem. Aquatic birds and mammals transport far more spores that you can on your felt soles. Thus, you can keep your felt-soled waders reserved for a specific watershed. In addition, you can greatly minimize the threat by cleaning, drying, and inspecting your felt soles after each fishing trip. Trout Unlimited has called for a ban on selling and producing felt-soled wading shoes by 2011 but it’s doubtful that we’ll see a wholesale, government-regulated domestic ban on felt soles like the ban New Zealand has implemented, anytime soon. So, if you are used to the idea of wearing felt soles and will use them on the same watershed, rest assured your current or future felt-soled wading shoes won’t be obsolete.
What is Orvis doing for the future?
In their continuing effort to be an industry leader, Orvis has partnered with Vibram to develop the new EcoTraX™ wading boot outsole. The sole has been added to a new wading boot, as well as, some of the existing styles, creating the River Guard series of wading products. Using Vibram’s® innovative Idrogrip compound, which offers 30% better grip on wet surfaces, Orvis created an exclusive tread pattern that offers a high percentage of sharp leading edges for maximum grip while helping to keep the pattern clean of mud and debris. Additionally, by incorporating tungsten-carbide screw-in studs, anglers can achieve a level of grip that is comparable to the felt-soled boots they have used for years. This sole was designed primarily to help mitigate the spread of Aquatic Nuisance Species (ANS) such as didymo, mud snails and the whirling disease spores. While the sole is designed not pick up excessive amounts of stream debris it is still important that anglers follow a few basic steps to help reduce the chance of spreading aquatic hitchhikers.
1. Remove all mud and vegetation from your equipment prior to leaving your fishing location.
2. Eliminate as much water from gear as possible before transporting.
3. Clean all your equipment with hot water (>104°F/40°C).
4. Thoroughly dry all your gear before entering a new body of water.
What about chemical equipment?
While true that some chemical treats, such as 409 and chlorine bleach, will kill ANS like mud snails and didymo, they are harsh on equipment and harmful to the environment. Can you imagine what fishing access sites, riparian zones and river water would look and smell like if everyone got out of the water and doused their gear in 409 and bleach? For more information on ANS and what you can do to help stop the spread, visit www.orvis.com/invasivespecies.
Invasives are here and spreading faster than you can imagine so we all need to do what we can to help. You are also correct in assuming that rubber, by itself, isn't a safe alternative to felt. However, studded rubber boots are just as safe, if not more so. Not to mention, studded rubber soles wont collect snow like felt has the tendency to do. I always wanted to be 6'6" (for purposes of playing basketball) and the only time that I seem to reach that height is in the winter when there is snow along the streams edge.
Here are a few safe options that Orvis has put together for your wading pleasure.
Riverguard Silver Label Bootfoot Waders