As most of you fly fishing enthusiasts probably know, a number of states (Alaska, Vermont, etc.) have banned the use of felt soles on wading boots. The reason for this is that aquatic invasive species—thinks like New Zealand mud snails, didymo, etc.—as well as the organism that causes whirling disease in trout, have been shown to be more easily transported from one river to another in felt boots than in boots made with rubber soles.
But if you ask many anglers, they’ll tell you that nothing quite grabs the slick river bottom and helps anglers keep from falling in the river quite like felt does.
I’ve actually found that wearing rubber boots with studded soles, or the new wading boots with aluminum bars on the soles, offers almost the same traction as felt… at least for me. So I’ve given up on felt altogether.
Still, while we can debate the pros and cons of felt all day, the fact remains that most states do not prohibit the use of felt wading boots. But everyone, everywhere should be mindful of the steps they can take to prevent the spread of aquatic invasive species.
Whether you wear felt or not, you should wash your boots thoroughly after you go wading, especially if you’re planning on visiting one river after another (and that can be weeks later… some of these organisms can survive in porous materials for weeks or longer.
You’ll note that I said “whether you wear felt or not.” That’s because science has shown us that rubber soles are no cure-all. Invasive species can be transported in threads and fabrics on boots also. Everyone who wades should clean their boots and waders.
There are a variety of treatments involving mixtures of water and disinfectants. You might check with your state fish and wildlife agency to determine the disinfecting treatments they suggest.
I have also heard that freezing my boots overnight will help prevent the spread of aquatic invasive species. That makes for cold feet in the morning, even after I dunk my boots in water to thaw them. But that’s a small price to pay to keep the waters I fish as clean as possible. And as anglers, don’t we owe it to each other to do just that?