Strong Feelings About Felt

From National Trout Unlimited One of the hottest topics in the fly-fishing industry today involves the use of felt soles on wading boots. The reason for the controversy is felt's role in spreading aquatic invasive species, such as whirling disease and Didymo (“rock snot”).

Here is what we know: felt acts as a sponge, soaking in water and unwanted hitchhikers. It takes a long time to dry, and it is difficult to clean and inspect thoroughly because microscopic species such as whirling disease spores and Didymo can be impossible to detect with the naked eye. Moreover, since anglers like to travel—let’s face it, most people who fish the Beaverhead also try the Ruby, Big Hole, Madison or Jefferson—we run the risk of transporting an invasive species to a new watershed. And once something like whirling disease gets established, it can be almost impossible to eradicate.

Recognizing the role that anglers can and should play in preventing the spread of aquatic invasive species, in 2008 Trout Unlimited called on fly tackle manufacturers to phase out felt by 2011. Simms was the first to step up, with L.L.Bean, Patagonia and other manufacturers close behind. Orvis will release its new rubber-soled boot in early 2010, and Korkers is offering an AIS-resistant Klingon rubber sole package for its interchangeable sole boot system.

But the debate continues. Many anglers do not think that the new rubber soles offer the same instream traction that felt does. Dave Kumlien, who oversees TU’s AIS work as the director of the Whirling Disease Foundation, believes that the industry is still adjusting, and thinks that the best solution may be the new rubber soles with metal studs. To avoid damage to the floor of his driftboat, Dave installed a simple rubber mat.

No one expects anglers to go out and throw away their felt-soled boots. If the boots never leave a particular watershed, there is no real danger that they will spread invasives. And if anglers clean, dry and inspect their boots, the threat of spreading invasives is greatly reduced. But eliminating felt in new boots is the right way to go, and several states have either already banned felt or plan to do it in the near future.

As anglers, giving up felt is a small price to pay for keeping our rivers and fisheries free from invasives. Read more