Rubber tread joins fight against invasive aquatic species

Phill Trimm at Western Anglers shows the difference between felt and rubber soles.

Anglers headed to southeast Alaska, such as here on Owl Creek, will be required to wear felt-soled wading boots starting Jan. 1, 2011. The Alaska Board of Fisheries recently adopted a statewide phase-out of felt sole wading products effective Jan. 1, 2012. The move is aimed to fight the spread of invasive aquatic species.

This fishing boot is soled with the StreamTread technology developed by Simms. It’s a replacement for traditional felt-soled boots.

If your fishing plans include a trip to Alaska sometime next year, you’ll need to revamp your fishing wardrobe.

Starting in 2011, felt-soled wading boots are prohibited in southeast Alaska, and as of Jan. 1, 2012, they are banned statewide.

The Alaska Board of Fisheries took the unprecedented step after unanimously agreeing it’s aimed at guarding against the spread of aquatic invasive species.

The board spent a week listening to testimony from anglers, lodge owners and others warning that unless Alaska takes action to protect its freshwater rivers, lakes and streams, it risks becoming infected as have other parts of the world.

Alaska is the first state to ban felt-soled wading boots.

Trout Unlimited estimated it costs the United States $113.6 billion a year to deal with invasive species. The list of invasive species runs the gamut from A (algae) to Z (zebra mussels).

New Zealand banned felt-soled boots in 2008 and competitors that year in the World Fly-fishing Championships were sent scrambling to find replacement equipment.

Domestically, some fly shops already are turning away from felt-soled boots in favor of rubber tread designs. One of the most-popular is the trademarked StreamTread Stealth Sole by Simms, which this year quit selling felt-soled wading equipment.

“I didn’t order any felt products for the 2009 or 2010 line and anything I have in stock is carryover from 2008,” said Will Sands, shop manager at Taylor Creek Fly Shop in Basalt. “I personally have not worn felt-soled boots for 12 years.”

Anglers have been cautioned about cleaning wading equipment after each use to aid in slowing the spread of invasive species, but Alaska’s regulatory move might be the tip of the iceberg.

“We don’t have enough anglers who are self-responsible for cleaning their gear, so now they’re going to regulate us to try to eliminate material that houses and transports aquatic invasive species,” said Phil Trimm at Western Anglers Fly Shop in Grand Junction.

Rubber soles and boots are easier to clean than felt soles but for many anglers, Trimm included, nothing ever will replace the feel of felt.

“As far as I’m concerned, there is nothing better than fishing with felt soles,” Trimm said. “Especially on the Gunnison, where you have all this slick stuff on the rocks. Nothing grabs and holds like felt.”

Sands said he veered away from felt for a practical reason. While still living and fishing on the Front Range, some of his hikes into places such as Cheesman Canyon near Denver were so rough, he would burn through several pairs of felt soles each summer.

“I was wearing through soles so quickly I got frustrated,” he said, remembering his first non-felt boots were a pair of Gary Borger’s Ultimate Wading Boots.

“But when they came out with new stealth rubber I switched right over to it,” he said.

And for someone doing a lot of winter fishing, rubber soles are the way to go.

“They don’t collect snow and ice like felt does,” Sands said.

Among the better-known fishing brands carrying a rubber-type sole are Simms, Patagonia and Orvis, Sands said.

Rubber-soled boots are about $30 more than comparable felt-soled boots, Trimm said.

“There’s a big weight difference, too, between rubber and felt,” he said.

Sands prefers rubber soles but also said that in some situations felt might be better.

“Wearing rubber soles with studs is like having four-wheel drive on the stream,” he said.

Except for places where it’s legally regulated, the decision between felt and rubber still lies with the individual.

“In certain applications felt might be better than (rubber) soles,” Sands said, “but we are trying to protect our fisheries and felt it important to help in the fight against the transport of these aquatic nuisances.”

Trimm takes it to the individual level, telling anglers looking at boots in his store that it’s up to them to stop invasive species.

“I tell them just what I told you, that if we don’t have enough responsible anglers to clean their gear, they are going to make us undergo these changes,” he said.

Sands is equally philosophic.

“That’s true, it’s up to the anglers to take the time to make sure their equipment is clean,” he said. “These rubber soles might not be the end-all cure to aquatic nuisances, but it’s a step in the right direction.”


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