Response to Felt Sole Ban


Photo courtesy of L.L.Bean


The responses to TU’s announcement of a felt sole boot and wader ban have prompted questions from members. Here’s TU Whirling Disease Foundation Executive Director Dave Kumlien’s response to some of your questions.

The thoughtful responses being posted indicate that TU members and anglers are giving the issue of the spread of aquatic invasive species (AIS) by angling equipment some serious thought. The goal of the “no felt soles by 2011” policy is to produce a paradigm shift in the behavior and practices of anglers and water recreationists regarding their role in spreading AIS, and this reaction is exactly what we had hoped for. With the growing threats of AIS to our cold water trout and salmon resources, anglers and water recreationists must do what they can to help reduce the risk of spreading AIS.


I would like to address some of the recurring questions that have come up around the felt sole policy.  First, regarding the question of felt soles being a “scapegoat,” there is considerable scientific evidence that felt soles move sediments and AIS. A study conducted at Montana State University on angler movement titled Movements of Resident and Non-Resident Anglers in Montana: Implications for Transferring Whirling Disease among Drainages in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem found that the average pair of wading boots sampled carried 22.10 grams of sediment.  Extrapolate this to the angling population fishing on any given day in only the greater Yellowstone area, and you will conclude that felt soles are moving lots of sediment, and these sediments could potentially contain all sorts of AIS including whirling disease spores, New Zealand mud snails, Eurasian milfoil and didymo.


TU did not formulate this policy in a vacuum. One of the deciding factors in the development of the “no felts by 2011” was the formal request by the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources asking TU to address the felt sole issue to the angling public and to wader and boot manufacturers. UTDWR is eliminating the use of felt soles by its professional staff, and other state fish and wildlife agencies and New Zealand agencies are following suit.


Felts are certainly not a scapegoat, but we agree that felt soles are not the only piece of angling equipment or the only method of spreading AIS. It is true that AIS could be riding along on wader booties, boot laces or on the surfaces of wading boots, and to address this possibility, TU is recommending that anglers not only eliminate the use of felt soles but that they also follow the guidelines provided in the Clean Angling Pledge to inspect, clean and dry angling equipment and to avoid moving fish, fish parts, water and plants between drainages. The Clean Angling Pledge can be found and signed here. 


Another question that has been posed regarding the “no felts by 2011” policy is the availability and suitability of acceptable alternatives to felt soles. As an avid angler and a 30 year Montana fly fishing outfitter, this was a big concern of mine. I had tried some of the alternative rubber soles, and my experience with them was not satisfactory. However,  I knew from discussions with leading wader and boot manufacturers that new alternative soles were being developed and tested, and at the 2008 Fly Fishing Retailer in Denver, Colo., Simms presented a new rubber sole developed in conjunction with Vibram and announced that they would eliminate felt soles in their product line by 2010. Other manufacturers including Patagonia, Korkers, Chota, Orvis and others are also introducing alternative soles to the market. Soon, there should be lots of choices available at a number of price points.


In the meantime, if you have felt soled boots that are in good condition or you just don’t want to switch, you can still follow the recommendations of the Clean Angling Pledge to inspect, clean and dry your equipment, and by following these guidelines, you will be doing your part to reduce the risk of spreading AIS. It is very important to understand that all of these actions, guidelines, and paradigm shifts are aimed at risk reduction, not risk elimination.  There is no technique or treatment that will eliminate all risk of spreading AIS, but eliminating the use of felt soles and following the recommendations of the Clean Angling Pledge will reduce the risk of spreading AIS and causing damage to our precious trout and salmon resources. 

 You can read member comments by reading the original blog post about this topic.

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