Row vs. Wade

By Beacon Staff

Row vs. Wade is a Duckboy classic, second in my mind only to the postcard that depicts a couple of dudes sitting in an old beater pickup. Between them are a couple of dogs. The caption reads: “Montana Double Date.”

The classic shows a couple of anglers looking like they’re ready for a throw down. One angler is up to his hips in waders and river; the other is at the oars of a raft. If you fish much you’ve probably seen a similar scene, for real.

For most of my fishing career I came down on the wade side of this national controversy. Not because it was necessarily better. It had to do with the smaller waters where I learned to fish. Then when I moved to Montana and started living around rivers large enough to float, for many years cost prevented me from moving my political allegiances to the row side of the fence.

But I’ve been mostly fishing out of a boat the last half dozen years or so. Not exclusively, but mostly. Recently, however, I came to own a pair of nifty new wading boots. The boots are a type that has a removable sole, so I can use them with felt or rubber or even studded bottoms.

Felt, most wading anglers know, is the standard for gripping the slick rocks encountered where nice trout live. Boot manufacturers have been working diligently to come up with new soles that grip as well as felt, without felt’s down side. That down side is the possibility that harmful invasive organisms can become imbedded in the porous sole, and then spread to another water when an angler moves on. Felt is also difficult to disinfect.

States including Alaska, Maryland and Vermont, as well as the southern hemisphere trout wonderland New Zealand, have all banned felt-soled wading boots. More states may follow, though I don’t know what to expect in Montana. A bill in the 2011 Legislature to ban felt died in committee.

Montana, the greatest trout fishing state in the lower 48, has a lot to lose if invasive aquatic organisms spread. But I’m not fully convinced banning felt is the answer. There are so many ways to spread aquatic critters and plants. I’m not sure it’s realistic to think we can police them all. We might end up banning felt, then watch as drownings due to anglers slipping increase, while at the same time the stuff were trying to contain spreads anyway via bilge tanks, anchors and boat trailers.

I am happy to know that my wading boots won’t be banned. I can also take the added precaution of removing the felt soles, placing them in a zip lock bag and throwing them in the freezer over night to disinfect them.

Do that with a pair of wading boots only if you’re fond of sleeping on the couch.

Sporting my new wading boots I stepped into a river to fish the other day. I’ve gotten so used to pounding a bank and hooking a couple fish, then drifting downstream that I’d almost forgotten what it’s like to carefully work a run. I fished a stretch of river no more than 50 yards for more than three hours. I started with a PMD, losing a fish that, judging by the size of the back that cleared the surface when he attacked my dry fly, might have gone 18 inches. Then, once the action on the PMD cooled, I switched to a dry fly that looks a lot like an Adams with a purple body, and reworked the same water, picking up a few more fish.

In that final half hour before dark, I tied on a CDC emerger and got slammed on almost every cast. I finally cut the fly off, leaving it in the throat of a cutthroat that had inhaled it. It was getting too dark to safely remove the fly without damaging the fishes’ gills, and almost certainly killing it in the process. It was also too dark to tie on another fly. I’d caught 10 already, and probably lost twice as many.

I went home and put my boots in the freezer. I’m single. I can get away with it.

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