Get a Grip When Fishing the Parks

Felt-soled wading boots have long been the preferred option for anglers

By Rob Breeding

A felt hammer fell in Yellowstone last week when the National Park Service announced the grippy material was no longer welcome. Instead, wading anglers are now required to use boots soled with non-permeable materials such as rubber, or rubber studded with spikes or aluminum bars, in order to slow the spread of aquatic invasive species.

Felt-soled wading boots have long been the preferred option for anglers. The material grips underwater rocks, especially rocks covered by algae or other aquatic plants. But felt also holds moisture and aquatic organisms, and may lead to their spread into Yellowstone. Glacier National Park had already banned felt.

I first used felt soles 30 years ago, and that experience ended my use of plain rubber boots for wading. I consider those soles a safety hazard on slick rocks in streams and rivers. I also have recent experience using rubber, since my current favorite wading boots have interchangeable soles. These wading boots (the brand name is Korkers) come with sets of rubber and felt soles.

Along with rubber and felt, I have added a set of “Svelte” soles for my wading boots. These soles are made from a material similar to the green scrubbing pads you may keep in your kitchen for cleaning especially dirty pots and pans. They work, for traction I mean, though Svelte may be heck on baked-on grease as well.

If felt-soled wading boots are a significant step up from rubber in terms of stream-bottom stickiness, then Svelte is an upgrade over felt by a similar magnitude.

The problem is these soles wear out quickly, so I use rubber for the walk to the stream, then switch to Svelte when it’s time to enter the water. Still, I’m occasionally anxious to fish, or maybe just lazy, and wade right in. I’m always shocked at how unsteady I am with plain rubber. It’s like walking on marbles in comparison.

Increasingly common are wading boots with metal spikes or bars to provide traction. Since I’m a Svelte convert I’ve never used this type of sole, but they have their adherents. When it comes to these alternatives, I lean toward boots with bars made from aluminum. Not only is aluminum the ultimate material when it comes to containing 12 ounces of beer — essential fishing gear in my book — the softer metal is grippier on the rocks.

Whatever option you choose, long gone are the days when one set of wading boots would get you through the season. If your soles sport metal spikes don’t plan on wearing them on an early-season float/wade trip. Metal is rough on the floor of drift boats, and if I have to explain why spikes and inflatables don’t mix, you should probably find a hobby less risky than water sports.

I called Yellowstone and Glacier to ask about Svelte, and may have inadvertently tipped off staffers in both parks to the existence of this Korkers’ complication. In Glacier, the regs don’t cover Svelte, though Lauren Alley, a Park public affairs officer, stressed the importance of thoroughly cleaning and drying wading gear when moving between bodies of water, regardless of sole material.

Some conservation groups such as Trout Unlimited originally supported felt bans, but have since pulled back. The ban may be an over reaction given how easy it is to spread invasive species through shear carelessness, but I’m OK with the added caution. If future research demonstrates felt isn’t a problem, the ban can always be rescinded.

Invasive species, on the other hand, may be forever.

Rob Breeding is the editor of www.mthookandbullet.com, which covers outdoor news in Montana.

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