Which States Have Banned Felt Sole Wading Boots

Image setting up the fly fishing trip of a lifetime.  You travel to a lodge at a far off destination like Alaska you unpack, gear up and find out your Felt Sole Wading Boots are BANNED!

Which states have BANNED felt soles

  1. Maryland

  2. Alaska

  3. Missouri

  4. Nebraska

  5. Rhode Island

  6. South Dakota

And it is Very Likely that Yellowstone National Park will ban felt in 2018.

Do you want a recommended solution?  I highly recommend you check out KORKERS BuckSkin Wading Boots (link to AMAZON for more information and pricing)  The KORKERs have an interchangeable sole, so with one purchase you get grippy felt for slippery rocks and rubber for those long treks and Banned waterways.  The outsoles are easy to carry, the spares can be kept in the back of your vest or your bag.

So why have all these places banned felt?

Research has shown that felt and other fibrous materials can harbor invasive species for extended periods of time.  Essentially felt soles take a long time to dry out.  The drying cycle kills off the “bugs” which eliminates the transfer.   Rubber soles dry fast so the nasty water born critters die.

Find actual research and download Alaska’s Ban on Felt Sole Wading Footwear -FAQ

I also found a study conducted at the University of Vermont – Felt Waders Didymo Whirling

Fishermen are transferring invasive species from one water shed to another.  One of the culprits is wading boots.  Other sources such as boat bilge water, boat trailers, live wells and bait pails play a role as well.  Unfortunately removing the invasive can be as detrimental to the environment as the actual disease.  Think of poisoning a section of river to kill off something like Whirling Disease – not a pretty sight.

The worst invasive species are:

  • Whirling Disease, this disease has had an impact on fisheries all over the world.  Basically this parasite is
  • Rock Snot or Didymo, infestation appears slimy but is not.  Usually colored a brown or tan it can blanket a river bottom and alter the basic food base for fish.
  • Proliferative Kidney Disease (PKD) is a parasite that affects salmonid fish.  This bug can cause up to 90% death in infected populations of fish.  This is one of the main drivers for the pending Yellowstone Felt Ban
  • New Zealand Mud Snails, which are a really small snail measuring 4-6 millimeters.  These little buggers can blanket the bottom of a river and affect the food chain.  Studies have shown mud snails can live up to 50 hours on a damp surface.

So the best course of action is to take preventive steps. It is recommended that anglers:

  • Drain live wells, bilges and all water. Treatments for bilge water are also available.
  • Clean boats, trailers and equipment. This means picking the grasses and sea weed off your gear and disposing it into a trash can.
  • Dispose of unwanted bait in the trash. Stop dumping those unused minnows overboard!
  • DRY it out. Boats, boots, waders and equipment MUST be thoroughly dry.

Something that has started catching on in my home state of Michigan is Boot Cleaning Stations organizations like Trout Unlimited and environmentally conscious companies are distributing buckets and brushes at popular fishing locations.

Wader Washing Station

wader washing station

So which Type of wading boot should you choose?  Felt vs Rubber

Rubber sole wading boots are usually more comfortable on long hikes to the water.  If you fish on softer substrates like sand or pebbles rubber lug soles are a better option as well.  Lug soles also don’t freeze up like felt.  So if you winter fish, rubber lugs might be the best option.

Felt sole waders are the best on slippery rocks.  Hands down felt is better on the cobble river bottoms I mostly fish.  With felt or lug soles you also have the option to install screws for added traction.   If you fish on those shale bottom rivers felt will still grip.  Safety is the main driver for felt to continue to have a market.  Since many fishermen stick to a small group of rivers spreading parasites isn’t a big issue.

The great thing about this debate is that you have choices.  Many manufactures have started offering “sticky soles” which are basically soft rubber that can be called hard but they come close to the grip of felt on rocks.  The problem with these is they aren’t very durable and will wear out quickly.

Years ago I just bought a pair of both, rubber lugs and felt.  It seemed like I was wearing both pair out within a year or so.  Recently I tried the Korkers and think I’ve found the solution for all the problems I talked about in this article.  With the Korkers BuckSkins – link to check out more pictues, you can snap on the lugs for the trek into the water and if you encounter some slippery rocks snap off the lugs and put on the felt.

I’ve attached a video below that shows how easy it is to switch out the soles.

What are the Ramifications of Banning Felt Wading Boots

Back in the mid 2000’s a couple big studies concluded that felt boots were a contributor of spreading the invasive species.  Conservation organizations like Trout Unlimited rightfully communicated the information and called on states and manufactures to ban felt.  Many states started studies and while the studies progressed more states jumped on the bandwagon.  Since there was and still is a competitive alternative to felt it seemed like switching was just the right thing to do.

Cleaning and Science of Felt – PDF

Gates Study Whirling Disease Transport – pdf

In 2008 Simms Fishing Products made a very public announcement that the company would stop using felt material for the soles of their wading boots.  It appeared Simms was getting ahead of the market plus pushing the technology in developing rubber sole wading boots.  By 2009 Simms had 6 different designs of felt free wading boots and sandals.  By 2014 Simms reintroduced felt, whether it was market pressure or acknowledgement that felt really grips onto slippery rocks I’m not sure.  I’m sure the answer is that both comfort, safety and a drop in sales had Simms scrambling to fill a need.

Given the sound science that didymo and felt are uniquely connected (no pun intended) a bans on felt make sense.  It is documented that after 36 hours rubber sole boots had affectively zero didymo cells while felt had 296.  And this makes sense fishermen usually take off their boots and drop them into a waterproof bin and either move to another fishing spot ofr travel back home.  I can see how if a fisherman was working his way across the west a single pair of boot could spread some nasty bugs to a half dozen watersheds.

I sincerely hope you found this article before you got hundreds of miles from a sporting goods store like many travelers to the felt sole banned states.  Other states have considered banning felt include:

  • Idaho
  • Maine
  • Montana
  • New Mexico
  • Oregon

Please come back to this post, my plan is to keep this list updated so you can stay informed of were felt soles are banned and you can plan accordingly.  Like I said above, it is best to clean and dry your gear throughly after a trip.  You don’t want to be “the one” who transfers some unwanted critter to your favorite fishing spot.  I know I’ve pretty much made the switch – the Korkers I own now satisfy my consrvation side and safety.

  1. Reply
    Steve B March 8, 2018 at 3:02 pm

    One thing you should state it that there are also states that have resinded the ban on felt. Much of the research from the early 2000’s has actually been edited to show much less of an affect of felt. Sticky rubber sucks unless you put in screw type studs thus taking away much if the reason for using it as the studs will carry remnants of bottom debris on them. I guide and have tried just about all the sticky rubber made. The only one that even remotely works are the Vibram soles. Korkers has a their idro grip soles made with it and it is outstanding. If you’re using felt dry and clean is the hest rule.

    • Reply
      David Humphries March 9, 2018 at 2:49 am

      Steve B Great comment. I know Vermont later reversed the ruling. To your point – felt is probably not the biggest contributor. It sounds like your like me in trying to contribute in all the ways we can. We had a “discovery” of new zealand mud snails last year here in MI – major bummer

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