By Kirk Deeter
In the last issue of TROUT, Kris Millgate reported that Yellowstone National Park is considering a ban of felt-soled wading boots. And that prompted several letters to the editor, including some that criticized us for “advocating” for the ban, merely by writing about a proposal (just because you report on a topic doesn’t mean you’re advocating for something… at least that’s what journalism used to be). We had some googans write to say “nobody’s going to tell them how to fish or where to fish or with what” (that attitude is disgusting… it’s not an assault on your rights to ask for a little common courtesy and realization that you’re sharing resources with others). Most of the letters, however, were from people who eloquently reasoned that they just haven’t found any suitable alternative to felt when it comes to wading traction (and they don’t want to fish in places where they don’t feel safe).
I’ve had mixed feelings about felt as I’ve seen the issue evolve over the past several years. I’ve seen some companies jump into the issue with both feet (pun intended) and then jump right out again when the effects of no felt impacted their bottom line. I’ve seen angler friends swear off felt, right up to the point where they took a hard fall on their butts, and bought felt boots again.
What I really think: Aquatic invasive species are a real issue, and we as anglers need to remain vigilant on that issue. I don’t think, however, the felt ban is a panacea… look at these icky rubber-soled boots above and tell me it matters that they don’t have felt soles (in other words, they’re still candidates for transferring aquatic invasive species). Cleaning boots—all gear that contacts the water, for that matter—is hugely important; but I wonder how many of us are really just talking the talk versus walking the walk. I do wear felt now and again (like in my boat, where spikes are discouraged). But I try to keep felt boots married to one piece of water. I know that’s certainly not financially feasible for everyone (I’m lucky, I get to do gear reviews, and nobody asks for their boots back).
As for wading performance, I do think certain combinations of rubber tread and studs will offer 80 to 90 percent the traction that felt does, but they’re difficult for some anglers to figure out—what works best for you might not work for me, and vice versa.
So, in my opinion, the issue is still a, well… quagmire.
But more concerning to me is that I’m getting the sense that people are tired of talking about it, or they’re frustrated by the lack of easy fixes, so they don’t want to even discuss felt anymore. Moreover, people have taken to criticizing those who do want to talk about it. Seems to me we should revisit the topic for more conversation, not less.
Kirk Deeter is the vice president of Trout Media and the editor of Trout Media. He lives and works in the mountains west of Denver.