Felt Saves Lives.

19 01 2011

As more states and conservation groups knee-jerk their way onto the “ban felt” bandwagon, those of us with a little common sense about the realities of the issue seem to be a slim minority.

And what law can prevent it anyway? Here’s another look at a different aspect of the argument against banning felt and I could not agree more…. Felt Bans, Coming to a State Near You.

If Rock Snot is to be stopped, it will be through education, real protective measures and responsible anglers and other river users – not through the banning of a material that keeps millions of anglers safely wading and chasing trout. Are bears going to wear full-body rubber suits from one creek to the next? Do you see the abject absurdity of the premise that by banning felt, we can stop Rock Snot?

 

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24 responses

19 01 2011
Kirk

Now you’re talking some common sense. I’ll give up my felt when bears start wearing rubber soled boots as well. Let’s let the legislators be the ones tasked with convincing the bears that they have to wear them and when met with resistance, those same legislators will be further tasked with forcibly attaching the boots to the bears’ feet (for the record this will not be time billable to the tax payers). It’ll still be good for the manufacturers, however, because there are a lot of bears that will need to b outfitted with the rubbers.

19 01 2011
Owl Jones

Kirk, in this slow economy and with fly fishing participation on the decline don’t think the implication that manufacturers are behind this in order to move new gear hasn’t crossed this ole owl’s mind a time or two. I would not put it past them.

19 01 2011
Brenda

I must admit to not knowing anything about this issue, Jeff. I clicked on the article link but it didn’t say WHY it’s being banned! So, what’s the danger/problem with felt? I’m intrigued!

19 01 2011
Owl Jones

Brenda, it is believed that “felt soled” wading boots can harbor the invasive known commonly as “rock snot” easier than rubber soles. Felt, however is far, far superior in holding a fisherman upright in a slippery stream. I’m as concerned as anyone about invasive species and how they might harm our ecosystems and our fishing, but until we can get elk to don rubber booties, banning felt soles isn’t going to eliminate the problem – and I’m not the only one who suspects that banning felt may not even be as effective at helping to stop the spread of this gunk as is being stated. It’s a very typical over-reaction to a problem – an attitude that if we can just pass another law or two, it will solve everything. I’m not sure that this will do anything but put fishermen at risk of slipping on slick rocks and breaking something, or worse, dying. River fatalities are more common than most people think and in the east, as any kid with an inner tube and sneakers can tell you – our freestone streams are anything but safe.

19 01 2011
Brenda

Jeff, what is it about felt – as opposed to other cloth – that makes them think it causes this issue? Does it hold bacteria or some other microorganism?

19 01 2011
Owl Jones

Brenda, felt soles are more porous I suppose and therefore more likely to hold the invasive “rock snot” in it’s grip until the angler enters another waterway. Some studying the issue think it can survive days longer in felt than on rubber boots, but there is some question as to the validity of this claim since even on rubber boots, the other materials – laces, tongue, thread, etc. are often textured and porous as well.

OwlJones.com – A Southeastern Fly Fishing Internet Hub!

19 01 2011
stephanie

Dustin and I gave up our felt this summer, and we haven’t looked back. The studs that come in the Korkers rubber soles are remarkable. With that said, banning felt is not going to solve the problem of didymo. Education on what didymo is and how it affects an ecosystem is the first order of business. Then education needs to come on how to properly disinfect ALL equipment after a day spent on the water. The doubly tricky part, enforcement of the proper cleaning procedures…

19 01 2011
Owl Jones

Stephanie, I’m glad it’s worked out for you. Your “double tricky part” is what bothers me, but not in the most obvious sense. “Enforcement of proper cleaning procedures.” What next? Enforcement of proper release methods, protective eye-wear or sunscreen? IMHO, the government at all levels has it’s nose in more places than it belongs, and they do so much of the time with total disregard to fact or common sense. Like telling people what kind of wading boots they must wear, even though it’s obvious that doing so will not stop the problem. I’m not trying to beat a dead horse here( because you obviously understand both the problem and my issue with this particular “solution” ) but I do want to bring attention again to the fact that another new law isn’t always the answer to every problem. Thank you for your comment. I love your blog! 🙂

19 01 2011
Jay

Since a few have put in their two cents, but no one has pointed out the obvious difference between us and elk or bears, I feel it’s time for me to jump in.
Simply stated, elk and bears don’t hop in a stream in AR or CO that is infected with didymo (rock snot) then drive to TN or NC and move from invasives one watershed to another. The home range of a bear or elk is highly unlikely to involve more than one river, and the chances of them entering an entirely new watershed with didymo attached to their furry paws is practically nil.
I on the other hand can fish the Arkansas River watershed, the White River watershed, and the Tennessee River watershed all in a few days of driving… less time than it takes for my felt soled boots to dry (if I don’t use a heater). Regardless of what little data may exist (and I believe there is a good bit from Whirling Disease research), I think it is pretty safe to say that fishermen (with the aid of modern transportation) are in a separate class from wildlife.
The legislation isn’t likely to stop anyone who is already breaking the rules by poaching or fishing with bait in a single hook lure/fly only section.
The legislation is for the good people who follow the rules, and hopefully understand that “the rules” are put in place to protect our resources.
I don’t know about you, but I’ve never had a wildlife officer stop to check and see if I had any Powerbait molded around my San Juan Worm in fly only water (not that I have ever done that), and I don’t expect many will be out writing tickets for felt soles either. I for one wouldn’t want to get caught if they did, so I would follow the rules. Rules aren’t perfect, and some might say they’re meant to be broken, but “the rules” usually have the people’s best interest in mind.

19 01 2011
Owl Jones

That’s a bit of a straw man. No one ever said elk or bears could do that. You’re arguing a point I wasn’t making. But wildlife can, and I suspect will, spread it from adjacent watershed to adjacent watershed, unless we can fit them with rubber suits OR, more realistically – come up with something that will eliminate the invasive from surviving in our waterways. Of course fisherman can make a bigger and wider impact with regard to the spread of invasives, but making everyone bend over backwards and buy new boots, waders and gear isn’t going to stop it. It may not even slow it down, since I don’t believe there’s data out there showing definitively how many anglers have spread it and how far, etc.

Ps _ i can think of plenty of rule( and laws and regulations) that aren’t intended to have “people’s” best interest in mind, can’t you? And who decides what’s in our best interest, and can there be a “best interests” across the board, for everyone – everywhere? Maybe on some issues, but certainly not on all issues.

19 01 2011
Jay

Sorry if you that I was tearing down a straw man. The wildlife thing was repeated three times, and seemed like the bears and deer needed a voice.
I’m sure there are laws/rules/regulations that we all disagree with, and in my experience a lot of the rules that get put in place are a result of someone doing something stupid. Sometimes it’s something the rest of us never even thought of, but somebody does something and a “rulemaker” says “we need a law/rule/regulation to address that.”
In the case of aquatic invasives, fisherman wore felt soled boots from one river to another without knowing that they could possibly be doing anything wrong. Whirling Disease was spread all over before anybody ever uttered the phrase “disinfect your gear.” Hindsight is always 20/20, and the legislation (already in place and in states yet to come) is far behind the actual problem.
I think for those of us who do care about the waters we fish, we should do whatever we can to be a part of the solution.
Maybe that’s going to a legislative hearing and saying “I only fish river x in my felt soled boots, why should I have to give them up?”… or perhaps you can save felt by getting a program put in place for education/certification (like hunter safety) that says you’re entitled to wear felt because you’ve gone through training on proper disinfection. I know it’s more rules and regs, and they sometimes suck. That’s why I said earlier they “USUALLY have the people’s best interest in mind.”
.. and who decides what’s in our best interest? We do, or rather our elected officials do, but we as voters get to at least chime in if only in a small way. We can also become more vocal activists, as you well know. Show up at a meeting and let your voice be heard… in a civil way of course.
Ultimately it may take an education/certification program, and that will suck, but I guess we could live in a place with less freedom to even go through such a program. I agree 100% that simple felt bans don’t fully address the issue, and it would be a ridiculous new ordeal if we had be certified just to go fly fishing. Don’t you think the first people who had to go through a hunter safety class felt the same way? I’m sure they thought it was all very ridiculous, but now that’s just the way it’s done.

19 01 2011
Owl Jones

You’re not tearing one down, you’re doing your best to make one, or in the case of your last post, three or four. You’re really going to try and compare hunter safety courses that train hunters about firearms safety to rock snot awareness?
And when you say ” For those of us that care…” you’re insinuating that I don’t. You’re going to say you’re not, but it’s pretty clear that you’re implying that anyone that doesn’t hold the same opinion as you do doesn’t care about their water.
I agree with you about the need to educate. We will just have to agree to disagree about the need to regulate.

19 01 2011
Mark

I agree that a law won’t really do any good, as it will only keep honest people honest. Its a double edged sword for me. My new rubber soled wading boots just came in today, but I don’t intend to give up my felt either. If I change watersheds I’ll change footwear as needed.

I believe since our use and impacts are at the forefront of these aquatic environments and contribute to their health and conservation, that we should be leading the way as an example of what can and should be done to protect these watersheds. I’m also sacrificing lead this year and switching to tungsten.

With that being said, the other edge of the sword is that I don’t believe people should be forced to use eco friendly soles if they choose not to. Its all about responsible stewardship in the end.

19 01 2011
Owl Jones

I can agree with all of that. Easily.

20 01 2011
Ivan

have you tried any of the new rubber-soled boots yet?

20 01 2011
Ivan

i think it should also be noted that studded sticky rubber boots also save lives.

20 01 2011
Owl Jones

I’ve tried sneakers. years ago.

I’ve asked alot of people that have tried them here in our area about them and have yet to hear a positive opinion of them. The review I valued most was from the owner of Georgia’s largest non-big-box fly shops, who described them as “adequate in winter, but in summer it’s like an elephant on roller skates out there…”

Just because I don’t own a pair, doesn’t mean I can’t have an opinion about them. I don’t own a bass boat either, but I can tell you they go really fast, are supremely stable, are over-priced and have a live-well and carpet. And yes, I suppose rubber boots do save lives too – but in context, that’s not the argument I’m making for felt, so I’m not sure what the point is….

You guys hash it out while I’m in the creek today. I’ve gotta go make another silly video. 😉

owl

20 01 2011
Ivan

owl,
I know that you weren’t making that argument about felt vs. rubber within your post. I was just responding to the newspaper worthy attention grabbing headline. While I disagree with many of points you have made about felt vs. rubber, I respect your opinion. I have learned that people are pretty entrenched in their respective positions regarding this issue. While I find the debate an interesting one, I have found that it is usually not that productive.

With regards to my experiences with my rubber-soled boots. I have been pleased with their in-stream traction throughout the year. I use them for both fishing and for field work associated with my thesis. As a result, I have spent more between 70 and 80 days on the water this year. I have had a slightly different experience with regards to their effectiveness during different seasons. While the in-stream performance does not vary between seasons, I have struggled to keep my footing in the snow. I have the non-studded sticky rubber soled patagonia riverwalkers. If I had studs, I don’t think the snow issue would raise it’s ugly head as much.

Looking forward to another Owl Jones fishing video. Will it make it on to the interwebs tonight or do I have to wait until tomorrow?

20 01 2011
Owl Jones

Probably tomorrow night on the video.

If I’ve learned anything since starting this blog and finding a tenkara forum based out west, it’s that the water there is very different from the water here. Apparently it does vary here by the season. In winter, our streams are bare rock, but by late spring we have moss and algae and other slimy stuff to deal with. Felt or rubber, our streams are more slippery in summer.

As for the headline, it’s a play on a little orange button I have that many gun owners wear that says “Guns Save Lives.” As a trout fishing teen who used tennis shoes his whole first year of trouting, I believe “Felt Saves Lives” to be as accurate as “Guns Save Lives.” I guess I could actually write boring blog post titles, but I’m not sure what the point of that would be…sorry if you feel it’s misleading or something. I think it perfectly describes my feelings on the issue.

20 01 2011
gary thompson

I’ve had a chance to read through the thread you’ve provided. It is informative and well thought out, and I respect your position. I should first tell you where I sit before I tell you where I stand. Generally speaking, I’m in favor of banning felt in water systems, not because I think rubber is the cure to all our woes, but primarily because it’s prudent.

It’s important that we as sportsmen recognize that many of the rules and regulations devised to protect our outdoor habitats are generally devised to control the masses. Basically, they are created in a vein attempt to manage the lowest common denominator. More to the point, the idiots that won’t educate themselves, much less do anything about it once they are armed with appropriate information.

As far as felt is concerned, you could not have devised a better material to serve as an incubator for microorganisms than felt. In fact, it’s used in science quite commonly to stabilize and extend the life of microorganisms in a variety of biology research pursuits. Couple it with a dark stable environment, like a warm humid garage (where most guys store their equipment), and you have a petri dish for housing all kinds of bad things for our rivers.

Now, I recognize that there are other fabrics in wading boots that can also harbor microorganisms. This is the arena where we have a responsibility to educate other fellow sportsmen about the importance of treating their equipment and doing what they can to prevent the spread of these invasive species.

Still, 1/3 of the surface area of a boot is its sole. If we can replace that material with something else that can reduce the transmission of invasive microorganisms between watersheds to any degree, I think it’s a good idea and don’t mind complying if it should happen to become a state requirement. After all, you have to replace your boots from time to time anyway in order to maintain good traction, no matter what the material. So, there is limited economic burden for the angler should we find ourselves in the position of having to purchase new boots. Surely you would agree that within two years of heavy use, felt loses its ability to keep you upright as the thickness of the sole begins to compact, or the sole delaminates altogether.

Certain compounds of rubber, combined with a low profile stud, does a superior job of keeping an angler stapled to the stream bed. I recognize that studs can create an eyesore when applied to rocks. Frankly though, I’d much rather look at a few scrapes and scratches on rocks than to see the stream bed destroyed by NZ Mud Snails, Rock Snot, or witness fish infected with whirling disease.

I share your affection for felt. Being a previous owner of a fly shop, I was quite skeptical about rubber when it was initially introduced. However, I was fortunate to be in a position to test both rubber and felt together, one on each foot. After two months of guiding with each, I can confidently say that rubber has it drawbacks when used alone. Combined with a low profile stud though, there is nothing better for maintaining good traction, even felt. From a durability perspective there is absolutely nothing worse than felt, so you stand to get a little more use out of your rubber soled boots.

There are a couple of remarks in your thread about water safety. I could not agree more! I have had clients, close personal friends, that have had to be pulled lifeless from the river. It is always a tragedy. Very seldom though would the material on the boot sole be blamed for the accident. More commonly it is an error in judgment. Venturing too deep, hopping between rocks over fast water, or fishing alone during periods of high water takes the lives of many more anglers in my experience. You want safety? Every wading angler, regardless of age, should carry a wading staff. Three points on the ground ALWAYS gives you better footing.

As to your argument regarding wildlife, such as bears, deer, elk, and the like transmitting invasive species, I can appreciate that point of view. However, it’s also important to recognize that these critters don’t hop on planes and travel around the country, or the world for that matter, spreading invasive species from one watershed to another. The gift of reasoning and the ability to make common sense decision should prevail. It’s true that animals will continue to spread these invasive microorganisms from one stream to another. If we can reduce the spread to any degree and lesson its impact though, I can’t come up with a single reason why we shouldn’t think about another alternative.

Believe me, I’m not a regulation guy. Typically I resist restrictions on freedom of choice whenever possible. In this instance though, it’s just possible that technology has provided a better solution, not only for our traction and personal safety but also for the health of our river systems and fish. I know I’ll never go back to felt.

Soak your boots, regardless of the sole material, after every use with a 50/50 solution of 409 and water for 30 minutes and let them dry naturally in the sun.

20 01 2011
Owl Jones

That is the best argument for banning felt that I’ve ever heard. I’m not so sure about some of that – including the idea that a boot needs replacing every 2 years anyway. As for thinking “about another alternative” that’s exactly what I’m suggesting. My concern is for the watersheds and the people who use them. I’m glad your experiences with rubber soles have worked out and I hope by the time I need boots again, they’ve worked out all the issues with rubber soles.
It probably won’t make a difference though, since by that time I’m sure governments will have outlawed felt outright. Or, maybe there will be a new, much better material by then. For now, I’ll fish in my felt and clean them when I get home. Although at the rate I fish (twice a month these days) it’s not likely to matter. I appreciate your comments!

20 01 2011
Ivan

The rivers out west also get all sorts of aquatic vege, algae, and the like in the late spring and summer as well. Footing is often an issue during those months.

I didn’t feel the title was mis-leading and I agree good titles bring in readers. I just wanted respond directly to the title. Thats all.

No worries with regards to the picture. I think I remember seeing a picture of you wearing it at a rally with your wife in a previous blog post.

Looking forward to the video. Hope your day out on the water was a good one.

20 01 2011
Owl Jones

Yes Sir, I learned you can’t post a picture in a comment. 🙂 LOL

I think in a couple of years there will probably be nothing to debate as everyone will be forced to wear rubber soles. The manufacturers are already changing over, or have already changed over this year.

20 01 2011
Owl Jones

Interesting. So material gripping effectiveness can vary out west, too.

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