Updated: Mar 19
Felt sole wading boots are great and a popular choice for anglers and waders who need to stay safe and secure while fly fishing or exploring streams. I remember as a kid busting my butt all the time wearing old tennis shoes. However, studies have shown that felt wading boots in particular have been linked to the spread of several aquatic invasive species. As these boots come into contact with the water, they can carry microscopic organisms that can then be transferred to other bodies of water. This can cause significant damage to the ecosystems in those areas, leading to a decrease in biodiversity and an increase in harmful species. Species such as whirling disease, New Zealand mud snails, and Didymo (rock snot), that can blanket a river bottom and alter the basic oxygen/nitrogen exchange, have been transferred to different streams over the last couple decades.
Why are felt wading boots not okay? These felt sole boots are spreading aquatic invasive species from one fishing location to another because as the boots take on water, these microorganisms can embed themselves in the felt material and the boots take a long time to dry so unless you wash your boots thoroughly between waterways your boots can transport invasive species until the are dried completely. Trout Unlimited and environmentally conscious organizations like Trout Unlimited banned the use of felt soles and decided rubber wading boots were better.
States Have Banned Felt Sole
Are felt wading boots okay? If not, why do the sell them? Not all states even allow for felt. Alaska, Maryland, Missouri, Nebraska, South Dakota, Rhode Island, and Yellowstone National park have all banned all felt wading boots. If you are a die hard felt fan then cleaning, and more importantly, drying your boots entirely before using them is imperative to protect our waterways and native fish.
Felt Sole Wading Boots or Rubber Sole?
The question remains for the fly fishing world: Are felt wading boots okay? Is felt better than rubber bottom boots? On one hand, they provide excellent traction and stability on wet surfaces and are an essential tool for anglers. On the other hand felt absorbs water, and the use of felt wading boots and their potential contribution to the spread of aquatic invasive species is concerning. The answer depends on how responsible we all are when using our felt wading boots- from making sure that we clean them properly after each use, to not transferring them from one body of water to another without proper cleaning first. Just make sure you check with your state or even particular bodies of water as they might be individually protected. Mossy Creek, for example, here in the Shenandoah Valley doesn't allow wading at all.
As a general rule I buy rubber soled boots (made for walkin') and carry several pairs for a long fishing trip. Wearing rubber is better than felt for me as they last longer and the ability of rubber to grip is still very good. I understand not everyone can carry multiple pairs of boots, but please just be aware of the regulations and where those boots have been!