Ban on felt-soled shoes intended to prevent spread of fish diseases

Starting next season, felt-soled boots will be banned from Juneau waters

Posted: Thursday, February 18, 2010

A new ban on felt-soled wading shoes is set to take place next year as Juneau fishermen take to freshwater streams with fly rods in hand.

Michael Penn / Juneau Empire
Michael Penn / Juneau Empire

The ban is meant to keep nasty fish diseases from creeping into waters on the waders of traveling fishermen.

A proposal to expand the ban from the Southeast region statewide will be considered by the state Board of Fisheries at its March meeting in Anchorage.

Forty-year fly fisherman Mark Vinsel fishes almost exclusively on the Juneau road system, but has dipped a line in the waters of about 20 states.

Vinsel's first experience catching a rainbow trout infected with whirling disease, in Trukee, Calif., was so repugnant to him that he never cast a line in that stream again.

"It had a kink in its backbone so it had a little bit of a hunchback and a twisted form," he said, adding that infected fish can only swim in tight circles.

Whirling disease is just one communicable fish disease of concern. Didymo, an algae also called rock snot, mud snails and zebra mussels are others that can kill all the fish in a stream.

"The waters where fly fishermen tend to fish and wade have become a map of the spread of these problems," Vinsel said.

They spread by hitchhiking on the bottom of shoes as fishermen tote them between fishing grounds. Felt-bottomed shoes are of particular concern because they tend to stay wet, providing a living habitat for the host to survive away from the infected stream.

Alaska should have been at the forefront of passing measures to protect its streams from infection but that has not been the case, Vinsel said.

"We should absolutely be the leaders in proactive measures and awareness to make sure that we don't cause ruin to the fisheries that we love," he said.

Felt-soled waders provide good traction for standing on wet river stones. They are not that popular in Juneau because they still slip on the glacial silt and slick mud prevalent here.

Fishing guide Arne Johnson is slowly replacing a fleet of felt-soled waders for his business, Bear Creek Outfitters.

"It's ... expense but it's one of those things where the waders are wearing out," he said. Not overly concerned about spreading fish disease in Southeast waters, Johnson said he does understand why the board would pass the ban.

Trout Unlimited is sponsoring the proposal to expand the ban statewide. The organization also worked with manufacturers to phase out felt soles by the end of this year.

The ban on felt-soled wading shoes takes effect in Southeast on Jan. 1, 2011.

The statewide Board of Fisheries meeting is March 16-21.

• Contact reporter Kim Marquis at 523-2279 or kim.marquis@juneauempire.com.



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