On its face, the idea of putting felt on the bottom of wading boots makes a ton of sense.
Why walk along wet, slippery rocks with rubber-bottom waders that are prone to slipping when you can buy felt-soled waders that add significant traction and a little bit of foot cushion? Manufacturers for years have sold felted waders to anglers who want them.
But there is a hidden drawback to the felt: fisheries officials say the fibers in the felt capture microbes that can spread harmful diseases within waterways and, even more ominously, from a previously contaminated waterway to one that is free of contamination.
To prevent such cross-contamination, South Dakota Game, Fish & Parks fishery managers will propose later this year that the state ban the use of felt-soled waders completely in state waters.
"It's not completely proven that anglers transport these diseases through felt-soled waders, but research has shown these organisms live longer in felt," said GFP fisheries specialist Gene Galinat. "We understand it [a ban] won't eliminate the spreading of these things, but it would help limit the spread."
Diseases spread by waders include Didymosphenia geminata, also known as didymo or "rock snot," which is an algae that dies and forms a paper-like sheen that covers the bottom of streams and can inhibit fish habitat and growth.
All waders, if not cleaned and dried properly after use, can carry micro-organisms, Galinat said. But those with felt on the bottom are far harder to clean and hold the organisms much longer than rubber-soled waders. Cleaning with a mild bleach solution and letting waders dry for a couple days after are recommended methods of killing any lingering organisms.
Yet many anglers, even those experienced in Black Hills fishing, do not realize that waders can spread diseases, Galinat said. For example, he tells of an incident a couple years ago when he was out checking fish populations of Spearfish Creek when he approached some anglers who told them they had fished Rapid Creek the day before.
"They had just been fishing in the Rapid Creek basin where we had a high concentration of didymo," Galinat recalled. "The next day they were in Spearfish Creek, and I asked them if they had treated their waders and they didn't have a clue."
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But some fly fishers are aware of the potential problem. Scott Dueweke, a tourist from Virginia who regularly fishes the Shenandoah River was trying his hand at fly-fishing in Rapid Creek on a recent day.
Dueweke said he often wears felt-bottom waders in the Shenandoah National Park in Virginia, but doesn't use them anywhere else so he doesn’t risk transporting aquatic hitchhikers. In recent years, his favorite river back home has seen an increase in what he calls "river snot" that is a result of waters being contaminated with non-native critters and muck.
Galinat said the proposal to ban felted waders will be made to the Game, Fish & Parks Commission in late 2013. He is encouraging anyone with an opinion for or against a ban to call him and share their views.
"We're planning to propose it unless we hear a lot of opposition against it," he said. "The Commission will still have its own comment period."
If enacted, the ban could take place on Jan. 1, 2014, he said. Anyone wishing to contact Galinat can call him at 605-394-1754, or comment on the GFP website under the header "wild info."