Middle River Dispatches is a gumbo of posts about fly-fishing, conservation, politics and days afield.

What you can do to stop spreading aquatic nuisance species

Aquatic nuisance species are a growing concern in the fishing and boating community. While many of us who hunt and fish care a great deal about conserving and protecting our habitat, we may be ignoring a growing problem.

For many years, aquatic nuisance species, also called aquatic invasive species, were considered to be a problem in the west and Great Lakes, not here in Virginia.

You may have heard about whirling disease in the western rivers or New Zealand mud snails in trophy trout waters in Idaho, Montana and the Yellowstone National Park. Didymo or “rock snot” was fouling those waters as well.

Unfortunately for us, we now have to worry. Didymo, short for Didymosphenia geminata, has been found below the dams on the Smith River, the Jackson River and the Pound River.

According to the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries, “Didymo can smother streambeds and adversely affect freshwater fish, plants and invertebrate populations by depriving them of habitat. These stalks can form a thick brown mat, effectively covering the entire river channel.”

No one seems to know for sure how it got here. What is important is not to spread it.

What can we do?

Like many die-hard fisherman I was convinced that felt was the best bottom for my wading boots. Felt grips well on wet and algae covered rocks.

The problem with felt is it is also a great transport mechanism for mud and other junk that can hold microorganisms and aquatic invasive species.

I have used sticky rubber soled boots for the last five years. Recently, I replaced my old boots with Simms G4 Guide boots. Simms switched from AquaStealth and now uses a Vibram 360 lugsole. I have been using them this spring and am impressed with the way they grip.

Simms announced they would phase out felt soles on all of their wading boots, sandals and shoes by 2010.

“We know felt is not the only material that has spread invasive species and disease,” Simms president K.C. Walsh said. “But felt is surely part of the problem. At Simms, we’ve decided to be part of the solution.”

Simms however is not alone in moving away from felt. Trout Unlimited has asked all manufactures to drop felt by 2011.

At L.L. Bean, their Riverkeeper line uses AquaStealth. Mike Gawtry, Bean’s product line manager told me, “we are going to exit felt by 2010.”

A nice touch and typical of L.L. Bean is the cleaning brush they include with the boots.

Orvis offers a sticky rubber boot in the Clearwater Navigator Rubber Sole Shoe and the Side-Zip Brogue Boots. Both boots have studs in the rubber soles.

“Orvis uses its own sticky rubber compound,” Tim Daughton product development specialist at Orvis told me. “We plan to continue to expand the non-felt options.”

Cloudveil’s 8X grippy rubber boot uses a Vibram Idrogrip sole. The tread pattern is different from the others resembling a car tire tread.

Patagonia uses its own Star Tread sticky rubber. I have not used their boots but knowing the company I expect the boots work well, folks I trust confirmed that.

Bill Dawson, a sales representative for Cloudveil worries that anglers may think just getting new boots is going to solve the problem. Dawson notes there are other pathways like fabric, laces, crevices that can carry bad stuff from place to place.

Bill Klyn, Patagonia’s marketing manager says anglers need to change their behavior as well as the soles of their boots. “inspect, clean and dry needs to be the mantra for all anglers now.”

Inspect your gear to get the plants, mud and debris off. Next, take a moment to rinse and scrub your boots and waders streamside or at home to make sure all the mud and debris is off. Then if you can, let it dry before fishing in different water.

Learn more and take the Clean Angler Pledge at http://www.cleanangling.org. Hat tip to @roughfisher on Twitter.

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