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Rubber Soles

02/18/10 – We’re been back from camp and have had the shop open for two days. In just two days we’ve had over 10 inquiries about rubber sole boots. People are coming in and asking for them. That’s a lot of interest. When I ask why they are thinking about rubber soles the general response goes something like this “I don’t want to spread any junk around.” An attitude I applaud.

What do they mean by junk? Well most are worried about Didymo an algae that thrives in cold, clear water and is showing up in trout streams around the world. That’s one invasive but what about New Zealand Mud Snails or Whirling Disease?The picture on the left shows a close-up of the stitching on a wading boot. Those snails are small aren’t they? Well, Whirling Disease and Didymo are even smaller. What’s a person to do?

That’s a good question. A quick but not very practical answer is don’t go anywhere else to fish. That’s right none of those Aquatic Nuisance Species (ANS) are here yet so if we don’t go away to fish we can’t bring them back. BUT that’s not going to happen. Why? Well people like to travel around and fish and you don’t have to travel far. New Hampshire has Didymo and Whirling Disease and a trip to fish the Great Lakes can expose you to New Zealand Mud Snails.

And then there’s the issue of Maine’s all important tourist economy. If we as anglers never leave Maine there’s a good chance an Aquatic Nuisance Species will be brought to us by a visiting angler. So if never leaving Maine to fish isn’t the answer what is? Well there isn’t any one answer but education and attentiveness to things like cleaning, drying and checking our gear when leaving a watershed are the best answers we have.

There are some sure things for Didymo and Mud Snails. They are completely drying and or freezing your gear. Those two preventative measures will stop both of them. I freeze my gear fairly often during the season – especially if I’m moving from one watershed to another. It’s easy to do if you’re fishing out of your home base since almost everyone has a refrigerator freezer large enough to hold a pair of boots and waders. But Whirling Disease – well – unfortunately the spores for it can withstand both freezing and drying. However, luck may keep Whirling Disease out of Maine. It seems we don’t have the host worm that Whirling Disease needs for part of its life cycle. Or so I’ve been told but I really can’t confirm that – but – I’m still checking. If I find that to be true I’ll post some information about it.

So what else, if anything, can be done. Well, equipment manufactures are switching things around a bit and trying to make gear that doesn’t provide a ANS friendly environment and is easier to clean than existing gear.

Ta -Taaa…… enter the rubber sole wading boot. Yep, the rubber sole boot seems to be the big focus and rightly so, I guess, since wet or even slightly damp felt soles are a wonderful host for any ANS. But unfortunately no rubber sole boot I’ve tried so far has the traction of felt soles. I’m anxious to try the new Orvis EcoTraX boots.Wash invasives away with rubber sole wading boots.

The last rubber sole boot Orvis came out with just didn’t have the traction I want. The boot sole did clean nicely but the grip wasn’t there for aggressive wading on moss covered rocks – even with studs. They were and are better than sneaker soles but they weren’t quite there yet.

However, Orvis teamed up with Vibram to come up with the EcoTraX sole. It’s new and designed by Vibram who knows more about soles and grip than most anyone out there so I hold out high hopes for it. I figure at worse they will be better than the first edition of rubber soles. At best I’ll put my felt soles away for good.

My guess is that traction will depend more on the studs than the rubber sole. The good part of that is the studs Orvis is now using are both replaceable and available (well at least available by the end of March) so that one can put extra studs into the sole if they wish too. I’m sure I’ll be putting extras in. The area where I’ll put the extra stud is in the arch area.

I have to say the rubber sole boots I waded in last season did pretty well in the traction department until I waded an area that had lots of round rocks. In areas like that sooner or later you are bound to step onto a round rock and have the point of contact be in the arch. When that happened I found the next point of contact dictated by which direction I fell. Studs in the arch area would have prevented that. Hopefully, the new Vibram designed soles won’t actually need studs in the arch for that occasional misstep but I’ll have some ready just in case.

But since they screw in, I’m hoping they can also be screwed out. That way I can simply remove them when I’m floating a section of river in my wood canoe and only occasionally getting out to wade. Those permanent studs raise the dickens with wood or fiberglass.

So how does all of this sum up? For me if the wading is aggressive – steep angles, fast water, lots of round rocks – I’ll be lacing on felts. If the wading is mild to easy I’ll be testing the rubber soles hoping to build my confidence in the grip of the rubber soles.

Either way I’ll be using a 5-gallon pail of saltwater to treat my boots (rubber or felt soled) and my waders before I go from one watershed to another. If you want to get some additional information on ways to stop the spread of Didymo visit the website by Kennebec Valley Chapter of Trout Unlimited and click on the Didymo link. There are several videos showing how to treat gear with hot water, by freezing or using salt water.

Oh, and I don’t mean to give the impression that only Orvis is working on a great rubber sole. Vibram must be seeing a increase in business from wading boot manufactures because others have contacted then just as Orvis did.