Anglers with felt-soled wading shoes: The list of places you can fish may soon shrink again.
Felt soles are forbidden in Vermont, beginning next spring. Now, they may be banned on parts of trout streams in the Catskills and the lower Hudson Valley that are part of New York City’s water supply system.
The idea, of course, is to contain didymosphenia geminata, better known as didymo or rock snot, which in the worst cases can smother streambeds with thick mats of vegetation — making fishing all but impossible and possibly harming the ability of trout to feed and spawn.
Fly-fishers have relied on felt soles for traction on slippery underwater rocks for generations. But many scientists believe felt soles are the perfect environment for didymo spores, and that the rock snot had been carried from stream to stream in still-damp wading shoes.
Over the past two weeks, the New York City Department of Environmental Protection held hearings in Highmount, Yorktown Heights and Queens on a proposal to ban felt-soled shoes from city-owned property, which includes small sections of most of the great Catskill trout rivers: Esopus and Schoharie creeks, the Delaware River and the Neversink River. Also affected would be significant segments of the pristine and productive tailwater streams of the Croton watershed in the lower Hudson Valley.
“This essentially puts into effect a rule that only rubber-bottomed soles can be used to prevent invasive species from being transfered from one location to another,” said Farrell Sklerov, a spokesman for the DEP.
Since the ban would apply only to city-owned property, most of the Catskill streams would be unaffected. The city generally owns only the area immediately around its reservoirs and part of the streams that feed them. The ban would not affect the branches of the Delaware or the lower Neversink, for example, except near the reservoir dams.
Furthermore, Sklerov emphasized that a felt sole ban is not a done deal. The proposed regulation change would “simply give us the ability to implement restrictions in the future if needed and based on situations as they arise,” he said. “Prior to enacting a ban, we would discuss possible restrictions with DEC and others in the scientific community.”
But should the ban go into effect, it would cut off access to several favorite spots on the Esopus — Big Bend pool, the Trestle (pictured at the top of The Fly Line) and the beloved Chimney Hole — for those felt-wearing anglers who don’t wish to buy new boots or who consider them unsafe.
“This is a ‘feel-good’ attempt to fix a big problem while totally missing other causes — canoes, kayaks to name a few,” said Ed Ostapczuk of Shokan on the Esopus, an avid angler of that creek and longtime advocate for ecologically sound management of New York City’s reservoir system, who opposes felt sole bans.
“Anglers need to be responsible for their own action, and use Spray Nine on felt bottom wading soles as [the state Department of Environmental Conservation] recommends,” he said. “I would say that half the folks I have talked to about banning felts are opposed to this idea. Alternative wading shoes do not work as well — based upon talking to folks who have these — so angler safety is a big concern, plus the proposal will do little to address the problem.”
If you’d like to weigh in on the idea, the DEP is accepting written comments until Oct. 15. Send them to Melissa Siegel, Department of Environmental Protection, Bureau of Legal Affairs, 59-17 Junction Blvd., 19th floor, Flushing, NY, 11373-5108 or email@example.com.
–The Daily Gazette, Schenectady, N.Y., 10/7/10