Tag Archives: wading shoes

Didymo: Not Our Fault After All?

Daily Gazette article
Thursday, June 27, 2013

When the “rock snot” didymo algae started blooming in beloved trout streams across the region and around the country in the mid-2000s, most of us believed the theory that the nuisance was being carried from river to river in the damp felt soles of anglers’ shoes.

It seemed perfectly plausible, since didymo spores had been shown to live a long time in damp felt, and many of us have been known to fish a stream while our felts were still wet from the last one.

An article in “Fisheries” mag­azine in 2009, titled “On the Boots of Fishermen: The History of Didymo Blooms on Vancouver Island, British Columbia,” seemed to cement the idea in the trout fishing establishment. The next thing you knew, states were banning felt soles, advoc­acy groups were begging anglers not to use them and tackle companies all but stopped selling them.


Wading shoes with so-called sticky rubber soles became the norm.

Now, the author of “On the Boots of Fishermen” has changed his mind.

Further research has led Max Bothwell of Environment Canada to a new conclusion: Didymo is native to all of North America and already present in many streams. What’s new are the blooms, and Bothwell and colleagues have discovered the blooms are caused by a change in the environment — low levels of phosphorous in the water, which causes didymo to grow the long stalks that become streambed-smothering mats in the worst cases.

“I no longer believe the problem with didymo in North Amer­ican streams is the result of it being moved around” by fishermen, Bothwell told me for an article in the July/August issue of “American Angler” magazine.

In fact, Bothwell and other scientists added phosphorous to a badly affected stretch of stream in South Dakota, and the didymo bloom there shrank.

Bothwell said he does not regret his influential “On the Boots of Fishermen” theory. In fact, he said, anglers should still avoid felt, since it has been shown to carry all kinds of invasives, including whirling disease (which, by the way, thrives in streams with didymo blooms.)


Not all anglers were willing to take the blame for the didymo blooms in the Battenkill River, the branches of the Delaware and Kayaderosseras, Esopus and Schoharie creeks. Many pointed out that wildlife and non-angling humans could also spread spores from stream to stream.

They were also annoyed at the idea of being forced to buy a new piece of gear, and one they didn’t trust, at that. After all, previous attempts at non-felt soles were a bust. They just didn’t grip underwater rocks as well as felt.

One of them was Ed Ostapczuk of Shokan in Ulster County. Ostapczuk is no skeptic of environmental science in general; on the contrary, he played an important role in the passage of a state law in 1976 that required releases from New York City reservoirs that would protect the trout fisheries downstream, and helped kill a disastrous idea for a pumped water storage power plant in the Catskills.

I wasn’t surprised that Ostapczuk found the new thinking about didymo fascinating. But in view of his reluctance to abandon felt for safety reasons, I was surprised to hear his view on modern rubber soles.

“I am a CONVERT,” Ostapczuk said in an email. “I love the Simms Vibram sole wading shoes with studs. I personally believe that these grip the stream bottom better than felts.

“So who knows what the true cause [of didymo blooms] is? I don’t … but I’ve shifted from felt wading shoes to Vibram soles cause I think they are better for fishing/wading.”

I do too. I’ve been wearing Vibram-soled shoes for several seasons. They grip well enough in the water, and they’re much nicer for walking to the water.

And while I may not, in fact, have helped halt the “spread” of didymo, it’s nice to know I may have helped keep other nasty invasives out of our trout streams.

The next step is to figure out why rivers across North America and elsewhere are suddenly starved of phosphorous. And correcting that problem is likely to be much more complicated than getting anglers to wear different shoes.

Felt-soled waders may be banned on parts of some Catskills rivers

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 rules@dep.nyc.gov.

–The Daily Gazette, Schenectady, N.Y., 10/7/10