Local businesses have begun changing their stocks in anticipation for the ban on felt soled angling boots.
Scott Miller, a manager at Trustworthy Hardware, said that the felt anglers make up approximately 90 percent of his boot sales. Miller believes the bans are legitimate in the Lower 48, because of the presence of invasive species. Up here, though, he hasn't seen evidence of the species and believes the lack of felt could create safety hazards.
"These guys are going to be slipping all over the place," he said.
The Alaska Board of Fisheries passed a ban on the felt soles last March over concerns that the soles soak up water from streams potentially infected by foreign bacteria. The anglers could transport the invasive species to other streams and spread diseases harmful to local wildlife.
Trout Unlimited, a national fisheries conservation group, made the push for the ban, arguing that felt stays wet longer than rubber boots and can carry more sediment. The ban goes into effect Jan. 1, 2012. It will apply only to anglers. Duck hunters, for example, who also use waders, are not subject to the ruling.
Jim McCormick, a local fishing guide, took a harsher stance about the ban and predicted more injuries will occur as a result. He said that he's concerned about potential lawsuits if his clients injure themselves. He believed the resulting lawsuit would kill his business.
"It's an issue of liability," the guide said.
Heather Pearson, co-owner of Kenai Fish and Float, said that the ban is costly because her service will need to buy all new loaner boots.
"Most of our clients don't have their own waders," she said. "Many don't have as much experience with deep water wading. This gives them a little extra stability."
George Hine, owner of Alaska River Adventures, said he used to use the felt boots everyday. Now Hine's has replaced his guide service's stock of loaner boots with rubber waders, at the cost of $3,000. He said that the expense didn't put him overbudget and he supports the ban nonetheless.
"I don't want anyone to transport anything to the Kenai from an infected stream," he said.
Hine said that he is looking into boots that use synthetic materials to mimic the spongy affect of the felt soles. The owner said that he's trying to work out a deal with Simms, a boot company, to buy a fleet of the boots at a lower cost.
Miller said that he's looked into the faux-felt boots too, but doesn't think they do the trick.
"They're going to use felt until they have to give them up," he said.
Ken Lacey, owner of Ken's Alaskan Tackle, said that the ban is a good idea, if invasive species are present. Lacey said that he stopped selling felt boots long before the legislation because of cleanliness reasons.
Fishermen with felt soles tracked mud through his store because of the extra absorbent capacity, whereas anglers with rubber boots could shake them off.
"They left muddy footprints all over the place," Lacey said.
Tony Cella can be reached at 335-1242.
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