Fishing Trout Lake in Yellowstone

An angler brings a Yellowstone cutthroat trout to net at Trout Lake in Yellowstone National Park.

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Yellowstone National Park has decided to bar anglers from wearing felt-soled wading boots as part of the park’s fight against the arrival of aquatic invasive species.

The park announced the felt sole ban Thursday along with the creation of a designated boating season that runs concurrently with the fishing season. The boating season is meant to ensure park staff are available to inspect watercraft for invasive species before they’re launched.

The two changes come after Montana’s first season of intensive efforts to prevent the spread of invasive mussels, a pesky and potentially costly organism the park doesn’t want to see in its own waters.

Todd Koel, Yellowstone’s chief fisheries biologist, said the park has a responsibility to do all it can to stave off the arrival of nuisance species like invasive mussels or other pests because it serves as the headwaters for two of the country’s major river systems — the Snake and the Missouri.

“Because we sit at these headwaters,” Koel said, “we really have a responsibility to make sure aquatic invasive species don’t get introduced here.”

The felt sole ban has been rumored to be coming for months. It would prohibit anglers from wearing wading boots with fibrous, carpet-like soles meant to give surer footing on rocky riverbeds. Many anglers prefer using felt-soled boots.

But some worry the fibrous materials will carry microscopic organisms between waterbodies and that they do so more effectively than ones made of rubber.

Similar bans have been enacted in six states — Alaska, Maryland, South Dakota, Rhode Island, Nebraska and Missouri. Vermont enacted a ban in 2011 but repealed it in 2016. The Montana Legislature has considered the idea but never supported it.

Some disagree with the idea that felt is more dangerous, arguing rubber is just as likely to carry invasive species if anglers don’t take the proper precautions.

Bob Wiltshire, of the Invasive Species Action Network, said there’s “little indication” that felt soles pose a greater danger than rubber.

“What really matters is if the boot has been cleaned,” Wiltshire said.

Yellowstone’s press release announcing the ban said felt soles can still carry microscopic organisms even after they’ve been cleaned.

Koel said the option seemed to have support from the public when he presented it at meetings last year, and that it seems like a logical step.

“It’s just one more step we think we can take to preserve the park long-term against any further edition of aquatic invasive species,” Koel said.

John Bailey, the owner of Dan Bailey’s Fly Shop in Livingston, said the ban might catch visiting anglers off-guard, and that he expects his employees will spend a lot of time explaining the change.

But he also sees a potential bright side for fly shop owners.

“Maybe we’ll all get to sell a few more boots,” he said.

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Michael Wright can be reached at or at 582-2638. Follow him on Twitter @mj_wright1.

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