At last night’s Southern Wisconsin Trout Unlimited meeting Jeremy Jones, Aquatic Invasive Species (AIS) Director for the River Alliance of Wisconsin, took a flurry of questions regarding the most effective means—if any—to rid your fishing gear of AIS, specifically the newest, baddest, biggest-smallest meanie on the neighborhood streambank, the New Zealand mud snail. Brushing off, drying, freezing, steaming, and chemically treating gear were mentioned in rapid succession (and not necessarily in that order).
At this point Scot Stewart, recently retired fisheries manager for the DNR, chimed in with words that—for an fishing industry employee—were like the velvety-smooth words of the Angel on High.
He said—and I’m paraphrasing a bit here—that for anybody who does a lot of fishing, in a lot of places, buying a second pair of waders is one of the better options available for combating the transport of AIS.
(You’re royalty check is in the mail, Scot.)
I’m surprised that nobody in the industry has latched on to this idea yet as a solution to the AIS problem. A few years back Simms went so far as to try and eliminate felt-soled waders entirely, before customer backlash forced them to back down. Imagine the audacity of Patagonia or Orvis marketing their new “Buy 2, Save $200” promotion on high-end waders under the veil of fishing “green.” Pitchforks and torches all around!
Now, I would like to say that my hilarious follow-up to Scot’s comment—“I second that opinion!”—was what brought the house down moments later. However, the laughter from the crowd had started before Scot finished his thought and long before I even had a chance to open my fat, snarky mouth. A few folks asked when Scot started working for Orvis, more laughter ensued, and then we returned to our scheduled programming.
Crass marketing ploys aside, there is a significant question here that all anglers must ask: to what ends are we willing to go to protect what we love? Are we willing to pay with our pocketbooks, our behavior, both, neither? Are we deserving of this sport by our actions?
I’m asking a lot with these questions, I know. I can honestly say that I’m not deserving of fly fishing right now, and not because I don’t know of the risks of AIS or don’t care, but because old habits die hard and money doesn’t grow on trees. But if you haven’t thought hard about it before, or for a long time, the short off-season is a good time to (re)consider: what else are you willing to do to prevent the spread of AIS?
Having wader cleaning stations at major access points in the Driftless Area is a great start. I’ve used these myself, and aside from helping to keep AIS out of streams they provide an added benefit to anglers: if you’re out bumming the Driftless and happen upon one of these stations or AIS signs, you’ve found a new place to explore.
Chemical treatment is an option that comes at a cost, but according to both Scot and Jeremy is pretty effective against most AIS including (at least to some extent) New Zealand mud snails. The chemical you want is called Virkon, runs about $10 per pound, and requires water and about 10 minutes of your time. It also is relatively gentle on wader fabrics and your skin, and rapidly decomposes within the environment.
Drying and freezing your gear can be effective against some AIS, although New Zealand mud snails are tough bastards that might be able to survive both (they can seal themselves quite tightly in their shells, surviving for weeks at a time without water). The recommended minimum drying/freezing time is 5 days, which can be quite inconvenient for frequent fishing trips.
I often don’t hear much about people actually changing their fishing habits to isolate or avoid AIS, or to minimize the threat of moving AIS from stream to stream, but it’s something we could all consider doing. Avoid “stream-hopping”, moving from stream-to-stream over the course of the same day and with the same equipment; or simply putting out a personal quarantine on streams with known infestations of AIS are two major changes in typical fishing habits that could make a difference.
Of course, if you do fish a lot, in a lot of different places, and you have deep pockets, you could buy multiple sets of wading gear, one for “dirty” waters (like Black Earth Creek) and one for everything “clean”. Another option is keeping two sets of gear so you always have one ready to go when the other needs time to dry and be properly cleaned. Extra gear comes with its own set of added responsibilities. What about the vehicle you carry your gear in? What if you carpool with your buddy who doesn’t keep two sets of waders? What happens when a stream you thought was “clean” is suddenly identified as harboring AIS? While it seems ideal, owning lots of wading gear is no sure protection against moving AIS.
How we fish is a personal choice. How we protect our fisheries is a moral choice. How we ended up with AIS is everyone’s responsibility. I didn’t transport New Zealand mud snails from the western United States (the most likely vector) to Black Earth Creek. Neither did you. But I did fish BEC between 2011 (when mud snails first appeared) and 2013 (when they were first identified in the creek), and I fished a lot of other streams at the same time. I bet you may have, too. Fortunately mud snails haven’t been detected anywhere else in Wisconsin, but if they do it could be my fault. It could be yours. It could be any number of anglers whose personal choices could leave a lasting imprint on our fisheries.
My personal choice, my challenge to myself for 2016, is to make myself a better angler by changing the way I fish. Feel free to keep me honest and call me out if I start to pick up old habits again. My goals are as follows:
- Relegate my “back up” waders to “dirty” wader duty (and my old beater boots, as well)
- Fish a single stream between wader cleanings.
- Thoroughly scrub, dry, and clean my gear between streams, or win the lottery and buy an additional set of gear.
- Keep my fishing vehicle clean(er). (My wife will also enjoy this one)