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Disease Control

Common Sense Wader and Equipment Disinfection Procedure

By Phil Wright — for the Rocky Mountain Flycasters, Colorado Trout Unlimited, Fort Collins CO

For the past few years I have been hearing more and more about harmful plants, animals and diseases that are being introduced into our waterways by recreationalists and others. When I do volunteer work on greenback cutthroat trout restoration in Rocky Mountain National Park I am always advised that I must disinfect my gear before I enter the water.

I really want to comply as I believe many others do as well, but I think that some of the procedures for disinfection that have been published and distributed while effective may be so laborious, time consuming, and expensive that I suspect some fishers just find them too difficult. I also question whether some of the procedures may lead to unintended secondary effects such as negative environmental effects when the chemical solutions are perhaps disposed of incorrectly or excessively.

In all, I have wanted to establish a disinfection procedure that was effective, inexpensive, environmentally sound, and did not damage equipment. I also wanted to use a procedure that was easy enough to perform that fishers would be able to comply easily with the guidelines. To this end, I have studied the recommended procedures and developed a very simple, effective procedure that can be set up at the beginning of the season, and used throughout the season without much replenishment if any. I did not invent anything new but I tried to pick the simplest, cheapest, and safest of the recommended procedures and combine them with some common sense practices and ideas. The procedures used and referenced here should also be appropriate for use prior to fishing all Colorado trout waters.

Before I start, here are links/references that I used to develop the procedure. The simplified chart below is derived from a Rocky Mountain National Park (RMNP) publication. Available as a simple GIF file or PDF file (2.6 MB suitable for reprinting). The RMNP Guidelines publication gives additional information including the three major threats to our waters, including Whirling Disease, Bd (chytrid fungus), and New Zealand Mudsnails. These particular guidelines may have been written before the incidence of dydimo appeared, but decontamination remains the same.

Required Decontamination Steps

disinfecting procedure diagram
Disinfecting procedure diagram.

The procedure detailed here is just a means to implement a particular series of steps recommended by the National Park Service. The particular steps were chosen because they were simplest, cheapest, and environmentally benign. I describe two easy ways to perform step 3. I have spoken with Simms about soaking their waders in 10% bleach solution. They said it is ok to soak in 10% bleach solution but that doing so may lead to a whitening of the neoprene booties. Simms said the other fabrics and the Gore-tex™ will not be affected since Gore-tex™ is inert.

Assembled Materials
Figure 1. Disinfection Setup, Supplies and Gear (Chest waders, hip boots, wading boots)
First assemble all the materials you will need. Figure 1 shows the materials and supplies.

The supplies required are simply water and chlorine bleach. The other pieces of the setup are a 5 gallon bucket, a Rubbermaid covered file box purchased at Wal-Mart for about $6, two bricks, a measuring cup, rubber gloves, and an empty 1 gallon juice bottle for easier water measuring. They only important item here is the covered file box which happens to be cheap, just the right and minimum size for my gear (especially boots), and the cover allows you to close up the bleach solution so it doesn’t evaporate during the season. There are other Rubbermaid containers available if your gear size is different.

I really recommend rubber gloves and using care when placing your gear in the bleach solution. The solution is a bit hard on the hands without gloves. The bricks are simply used to weight down the gear in the bleach solution since boots and some waders like to float up and may not stay submerged in solution.

Stored Materials
Figure 2. Disinfection Setup stored when not in use
The key elements of this setup are that it is cheap, easy to use, preserves the bleach solution during the season, thus you only mix it once and dispose of it once. Moreover, I leave the setup at the rear of my porch as in Figure 2 so it’s ready to use quickly and without much trouble. The five gallon bucket is used to rinse the gear in two or more changes of fresh water from the hose. I use the rinse water to water my lawn. When rinsing the gear in fresh water the resulting rinse water is such dilute bleach that my grass is still green.

The disinfection solution is simply 10% household chlorine bleach in water solution. I found that the covered file box was filled properly using 3 gallons of water and adding 5 cups of bleach (24 pints of H2O plus 2.5 pints or 5 cups of bleach). At the end of the season I will dispose of the 10% Bleach solution in my toilet.

After rinsing the gear I found either of two procedures to be simplest. The first is to put dry gear in the freezer over night. Other household members may not like this, but actually finding that much room in the freezer proved to be the biggest challenge. Hint: temporarily remove the ice maker storage bin to gain a lot of room for your gear.

Hot soak
Figure 3. If you don’t freeze gear overnight, soak gear for 1 minute in 120°F+ Hot water
The second approach is also quick and easy. First set your water heater temperature setting to the letter A (the letter “A” is usually circled) on the water heater thermostat dial. This will result in a running hot water temperature of 51-53°C in the five gallon bucket. The guideline calls for water of 120°F which is 49°C. Soak gear for 1 minute in flowing hot water. Figure 3 shows that it is helpful to grab a plastic shampoo bottle to hold the gear under hot water. Be careful not to scald yourself and remember when done disinfecting gear to reset the water heater back to the setting just below A to conserve energy.

Drying racks
Figure 4. These patio chairs make great drying racks
Conveniently, the five gallon bucket fits right under the faucet in my bathtub and even hangs on to the shower button. Empty the bucket and carry the gear back outside in the bucket to dry as shown in Figure 4. Maybe the bucket will keep you from dripping water throughout the house.

I note that most gear manufacturers tell you to dry in shade rather than direct sunlight. I guess they feel that UV light may damage the product.

Well that’s it. It took me longer to write this down than it took to disinfect the gear which is a good thing. I particularly like the fact that the next time I disinfect the gear, the stuff is already out back and ready to go. Well, it’s starting to get on toward freezing weather now so I have to decide whether to dump out the solution or just move the full container into the garage and keep on fishing. I’ll think I’ll go have a beer and think it over.

Cheers, Phil Wright 10/25/07

Last updated on 11 Jun, 2011