Wading boots are a critical element of your fly fishing gear… seems obvious right? Or not? It used to be that waders had the boots attached – heavy rubber boots – you’ve seen ‘em, heck maybe you even have an old pair that you still wear on occasion. However since the innovation of stockingfoot waders, we needed separate boots, and there are plenty out there to choose from. When I first started fly fishing I bought a pair of cheap wading boots. They were o.k. for the amount of fishing I was doing at the time, but as I became more obsessed/possessed I realized they weren’t going to do the job. I needed a pair that could handle the abuse, maintain their integrity (a fancy way of saying they won’t fall apart), and give me the confidence that I wasn’t going to slip and end up taking a bath. Over the years I’ve had several different brands, and I’ll be the first one to tell you, a great pair of wading boots are priceless.
Wading boots, like most gear for fly fishing, are offered for a range of fishing needs and to fit most any budget. In any of these cases however, your wading boots must provide three basic yet critical benefits; comfort, safety, and support.
Comfort Is Critical
If you spend a fair amount of time fly fishing you’re gonna need boots that fit right. Personally, I get all suited up before I even get to the river, so the boots I wear are comfortable enough to drive in, and walk around in – because a stop at the local store on the way to the river is common. Then I will likely spend hours on the river, wading, climbing in and out of a drift boat, etc.
Your boots shouldn’t hold water – oh sure they’re gonna be wet, but being wet, they shouldn’t feel like bricks on your feet. Now some boots may swell a bit in the water, and a bit of that is o.k. but it should be minimal. I mention this because some of the less expensive boots don’t use the best materials and may retain water more than a more expensive pair.
They should fit like a comfortable glove; no play in or out of the water. If you find that they give a little, try on a different pair. On this note, the manufacturer’s sizing is important. Some manufacturers label their boot sizes to accommodate the heavier stockingfoot wader booties, and size them true your normal boot size. Others don’t which means you have to increase the size of the boot you buy – larger than your normal size – to allow for your waders. This may be a half size or a full size larger. If you’re not sure, try several pair on or call the retailer or manufacturer and ask.
The boots tongue and the lacing system are also a comfort consideration. Whether the tongue is attached to the side of the boot or not, and whether the lacing system is hooks at the top versus holes, or even Velcro, is really a personal preference, however when on and tied neither should impinge on your ankle making it a pain to walk in after a while.
Fly fishing wading boots will have a couple of variations for their soles; felt, rubber, and one of those two with cleats as an option. Is one better than another? Depends on the type of fishing you’ll be doing and what the river/lake bed is like. Some boot brands, like Korkers, offer an interchangeable system, allowing you to change the sole of the boot, which is kinda cool.
Felt soles – many manufacturers offer wading boots with felt soles. This type of sole is the “classic” and has been around forever. Felt soles provide a little extra traction if the river bed has rocks which can be slippery, as well as some extra confidence if your walk to and from the water includes wet grass, mud/silt, etc.
With felt soles you want to make sure that the felt is dense. This provides better support, and wears better over time, especially if you wear them before and after fishing like I do. You also want to make sure they are adhered to the boot extremely well. Most of the time felt soles are glued and then sewn to the bottom of the boot’s last (the main part of the boot) or a rubber sub-sole which is then stitched to the last. The glue used sometimes can be weaker and begin to separate through wear-and-tear, and through poor care. When this happens, its time to buy a new/better pair. Yes, there are some who say you can re-glue them, but I’ve never found this to be a viable solution for any length of time.
The downside to felt soles is that felt can trap sand as well as “critters.” The sand isn’t a real bad problem as you can kick most of the sand off when wet and even more when dry. It’s the critters that pose the real issue. Small organisms can tag along in the felt of your boot and can be transported between rivers. This can pose a problem for a river’s ecosystem if a new parasite, a disease, or other type of organism is introduced which is non-native. These “invaders” can cause long-term damage to the fish because they have no defense, and they are often difficult to get under control once introduced.
Another potential “downside” to a felt sole is what I’ll call snow-pack. If you fish when there is snow on the ground, the wet felt can pick up the snow as you walk, giving you a heavy layer of snow caked to the bottom of your boot. This is more of a nuisance than a real problem as you have to stop every so often and scrape the snow-pack off the bottom of your wading boots. Again, not a major hassle but something to consider if accumulating snow is in the forecast.
Rubber soles – rubber is a popular material as well for the soles of fly fishing wading boots. They can provide decent traction and often have a longer wear life than felt. In addition, most of time you don’t have to worry about a rubber sole coming un-glued and falling off, like a felt sole. It can happen but isn’t as likely. Also, with a rubber sole, you don’t have as much of a worry about tracking unwanted elements between rivers. And no snow-pack. However, depending on the aggressiveness of the rubber sole you may end up with mud and stuff packed into a rubber sole which can be a pain when walking and getting clean before storing.
Studs/Cleats – cleats or studs are added to either a felt sole of a rubber sole for added traction. Some are permanent to the sole, while others you can remove when you don’t need them (kinda like track spikes). These studs/cleats are great for weedy river bends and those that have a lot of submerged branches. They can also be great if you’re fishing during icy/snowy conditions as they lend that extra element of traction.
Construction – most modern wading boots that are worth their salt are made of high-grade synthetic materials that are built solid, lighter weight, yet provide those features which give you the comfort, safety and support.
You’ll notice that most wading boots are high, like a good hiking boot. This is for safety – to provide support for your ankle. There is nothing worse than taking a step on a rock or an unseen branch and twisting your ankle in the river. A good wading boot will provide the necessary support to minimize this.
A good lacing system can also help keep your boot snug for added support. Boots with hooks or loops at the top for lacing can be easier and faster to put on and take off, but you need to make sure that they are adhered to the boot neck well. The last thing you need is to give a little extra tug for tightness and have the hook bend, or the loop tear off.
You may also note that many wading boots have a sturdy toe. Boots with an added band of stiff material at the toe of the boot provides a bit of extra protection against running into a rock, as well as being abrasion resistance for protection against harsh wear-and-tear.
Wading boots come in all kinds of designs. Of course you want to look good on the river, right?
Not much is said about Flats. As you shop for a pair of wading boots, you’ll likely come across these boots that look more like a big sock than a traditional boot. These are called “flats.” Flats are most often used by salt-water fly fishermen and are called flats because often those who fish in saltwater are standing in the flats… that shallow water near the shore or around mangrove trees. In addition, flats offer great traction standing on the bow of a boat in hot weather.
Flats can also be a great option if you fish without waders during the hot summer months, in or out of a drift boat.
Your wading boots shouldn’t be an afterthought, and should provide the comfort, and support you need when you’re doing what you love to do. As mentioned, there are many styles and options available for you to choose from, and while you should invest in a good pair, you don’t need to break the bank.
Over the years we’ve tried quite a few, and we’ll continue to share our thoughts… and of course we’ll share our thoughts on even those we haven’t tried, because, hey, we’re an equal opportunity site!
In any case, feel free to leave your comments .