It's true that poor quality wading boots can ruin even the best of days fishing on the river. This simple fact should be enough to make anglers think twice about what they're putting on their feet. Good wading boots or shoes should provide traction, stability and comfort which in turn make your time stream fishing more enjoyable and safe.
First and foremost, wading footwear's main function has to be traction. The stream reaches you intend on fishing will be covered with slippery surfaces, steep hills and loose gravel. Having quality wading boots that allow you to navigate these conditions safely is non negotiable. In all actuality, wading boots are not all that different from the hiking boots that you have in your closet. The major differences are the material, soles and drainage features.
Ankle support is important when searching for wading boots.
What to look for
The first thing you should consider when buying wading footwear is whether the boots provide solid ankle support. Many river bottoms can be quite treacherous and unstable. If the river you plan on fishing is rocky, there is a good chance that you are going to lightly turn your ankle once or twice a day. The better supported your ankles are, the better balanced and protected they will be from a long, painful walk home.
Another good idea is to check how the boot or shoe's tongue is attached to the rest of the footwear. Ideally you want the tongue to be sewn straight up the side of the boot so that there is no free space for tiny debris to get into your shoe. Nothing is worse on a long walk than sand or tiny pebbles in your boots rubbing your feet raw.
Finally, a good wading boot will have a system that allows water to move in and out freely. Cheaper footwear will hold water, making each step you take heavier than it needs to be. River fishing and long hikes go hand in hand, so having footwear that is weighted down can take quite a toll on your legs.
Wading boots run the gamut from heavy duty hiking boot models to light weight sneaker styles. Choosing the type of wading boot that best fits your needs is relatively simple. Figuring out the type of fishing you are planning on doing most will dictate what you buy. Hiking boot models are durable and are ideal for anglers that walk long distances or have to traverse around obstructions. Light weight boot foot models with felt soles offer added traction on slick rocks and are good for wading almost all streams. Sneaker style boots are ideal for low-water streams or coastal areas where the walking will be easy.
One unique feature of wading boots is the special soles. The two most common types of soles seen with wading boots is the rubber and felt soles. Rubber or hiking soles are great for anglers who have a long trek through the woods. These soles offer many of the same qualities that you find with normal hiking boots namely being traction and sturdiness.
Wading boots or shoes with felt soles provide excellent traction on slippery rocks.
Felt sole boots have an inch thick layer of felt attached to the sole of the boot. This felt allows these wading boots to grip wet, slippery rocks extremely well. The felt layer molds and compresses to the rocks shape, providing excellent traction, even when wet. The one downfall is that over time the felt on wading boots tends to wear down when walking on trails to and from the river. If the felt does happen to wear out on your favorite boots, it can be easily replaced.
Another type of sole seen with wading boots is the studded or cleated sole. These boots are great when the need is serious traction. These boots have a normal felt or rubber sole with several small metal spikes built into the toe and heel sections that allow them to grip on even the slipperiest of surfaces.
For the faster flowing streams and rivers that are extremely rocky and deep, and where slipping in the water could cost you your life, simple wading boots and shoes just might not be able to provide the sturdy footing you are looking for. For these extreme cases, boot cleats are available that attach to your everyday river walkers.
Wading cleats are simply leather straps that incorporate many small, metal spikes for the sole. These wading cleats are much like ice cleats and can find footing in even the most slippery of conditions.
As a general rule, wading footwear is sized differently than normal shoes or hiking boots. Wading boots should be sized one size up from a standard hiking boot. The extra space is given so that anglers can fit comfortably into their boots while wearing stocking-foot waders. If you plan on fishing cold waters in early season, adding an extra half size to your boot size is a good idea. That half size should account for the thermal or wool socks needed to keep your feet warm.
Durability is an important aspect to take into account when buying wading boots. Cheap wading boots are made out of cheap materials that will not be able to hold up to the constant barrage of the river. The cycle of being wet and dried over and over will easily break down cheap materials used on poor quality wading boots.
Look for boots made out of water-repellent synthetic materials or full-grain Nubuck leather because these fabrics can truly take punishment and not break down. The laces of the boots are especially susceptible to this breakdown because they are under constant pressure while you are using the boots. It is a must that wading boots have quality laces. A high quality nylon or polypropylene lace is what you want to look for — cotton just won't cut it here.
Overall, when you are looking to purchase a pair of wading boots or shoes, there are many key considerations you have to keep in mind. Felt soles and good ankle support is a necessity, while buying the best pair of boots you can afford will help to assure workmanship and quality materials. Buying wading boots that are as comfortable as they are surefooted on slippery rocks will help make those long trips on the river safer and much more enjoyable.