Rubber, rubber everywhere. That’s one impression I brought home from last week’s Fly-Fishing Retailer trade show, where rubber-soled wading gear was shown as newly available from a wide variety of boot makers.
The impetus comes from groups such as Trout Unlimited that are trying to get wading-apparel makers to abandon traditional felt (or woven polypropylene) soles completely. Such fabric-based soles are implicated in the transfer of various invasive species between river systems because small organisms get imbedded in the fabric, which is difficult to clean.
The problem with switching to rubber soles is traction. Some new rubber-sole designs such as Simms’ StreamTread can perform as well as felt on slippery rocks (from my own testing). By and large, though, anglers seem distrustful of the new-rubber trend when it comes to not slipping and falling in a river.
Here’s the answer: Use studded rubber soles. Most makers either are or soon will be offering hard-metal studs with rubber wading soles. These sharp metal points combine with rubber-sole lugs to give traction substantially better than felt on just about any wet surface. And they are considerably easier to clean.
You can’t wear such studded soles in a driftboat, for example–well, you can, but the studs will chew up the boat bottom. So you’ll want a second pair of non-studded boots if doing any drift fishing. Or you can use wading boots with interchangeable soles made by Korkers that allow you to switch sole types as need be.
The remaining problem is that as rubber soles evolve, some anglers seem to believe that rubber-soled gear doesn’t need to be cleaned. Wrong! You’ll still have to hit the boots with a garden hose and scrub brush to remove accumulated mud and river-bottom gunk. Many newer boot models are streamlined for easier cleaning.
Rubber soles are truly a major conservation advance for anglers who want to do the right thing. Just repeat after me: Get studs!