If the wading boot fits . . .
I have never stepped into a pair of wading boots that I didn't want to jump out of immediately. Take a walk through any fly shop or take a peek at a popular flyfishing catalog, and you'll find dozens of flyfishing boots. These boots have always made me wonder, Are people fishing with these boots or backpacking?
To be sure, flyfishing boots do have some good uses. They help protect you from a rattlesnake bite. And they do keep you from walking over rocks and sticks with just neoprene. Other than that, I've found them far too expensive, superfluous and uncomfortable. Let's look at this more carefully.
If the wading boot doesn't fit . . .
First things first: how the boot fits is very important, which is especially true of sports. A boot or shoe not fitting well will impact your sport sooner than the shoe you wear under your desk at work. If you need some arch support, or a snug heel or a wide toe area, it makes a lot of sense to expect it from a wading boot or shoe as much as from a running shoe, say, or just a simple walking shoe. We fisherman walk a lot over uneven tough terrain, and we shouldn't expect anything less than the right fit around our feet.
The second criteria of a good boot is cost. We want the best quality we can afford, with nothing too expensive and silly that the marketing department threw in. I suppose, this is pretty much how we approach any buying decision, so you've learned nothing new here.
Now, what if we had the most comfortable boot possible--at no cost. This would be even better. One solution, wear your running or walking shoes into the current, then dry them in the drier afterwards. Possible. But your wife will come running down the stairs worrying that a cat got left in the drier. She might even think less of old shoes being dried in the drier. Better, wear somebody else's shoes into the current. Hmm. . . .
If the other person's shoe fits . . .
Like a lot of people, I bought my first wading boot, which didn't fit when I bought my next waders. This is a pretty typical pattern: the shoes will always outlast the wader, then fits poorly when you buy a new wader with a stocking foot of a different thickness. So I started shopping for a new boot, until my brother offered to hand me down some running shoes that didn't fit him right, thinking quite naturally that I would be running in them. They turned out to be two sizes too large, until I looked at my hanging waders, and got a thought.
I put on the waders and put on the shoes, and my feet immediately went into foot heaven at the thought of effortless walking and wading. Being a backpacker, I knew I didn't need the typical wading boots, bulky, thick, excessively supportive. I'm carrying a wading vest, a pole, and 300 flies, and maybe a protein bar--not an expedition pack. I don't need that much support, not even over rough terrain.
If the wading shoe could be made to fit . . .
My mind immediately went to work configuring the shoe for water work. You can't simply wear a walking or running shoe into the water and expect a good experience. They have to be made slip proof, and...well...that's about it. But there are a few other things to keep in mind when making a running shoe or wading shoe fit to be fished in.
Suddenly finding myself in a frugal and resourceful (OK, cheap) state of mind, I didn't want to buy wading felt for $10. So I looked around for the right piece of carpeting to do the work. Not all carpeting is right, as I learned. Outdoor carpeting, resembling thin green felt, is too thin and tears apart too easily after a month or so on the water. Home carpeting is often too thick. I didn't want to fish with any more water soaked in than I needed to. So I settled on discarded pieces of carpeting from work used to carpet my office. This turned out to be thin and tough enough for the job. Look around. You'll find something. When you do, stash away a few yards, enough to last a few lifetimes. (Don't let your wife find it, or it'll disappear into the garbage, probably out of vengeance for smelling up her drier.)
The best glue I could find was the stuff used for the usual felt job: barge cement. I begrudgingly bought a few tubes of this. (Ok, so my wading shoes did end up costing the price of glue.) One more thing I needed was a heavy duty rug cutter, like a box cutter or heavy duty scissors. When the job is complete, the rug pieces will probably last a couple of seasons, with some minor repairs or gluing up of edges along the way. One tip: Cut out a cardboard pattern to use as a template for cutting sole pieces from the carpeting, and then stash the template away for future use. You'll save yourself a ton of time when it comes to tearing off the old rotted rug piece and gluing on a new one.
Now, cruising the internet, you'll find wading shoes that are built upon comfortable walking shoes and even nice contoured sandals. A good alternative, at a hefty price. Buy these if you want comfort and don't want to spend a half hour peeling dried glue off your finger tips.
I prefer to craft my own, though. For me, flyfishing is a sport that encourages me to think how I can make something work before I buy something. (Like the Styrofoam float tube I made once . . . well, let's not go there.).
Now, a critical part part of the shoe crafting is crafting new friends. These are the people who wear a shoe two sizes larger than yours. Never lose touch with them. Make sure they are on your Christmas list. Send them the presents you don't like, such as the flyfishing tie, the flyfishing belt, the flyfishing underwear (actually, save those). Be sure to ask them if their shoe size has changed (So you know who to take off your Christmas list). Maybe bring your kids over to their house on occasion. Remind him that all he needs to do is throw his old shoes in the corner of the garage for a later pickup. If they move, offer to pay Federal Express for regular shoe deliveries.
In time, you'll get as good at this. You'll know who has what type of running shoe you want, like a sturdy Brooks running shoe size 12, with a nylon mesh that dries quickly, helps drain water, and is lighter in weight. Be careful though, or you'll get an elbow in your side from your wife at a party if you ask, like I did, how old someone's shoe is, and mildly suggest they look pretty old and maybe he should look at the shoe sale at the outlet mall. Oh, and don't think you can save money on wading shoes by picking something cheap up at a shoe store for a glue job. I dare you to go into a snooty shoe store with your waders in hand and start trying on shoes. I dare you.
--Toney J. Sisk
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