Guides and fly shop owners across the region had similar observations on recently introduced sticky-rubber wading boot soles in comparison with felt.
All of them noted that screw-in studs or cleats can dramatically improve the traction of sticky rubber boots. One suggested putting the studs only around the outside of the sole to get the best advantage of the soft rubber in the middle and the metal on the edges.
The metal studs are noisier; they can mar boat bottoms, puncture inflatable tubes, cut fly lines and hang up going into fins when float tubing.
But they said a little extra care eliminated most of the problems. Some suggested having two pairs of boots, one studded and one without, for different fishing situations.
•“Four months ago, I’d have said rubber soles were terrible, but the new ones are much improved. They’re OK in streams around this region, but not so good in the Clark Fork. They really need the (removable) studs or cleats; then the performance is excellent.
“I’m even using them in my raft. But you have to be more careful. I put rubber mats on the bottom and I don’t step on the tubes.”
–Sean Visintainer, Silver Bow Fly Shop in Spokane Valley
•“(Rubber) isn’t quite as good as felt in the water, but with studs the rubber boots really perform well. I especially like the rubber going in and out of the water. With felt, I fall down just as much on mud and wet grass as I do wading. The rubber soles are like hiking boots.”
– Pat Way, Northwest Outfitters in Coeur d’Alene
•“Honestly, when it comes to slimy rocks, felt isn’t all that good, either.”
– Mike Beard, Northwest Outfitters in Coeur d’Alene
•“I sell the (rubber-sole) boots in my shop and I think they’re good. I like the idea of trying to stop invasive species, but it’s hard for rubber to compete with felt on certain rivers, and especially in cold water. When the temperature is below 40 degrees, the rubber isn’t so grippy.
“Cleats or studs make a big difference in the rubber soles. If a client comes to my boat wearing cleated boots, I put down rubber mats on the bottom. We can make it work.”
– Ryan Barba, Sunrise Fly Shop on the Big Hole River, Melrose, Mont.
Advantages: Best grip (without metal studs) on variety of underwater surfaces, including slimy rocks; quiet.
Disadvantages: Ideal medium for harboring harmful pathogens and invasive species; dries slowly; little traction on mud and wet grass; accumulate snow.
Sticky rubber soles
Advantages: Best traction on wet grass and mud; easy to clean of debris and invasive species; quick-drying. Instream traction easily improved by installing metal studs.
Disadvantage: Not as sticky as felt on wet or slimy rocks.