No single piece of surf gear spends more time in the water than your boots!
There is a lot of focus on the comfort and durability of wading boots in the surf fishing community and for good reason. Nothing can sour a fishing trip like beat up, bruised and blistered feet. Furthermore, the surf in particular is a brutal, unrelenting environment that will quickly destroy inferior equipment. It puts a strain on every piece of gear, and nothing spends more time in the water than your boots, regardless of the terrain you cover. Endless conversations, both in person and online, debate just these two wader-boot characteristics.
However, our boots are also what connects us to the ground, and what keeps us literally on our feet. While it is less of a concern on sandy beaches, having grippy, secure footing is a very important component of any wader boot if you’re fishing rocky flats, cliffs or ledges, boulder fields, or jetties.
I consider my boots the first line of defense against injury in the surf and an essential safety item. A majority of the time I am wetsuiting. I’ll use Korker overshoes and wetsuit booties. When I’m fishing rocky flats or ledge areas I’m relying on the studs in my wader boots to keep me from sliding into the sea. During the rougher portions of the season, especially in the fall, this can be a matter of life and death.
There are a lot of different studs out there from virtually every manufacturer that makes boots, as well as companies that just specifically make studs. The problem is, many of these studs are designed for trout streams; a far cry from what we experience in the surf. I made the mistake this previous year of rolling the dice on some studs for my new boots from a well-known wader, apparel, and boot company. They looked great, they were textured and big enough I thought they would work well on the ledges I fish. Oh boy, was I wrong! It wasn’t just about the depth, or length, of these studs. With all studs in the surf, it’s also about having something very sharp and pointy, and I had to relearn this lesson the hard way.
Since I am often standing on very flat, slippery rocks, only the metal points are typically touching the rock. None of the rubber makes contact. If the studs are rounded or flat, this turns into a very low-friction surface. With these freshwater studs I tried in 2020, I found the boots were far more slippery with the studs than without. At times, it felt like I was on ice skates! Ultimately, I tried to save a few dollars with this experiment and ended up simply wasting money that could have bought me a couple more Super Strike plugs. Worse, I risked serious injury by rolling the dice on equipment that was not suitable for my needs.
The other factor you should ensure to look for while buying studs for the surf is the ruggedness of the threads. Small studs with shallow threads are going to get ripped out of the boot sole if you do any amount of walking in boulders or rocky shorelines. It’s not a matter of if, but a matter of when. Therefore, I have gone back to the INS Rock Grabr’z in my wading boots. These studs have a great reputation in the surf community, and while not the cheapest option, they are nice and durable and stay securely screwed into a rubber or felt sole. They are also sharp and long enough to cut through moderately-thick kelp if you’re a boulder field fisherman.
I use 15 in each boot because I’m typically not doing any dramatic rock scrambling in my waders, and rarely fish inlets anymore. However, if I was engaging in either of the latter scenarios, I’d upgrade to 25 in each boot. This provides more points to catch on the texture of rocks but also gives you some extra insurance if you lose a stud or two on an extended tide or a trip to a fishy destination. When screwing studs in use a dab of permanent Loctite. This will give the studs a little extra hold in a harsh environment.
I urge all you fellow casters out there to please purchase quality studs before hitting any terrain that would require them. While they can be a little pricy, your life is priceless.