The well-rounded surfcaster wears many hats…and shoes.
It’s true that surf fishermen should be well-versed in a variety of terrain types and techniques, from boiling tide rips, to vast boulder fields to sandy backwater beaches… and everywhere in between. Covering all this ground means carrying a lot gear; most surfcasters will, at some point in their season, fish in waders, a wetsuit and may spend some time ‘wet wading’ as well.
Most of my surf fishing is done in a wetsuit and I have been through a veritable shoe store of footwear options in the 12 years I’ve been wetsuiting. From ‘booties’ with Korkers strapped on, to full-on wading boots, to hiker-style wading shoes and running the gamut from the cheapest to the most expensive, I feel like I can offer a lot on this subject.
After all my trial and error I have settled on one style of shoe and spikes and I am 100% certain that it is the best way to go for wetsuiting and that’s a hiker-style wading shoe. If there’s even a chance that you might swim, take my advice and don’t wear typical wading boots. I always say it’s like trying to swim with two Easter hams strapped to your feet. I prefer to use ‘screw in’ style boot studs, but you have to make sure the soles of the boots are thick enough to accommodate the length of the stud, otherwise pain will follow—trust me. Some people like GripStuds, I prefer INS Rock Grabrz, the reason I like the Rock Grabrz better is that they have a flange built in which helps keep them from poking through. I will concede that the GripStuds stay in better, but with a little dab of Gorilla Glue before driving the Grabrz in, they hold just fine (and removing them won’t destroy your soles like the GripStuds do).
For the boots themselves, I definitely recommend spending the money on a higher-end pair. I bought some cheapos at Dick’s a few years ago and, at the end of a season, they looked like I jumped onto a landmine with both feet. I have been very happy with my Simms Flyweight Wading Boots, these combine the slim lines and flexibility of a hiker-style wading shoe with the ankle protection of a full-size wading boot. You will also notice that the seams and edges are protected by a – nearly invisible – rubberized coating that really boosts their durability.
The only part of the boot that needs special attention are the metal ‘lace hooks’ at the top of each boot. I clean them about once a month with soapy water and a toothbrush to keep corrosion to a minimum. These boots also do double-duty as my wet wading shoes when fishing the Canal or chasing albies from jetties in the fall. A pair of neoprene socks is a must with these boots, I have not found that any brand is better than another, but I do prefer thicker socks, I find them to be more comfortable on longer hikes.
When fishing in waders, I use Korker brand wading boots and I keep two pairs in my truck most of the time—one with spikes and one with felt soles. Believe it or not, I prefer the screw-in spikes over the commercially-available studded soles made for the boots. I put the felt soles on and then screw the Rock Grabrz (with the Gorilla Glue dabbed on) through the soles and into the boots. This screws the soles to the boots, making them nearly impossible to pull off and the plastic backing on the soles really grabs the threads of the studs.
I can’t emphasize enough how important it is to try these boots on with your waders at the time of purchase, I wear an 11-1/2 shoe and I have ended up with boots as large as size 13 with my waders on.
When I’m fishing in waders, I’m almost always fishing gentler terrain, unless it’s just too cold for a wetsuit. But nine times out of ten, I’m using my non-studded pair. (Pro tip: wear your spikes when fishing marsh/sod banks, with a little mud, felt soles turn into a pair of freshly-waxed racing skis.) I have a pair of Korkers River Ops and a pair of their Terror Ridge boots, I have found both of them to be durable and comfortable. This is not a blanket endorsement of Korkers wading boots, I am certain that wading boots from other top brands like Simms, LL Bean and Orvis will also fit the bill—but I can only talk about what I actually use.
The last little bit I can offer up is to keep some spare parts in your vehicle, a set of extra soles, a set of laces and a few spare studs. Surfcasting is tough on the body and your comfort begins and ends with your feet—keep them happy and comfortable and your season will see positive results.