Fishing out of a drift boat all day can be as simple as sandals and sunscreen. But when you really start fishing hard—like hiking to the Second Meadows on Slough Creek, or navigating the lava-strewn pools of the Deschutes, or swinging for steelhead on the ledgerock of the North Umpqua, there's nothing "easy" about it. If you don't have the right footwear, it's dangerous and best-case-scanario, it's painful and uncomfortable. The wrong boots might give you only foot pain on day one, but by day two, you'll notice sore legs and a tight lower back as well. A good day of wading starts with a good pair of wading boots—start your quest here.
1-Simms RiverTek Boa $170
When laces freeze/thaw over the course of a day of winter steelheading, they invariably come untied. Then you have the misfortune of removing your gloves, and attempting to tie wet, half-frozen laces. Try tying on a new fly after that. In three years of using this cable system on different brands of wading boots, and footwear for other outdoors pursuits, our testers report that the Boa Lacing System never comes untied, the stainless steel cables do not break, you can "tie" them up wearing mittens, and uniform tightness provides superior comfort and performance over laces. Boa is also "greener" because porous traditional laces—and the myriad eyelets and hooks that accompany them—are hard to clean and prone to carrying aquatic nuisances such as didymo or whirling disease. Keeping with the easy-to-clean theme, the rest of the boot is completely synthetic with a full rubber toe cap, and lined with closed-cell Neoprene on the inside for maximum comfort.
2-L.L.Bean Boa River Tread $190
L.L.Bean was an early adopter of the Boa Lacing System, and has a track record of putting the cable closures on its top-of-the-line technical gear. At Bean, you'll find Boa on the Technical Big-Game Boots, Technical Upland Boots, Tuckerman's Multisport Boots (a high-tech hiker), and in 2012, its River Tread Boots. L.L.Bean says the boots was designed from the ground up with fewer nooks and crannies that hold water, mud, and moss, and may transport aquatic nuisances. To encourage "clean wading" you also get a cleaning brush with the boots. The company was the first to introduce rock climbing "sticky rubber" to wading boots, and still uses the same AquaStealth rubber made by the company 5.10. The hex-shaped tread is available with studs pre-installed or without.
3-River Guard Side-Zip Brogue $180
The stoutest boot from Orvis, the River Guard Brogue has a roomy toe box, and a wide, stable footprint for difficult wading situations. Once you have the laces adjusted for the best fit, use the side zipper for a quick on/off in any situation. The boot welt comes from Orvis hunting boots, and is designed to reduce torsion and stop your ankle from twisting on irregular river bottoms. The all-synthetic boot is not only more durable than previous boots, but helps prevent the spread of aquatic nuisance species such as didymo or New Zealand mud snails because there are fewer porous, water-retaining surfaces. No boots can stop aquatic nuisance species by themselves. Inspect, clean, and dry all boots after each outing. The boots come with a 20-pack of tungsten-carbide PosiGrip screw-in studs for extra traction on slippery rocks. See page 18 for more specific information on the tread and studs.
4-Chota Rocky River $95
It looks a little like a traditional construction site boot, and maybe that's appropriate because this is a tough, hardworking boot for less than $100. Chota's RockLoc rubber outsoles have the deepest tread pattern in the business (think "mud" tires on a monster truck) with built-in receptacles, and the boots come with 28 Chota case-hardened steel cleats. (Chota's Carbide-Tipped Wading Cleats are $20 for a package of 20.) A padded cuff and removable form-fitting EVA sock liner, coupled with a cushy injected PU midsole, soften each step and leave your feet asking for more at the end of the day. chota.com