Thursday, March 15, 2007

Sticky rubber soles

Sticky rubber soles on wading boots are on the rise in popularity. The benefits include good traction on most surfaces, minimal water weight gain, lower potential for spreading stream born disease and optional "screw in" capability. I've been wearing sticky rubber boots for a few years now and can attest to the merits, especially in the salt or where snow is involved. Felt gets caked with snow in seconds and rubber doesn't. Here's a shot of a stud "screw in" pattern that I've used for slippery situations. The studs shown are 6 X 3/8" sheet metal screws. It's critical that you determine what length screw works best on your particular boot, otherwise the screw point may penetrate the insole. It's amazing how good the grip is and how few studs are really required with this method. When you're done with the studs, unscrew them and you can barely tell they were there. What are your experiences with sticky rubber soles?


Anonymous said...

Here in the Pacific NW where stream bottoms are typically moss and algae covered boulders, nothing works better than studded felt. -NS in OR.

Bert said...

I have two pairs of studded Aquastealth boots. Simms, LL Bean. I love 'em. Guides with fiberglass driftboats hate 'em.

Rubber soles are better for hiking and busting brush to get to a secret spot on the Sky or the Hoh or the Grande Rhonde. Felt is slippery in mud. You will slip and fall on that river bank trail.

I can see the advantage of removeable studs. BTW, look for aluminum screws -- the softer metal will grip better.

Anonymous said...

kIf I had only one wading shoe bottom to use it would be the sticky rubber in the star tread. Nothing is better for Great Lakes steelhead fishing, whether you are doing hike-n-wade or in a boat.

I have put many miles on mine and they are still hanging tough. I have used the aluminum sheet metal screws on really nasty bottoms and it works great. 5 on each shoe and you are good to go.

The many advantages of this sole allow it to outperform felt in most any situation.

Anonymous said...

Un-studded rubber soles are a nightmare on the mossy freestone rivers of Northern California (Upper Sacramento, McCloud, Pit, etc).

Bring your insurance card.

Nothing grips better than studded felt on round, moss-covered rocks. I'm test flying studded rubber (I'm guessing they get 80% of the grip that studded felt does) because how much hiking I do along railroad tracks; the sharp rocks demolish felt soles quickly.

I'll probably keep using studded rubber, but not because they grip better. In my rivers, they don't...

Anonymous said...

Adding studs to my felt sole wading boots was a drastic improvement to my ability to stay securely attached to the riverbed.

Who knows how many times they saved me from a major wipe out on the river or even clamoring up a ridge. I wouldn't go without them.

My question is do you think the steel studs scraping the rocks up and down our rivers will eventually make an obvious scar on the landscape?

Are we actually doing harm to our favorite places by wearing these types of boots?

I don't know about you all, but I notice the scrapes on some freestone rivers out here in the west when I'm fishing and my conscious kicks in a bit telling me I should think of something else to use.

There has to be a better solution.

El Pescador said...

Thanks to you all for the replies. There are obviously pros and cons with any sole choice. It's just good that there are choices. The one comment that has me thinking deeper is that of studs doing harm. I've heard fisherman describe seeing stud scaring on popular sections of streams and rivers. I don't know if this harm is just visual or if it effects the biology. A gut check tells me that it's probably both at some level. Look for further posts on this subtopic. Keep the conversations going.

Bert said...

Scraping rocks doesn't seem to be a big problem on the rivers that I fish. Hell, spawning beds are like large scarification areas anyway.

But I'll bet that studs make more noise underwater. I wonder if I would catch more fish without them. Hmmm?

Rubber soles were developed to deal with whirling disease out west. Because felt holds water (and pathogens) the theory was that a pair of boots could cross-contaminate other river systems.

El Pescador said...

I had a guide in Norway say that studs can be heard by atlantic salmon from very far away. He also felt that once an angler stepped in the water that the fish could smell the anglers presence too. His saying was "feet on the rocks, line in the water".

Your question is a good one Bert. Do studs scare the fish and would we catch more without them?

Bert said...

OK, one last comment about rubber soled wading boots, we now have whirling disease in Maryland.

El Pescador said...

It's not always about product performance in a traditional sense.
Invasive species are becoming more troubling everyday. We all need to help....and make sacrifices based on what we learn.

Anonymous said...

Infectious diseases are becoming a real issue in Atlantic Canada and Norway in particular. I spent a month bumming around the salmon rivers of Norway two years ago. Mandatory disinfection of all fishing tackle and wading gear is required when you move from one river to the next. The angler receives a certificate upon completion of disinfection, and a heavy fine is levied if the angler fishes without said certificate.

For 2007, I hear that the rivers of the Gaspe' Peninsula in Quebec will require disinfection to guard against the spread of Didymo Geminata, which is now a reality on many of their rivers. The local ZECs (river management organizations) discourage the use of felt soles.

I just purchased a pair of the Patagonia Rivermaster Wading Shoes with Sticky Rubber soles. Most diseases like Gyro Salaris and Didymo Geminata are particularly susceptible to transmission via felt soles.

I'm not sure how to rationalize the use of studded soles--especially the hard-core Korker type--as they conflict with a "Leave No Trace" ethic.

The use of studded soles is certainly better than breaking one's neck or drowning. Nonetheless, I don't want to leave a trail of fresh stud marks when I fish, nor do I wish to end up in the drink. The ideal sole will depend on the rivers you fish. So far, the perfect solution eludes us.

I'm working on it.

Cheers, topher browne

Sinjin Eberle said...

Love my Rivermasters with Sticky Rubber...they do better than anything in slippery rivers like the Roaring Fork near Aspen before runoff (maximum algae coverage)...

El Pescador said...

Thanks for joining the conversation Sinjin. I'd be interested in seeing some pix of your stickies in action on the Roaring Fork.

Unknown said...

I started using sticky rubber boots about six months ago. It basically comes down to good stewardship of our rivers. If using rubber soles instead of felt is going to significantly decrease the chance of cross-contaminating rivers with didymo, then I'll take a few falls in exchange and call it a more than fair trade.

I've often said to my fishing companions that the sticky rubber soles are going to be the death of me. On rivers with large, smooth rocks, they just don't hold. It must be something about the geology of the Appalachians, but the smooth rocks that are larger than my foot make a roller skating experience on the river. Studs offer no advantages in this area, and are even more dangerous on these rocks.

It's my understanding that felt soles are one of the most difficult areas to decontaminate in a wading boot. If, as a whole, the fly fishing community is going to take the didymo issue seriously, we're going to need to eliminate felt, or make the process of decontaminating felt quick and painless. I think you'll find that most fishermen are unwilling to ditch felt for safety reasons, so how do you create something that can compete with felt's gripping power in rivers, while eliminating felt's contamination potential?

My suggestion - use sticky rubber/aquastealth boots with replaceable felt studs. Just like the golf industry views soft spikes as a replaceable item, we might have to pick the lesser of two evils. Going into a river with a didymo problem? Pull off your felt studs after you're done, and either dispose of them properly, or find an effective, quick way of sterilizing them, without having to deal with spores hiding deep in the layers of traditional felt soles. A thin felt stud with a perforated base will dry out a lot more quickly than thick felt soles, and should also be more easy for sterilizers to penetrate.

If a felt stud is an avenue worth investigating, we'll have to weigh the economic and environmental costs of either contaminating rivers, or making and using a felt stud with a disposable design. Which has the greater environmental cost? I'd be inclined to go with contamination being the greater evil. Will felt studs eliminate the problem? No, we'll still have to make sure the rest of the boot is dried/decontaminated.

Hopefully this will be some food for thought and spark an idea that might be more realistic.

Unknown said...


Do you have any idea how the screws grip in comparison to a pair of carbide Korkers? I can't imagine the grip is as good, but I'm wondering if you (or anyone) have any firsthand experience.

Also, how do you deal with getting the screws out after a session or two on the ledges? I tried swapping out the Korkers friction fit studs for some stainless screws with nylon locknuts last season and I rounded off the screws to the point that they needed to be cut off after a couple of outings.

El Pescador said...

I can't comment on the comparrison Matt. I've used regular 3/8" #6 machine screws and they've provided excellent grip. I haven't tried them on every surface so my guess is that there are still limitations....just like carbide points. Note that others have suggested softer metal screws which may provided better bite than harder metals but softer metal will wear and deflect faster.

I've had no issues removing the screws after a weeks use but I'm sure removal can get tricky after a few months of continuous wear...and potentially impossible after a season.

Anonymous said...

Interesting conversation on the boots. Check out these studded Patagonia boots on flickr-
These are not sheet metal screws, they are the standard carbide style found in other boots on the market. We've retro-fitted a number of pairs of these boots the last few years.

Anonymous said...

I cannot bring myself to buy into the propaganda touting the benefits of studs on either rubber or felt soled boots. I guess it depends on the geology and the type of rock that you are dealing with but I don't think that really matters a whole lot. The contention that a pointed stud (or four pointed studs), regardless of how hard, that has a 1/64th inch diameter is going to "grip" a rock is completely counterintuitive.

I fish mostly in New Zealand where, effective October 31, 2008, felt soles are outlawed. I have found both the Simms and the Patagonia rubber soles to be too hard to provide much grip on the moss covered bowling balls I find in my favorite river. Are there any other alternatives out there?

El Pescador said...

It's not propaganda Anon. if you are dealing with snow and ice. That's where felt fails. I've also had good luck with rubber combined with hex headed screws (some softer metals are better) in some non-ice situations but your point about stud points and rock being counterintuitive has merit. Stud points are really good if you are dealing with wood (like loggers do) but for rock, especially NZ mossy, baby head rock it's not good. For now let me just say that we are working on some very interesting outsole designs/materials with the goal of cracking the felt grip code with rubber. Sticky rubber with some aftermarket stud (non-point) configs is all I can offer at this time. Does anyone else have ideas/comments?

Regarding the NZ felt ban, here's a link to a variety of view points -

Anonymous said...

The use of studs in the sticky rubber shoes is not propganda, it vastly improves the function of the shoe in certain situations.

But, let's step back a bit first. There is no perfect wading shoe sole that performs flawlessly in every situation. As has been pointed out, felt certainly has it's limitations. The same can be said for sticky rubber. But, I have found the sticky rubber sole with the star tread the most versatile single sole type on the market. I have logged hundreds of hours on this sole in wide variety of situations. Here are some benefits of the sole:

Does not pick up add'l water weight
Easy to clean
does not pick up snow & ice
Resistant to holding chemicals, pathogens, microrganisms, etc.
Long wearing
When in icy shoreline conditions and on slimy, algae-covered rocks the strategic placement of a handful of short (3/8") aluminum or stainless screws in the sole gives a dramatic increase in bottom gripping ability. I use three screws around the ball of the foot area of the sole and two in the heel area. Hex head aluminum screws are good as are stainless with a rounded Phillips head. These can be very easily screwed into the sole. The softer aluminum will stay removeable longer with the Hex head before wearing down. The stainless, being harder and more wear resistant, usually stays removable with a screw driver.

Bottom line- no perfect wading shoe yet, but ALL factors considered,- performance, fit, comfort, versatility, durability, the Sticky Rubber shoe comes close.

The Fishdog

Anonymous said...

Based on the comments provided, it sounds like there is a need for a boot that works in well in a variety of situations.
Studded works best on/in:
Moss covered rock
Slick Boulders (large rock)
Fast moving water
Non Studded works best on/in:
Drift Boats
Dry Rock
Spring creeks (spooky fish)
The only one pair of boots that I know that will work well in all of these conditions is Korkers with interchangeable soles. This is the ultimate wading boot!

El Pescador said...

Thanks for the opinion Anon. I've been a fan of the Riverwalker but I'm obviously biased. I'm curious what others think qualifies as the "ultimate boot".

MO Trout said...

I'm heading to Colorado next month for a week - first time in the state fly fishing. I bought Patagonia Riverwalkers and have had them in the water twice here in Missouri. First time in small (1-3") gravel, the second time in a spring creek with varying bottoms.

They worked great except on a submerged log - where they were worthless. I was concerned about what Colorado freestone rivers would be like.

Thanks for the postings - I am going to add the aluminum hex heads. I will let you know how they work out. My Simms had the SS hex heads and felt, and they gave me secure footing in all conditions (I never had to hike far in snow conditions). An earlier pair of L L Bean felt bottoms allowed me to verify the Orvis warranty on my 4 weight.

El Pescador said...

Comments noted MO Trout. Let me know how the aluminum hex heads work out. The only concern I have about aluminum studs is that the metal's softness (which theoretically adds bite) can wear fast. This can make them hard to remove later. The good news is that from the studies I've seen, aluminum shards don't cause bio-accumulation of the metal in river water (which would be bad). Have a good trip to Colorado.

Mo Trout said...

My trip to Colorado was educational - I had never been on a true freestone stream before. I am undecided if I like the billiard balls or bowling balls better :-) Missouri streams have irregular shaped rocks so they lock together and provide stable footing.

I found the Patagonia soles to be excellent on everything but moss covered rocks - which seemed to be primarily on the edges of the streams. Fished upper Colorado, Williams Fork, Blue, Lake Fork, upper Arkansas, Swan River, and Frying Pan.

My hardware store just had slotted aluminum screws. A week of wading wore away all of the slots. I removed a couple of the badly damaged ones with needlenose without much problem. the 'hole' from the screw seems to be fixing itself nicely. I can still see a blemish where the hole was, but no hole. A note on installing the screws - the rubber sole tends to 'unscrew' the screw, give the rubber a second to relax and then tighten again. Also, make sure the head is seated against the rubber - it will make the head last a little longer.

I especially liked the flexibility of the sole itself - I found the walk to/from and along the streams very secure. In felts, I often was overly cautious or actually lost my balance in felt soles because of the inflexibility of the sole.

The freestone streams did reinforce that the best piece of safety equipment is a wading staff.

El Pescador said...

Thanks for the follow up MO Trout. It sounds like your field testing revealed pretty similar findings to many of us who have used StarTread Sticky Rubber combined with off-the-shelf sheet metal screw studs. Your comments about the screw in process are spot on and the slight blemish left after removal is typically minimal. The fast wear you experienced with aluminum is the reason why I don't prefer it over a harder metal. I feel you get a lot more mileage out of harder screws and the grip factor is still reliable. Lastly, your point about a wading staff is a good one. No sole type is magic and you've still got to choose your steps wisely. A staff can be an asset in many situations. Feel free to add further comments as you log more time with your boots here at Way Upstream.

El Pescador said...

Here's a post from the Fish Dog on sticky rubber soles with a photo of a screw-in stud configuration -