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Friday, Apr 18, 2014

Booting Up: A sportman's guide to footwear

The Tampa Tribune
Published:   |   Updated: March 18, 2013 at 08:38 PM

Really, we ought to just forget it and sit by the fire.

But, being the intrepid sorts that we are, we often wind up on the water in weather better suited to the fish than to humans. And while a quality rain suit will keep you dry from head to ankles, keeping your feet dry can be another matter.

Of course, most of the year Florida outdoorsmen don't have to worry about it. Flip-flops, sandals or bare feet do the job unless you're wading in oyster shell, and then a wading bootie does the job. But when things get chilly, keeping feet dry and warm makes the difference between enjoying the outdoors and enduring misery, whether you're standing in the bow of a flats or bass boat, riding in the cockpit of an offshore grouper rig or easing through a swamp in search of a big buck.

I've tried a bit of everything over the years, including hunting boots and neoprene wading booties. But what works best is simply slip-on, knee-high rubber boots if you really want to keep your feet dry. They're basically the same "high tops" we wore as kids growing up in Ohio, which I guess is part of the reason it took me a long time to accept them. They just work; that's why they've been around so long — and why just about every commercial fisherman in the world has a pair of them on his feet anytime he leaves the dock.

One of the most basic uses, for boaters and boating anglers, is simply this — "high-tops" allow you to wade in at the ramp when you're launching and loading. For a lot of boat/trailer rigs, it's impossible to reach that last couple of feet when the trailer is backed in far enough for the boat to float off. You can't reach your bow line attached to the winch stand without getting a wet foot. (This is when you're launching/loading by yourself — otherwise, a partner can sit in the boat and simply drive it off and on while you handle the tow rig, or vice versa.) Slip-on boots solve the problem, and it's the same when coming back to reload.

They're handy when stepping off on a mucky shoreline to hold the boat when someone needs to go ashore to answer nature's call. They also provide a margin of dryness when tucked inside the pant legs of your foul-weather gear in really sloppy weather — heavy rain and spray. Water simply can't find its way to your feet with this arrangement, as it inevitably does with 7-inch or ankle boots.

If you're inclined to clean a mess of fish now and then — I've been known to work over some trout and reds when I can — the rubber boots keep your boat shoes from getting that slimy, stinky aura about them that's inevitable after a few good trips to the cleaning table. Hit the boots with a quick hosing and they're good to go after pretty much anything. (You might want some boot dryers, too, if you're a serious wearer of rubber boots, though — all rubber boots trap perspiration, and if they aren't dried thoroughly every few days, the boots get rank on the inside. These are cheap, $25 or so, and well worth the investment.)

You can pick up serviceable rubber slip-on boots at your local discount mart for less than $35. These are likely to be 12-inchers, however, and if you buy 12-inchers you will find yourself frequently stepping into water 13 inches deep. (True, this can be applied philosophically as well as pragmatically, at least that's the way the world seems to work for me … but I digress). In any case, knee-highs, typically 15 to 16 inches tall, are a better choice.

If you expect to wear them a lot, it makes sense to invest in a pair of heavy-gauge boots with padded, orthotic insoles that can be removed for washing. These will have insulating neoprene lining the rubber outer shell and a mesh-type inner liner to help wick away perspiration. Boots designed for hunters are among the best. Prices start around $90.

My current favorite is the Bogs Bowman, which features all of the above plus pull-on loops — not really needed because these are slip-ons rather than ankle-fit, and that's what you must have for use in a boat — otherwise, if you ever go over the side, getting rid of the boots might become a life-and-death issue. The Bogs are off in one kick. They work great for fishing, no matter how cold and nasty the weather gets, and they serve double duty when the turkey woods get wet in spring. They're heavy-gauge rubber over insulating neoprene, and they should last many years. They live in the storage box on my boat — you can learn more about them at

Muck and LaCrosse are among several other makers of quality rubber boots. If you're a winter angler or boater — or hunt Florida's always wet lowlands — don't go through another month without a pair of good rubber boots.