I have dozens of shoes stuffed in every corner of my gear closet, but only a couple of pairs I regularly wear. First, water shoes must shed water from outside, inside and under the sole. Then, the outsole should absorb shock and the insole comfortably fit the foot. The ultimate test: foot funk. Water shoes are a petri dish for fungus leading to stinky shoes and athlete’s foot. The best fishing shoes prevent bacteria by drying quickly and completely. Shoes that pass the test find a permanent place in the gear closet.
$125 | astraldesigns.com
Astral updated the classic Brewer water shoe with the new Brewer 2.0. Starting with the sole, the Brewer 2.0 combines aggressive lugs for loose dirt and razor sipping for smoother surfaces to provide the stickiest traction regardless of the terrain. Inside the shoe, a super soft integrated lining is comfortable on bare feet. My favorite feature is the level footbed and large toe box allowing my foot to stand naturally with plenty of space. The thin sole improves foot feel for more stable standup fishing.
Hydro Mid Boots
$115 | gillmarine.com
Gill takes the traditional deck boot to new levels with a mid-level boot that doubles as an ankle boot. The natural rubber lower section and neoprene upper section combine durability with comfort and warmth. Inside, a neoprene lining offers cushioning for long days on the water. Anglers looking for a waterproof boot to get from the launch to the water can rely on the Hydro Mid to keep feet and calves dry, then fold down the upper part of the boot to increase the range of movement.
PFG Pro Sport
$110 | columbia.com
A mesh upper and sturdy sole make Columbia’s Pro Sport tough and comfortable. The breathable upper keeps feet cool and dry in summer heat. The sticky razor-sipped sole with a cushy inner sole prevents slips and provides support for sure footing. The upper part of the shoe is treated with a special coating that repels stains and dirt. The Pro Sport provides wading support while maintaining performance for pedaling a kayak.
Flyweight Access Wet Wading Boot
$199.99 | simmsfishing.com
The Flyweight Access Wet Wading Boot is designed to go from the kayak to the water and the trail. Resembling a hiking boot with a neoprene collar, the Flyweight uses Vibram Idrogrip Flex Rubber Outsole to stick to rocks and still hike through mud and gunk. To transition from dry to wet, the boot uses integrated drain holes and quick-dry materials. The neoprene collar keeps out sand and gravel for summer wading.
Kiata Waterproof Sneaker
$135 | xtratuf.com
The Alaska natives at XTRATUF designed the Kiata Waterproof Sneaker for the extreme conditions in the Last Frontier. Built around a unique waterproof, breathable upper constructed of a single strand of yarn, Kiata fits like a water sock with the support of an athletic shoe. The upper sits on an EVA foam sole that absorbs shock. The outsole is independently tested to offer best-in-class traction.
$74.95 | nrs.com
From late October until early May, I wear my NRS Backwater Wetshoe with my light paddling pants and heavier paddling bibs. The stretchy neoprene is reinforced with heavier rubber pads in the toe, heel and sides. The lugged rubber sole has a generous footbed to keep the booties from being too tight. A zipper on the side of the shoe makes it easy to pull them on and off.
$95 | vibram.com
The best compromise between barefoot and shoes is a pair of hybrid five-toe water shoes. Vibram’s V-Aqua shoes offer glove-like fit and flexibility with Vibram’s reinforced and lugged Megagrip Outsole for unmatched protection and traction. The low-profile shoes fit seamlessly into the kayak cockpit with sensitive foot feel to improve stability. Velcro straps across the heel and ankle keep the V-Aqua in place through deep mud and strong current.
The shoes make the fisherman. Water shoes take comfort, safety and smell to new levels. | Feature photo: Patrick “Buzz” Hayes