Getting to grips with footwear

Getting to grips with footwear

Of all the kit the land-based angler might own, footwear is right up there in order of importance.

The keen land-based angler will likely have to negotiate all manner of terrain underfoot from deep, soft beach sand to sharp, treacherous rocks.

Being able to do so in a safe and sure-footed manner is paramount to the land-based angler’s success. Let’s take a look at the evolution of the shore angler’s footwear from the early days right through to today.

HOME-MADE IMPROVISATION

Back in the days before commercially-made reef boots, anglers had to improvise and make their own. Some of us can remember old photographs of keen rockhoppers with sneakers modified with pieces of metal screwed underneath. These were no doubt very effective on the slippery lower ledges and were a favourite of NSW rock anglers in particular. Generally the angler attached sections of metal channel to the sole of the shoe so that the exposed edges of the channel faced downwards.

Another approach favoured by old school rockhoppers was to install their own grip studs into the soles of their shoes, boots or sandals. The studs themselves usually took the form of short metal tek-screws. No doubt the angler would lose plenty of screws during an outing but more could simply be added before the next expedition. If the screw length was too long the angler got an unpleasant surprise when putting their fishing shoes on! Interestingly this approach is still used by fly anglers looking for more grip from their wading boots in slippery or icy river conditions.

COMMERCIAL INNOVATION

Eventually someone decided there might be a market for a commercially-made solution. Enter the reef sandal. I can remember my father having a pair of hard plastic reef sandals. These were constructed of a hard brown plastic material which sacrificed comfort in favour of durability. The whole sandal from the straps to the sole was made of the same hard brown plastic.

The soles had stud-like protrusions formed into the plastic which provided the much-needed foothold. Many anglers chose to buy sandals a couple of sizes too big and fit the sandals over thin shoes or wetsuit booties. This improved comfort considerably as compared to hard plastic rubbing directly on the feet. The sandals were also ideal for wearing over the popular waders of the day which lacked formed boots at the bottom of the leg section. The ‘go-to’ brand of sandal in these early pioneering days of rock fishing was Talisman from New Zealand. Later the brand changed to Kay-Dee, still produced across the ditch in the Land of the Long White Cloud. They owed their popularity to their simple design and affordability.

In terms of drawbacks the previously mentioned discomfort, unless worn over something, was one. The metal buckles would succumb to corrosion and eventually fail. Being a sandal there was little to no protection for the feet unless they were worn over shoes. They might have assisted with underfoot grip, but that was about it.

STUDDED BOOTS

The next quantum leap for shore angling footwear was the introduction of the rock boot with integrated metal spikes/studs in the soles. Australian company Mirage had been busy since 1976 producing various products for the watersports enthusiast including footwear such as wetsuit booties.

They adapted their knowledge in this arena to develop the Rock Hopper boot. It didn’t take long for Rock Hoppers to gain a reputation as a must-have accessory for all keen shore anglers. The Rock Hopper boot included a hard wearing rubber sole with metal spikes moulded into it.

The upper part of the boot was constructed of neoprene with a tough wetsuit style zipper running up the side to assist with taking them on and off. The sides were high enough to provide ankle support and protection, which was a major drawback with the earlier sandals. The toe and heel areas were reinforced with a heavy duty rubber to really protect the wearer’s feet from bumps and scrapes. In short, Rock Hoppers were the solution anglers were looking for. As good as they are Rock Hopper Boots do have some drawbacks for some people.

Rock Hoppers can be uncomfortable for wearers with wide feet. I’ve had to purchase a size too big then wear thin socks with them to stop the rubbing I tend to get across the tops of my toes. Another issue is being able to keep the zippers up.

My zippers always end up half undone within a few minutes. Other anglers I’ve spoken to have the same issue. One friend even got his wife to sew velcro straps onto the boots’ ankle section so that when fastened the zips couldn’t undo.

Long-term users of Rock Hoppers will probably agree the boots tend to lose their metal spikes pretty easily. This seems to be worse for heavier individuals. I’ve certainly observed that the last couple of pairs haven’t lasted as well as the earlier versions I purchased. Perhaps the factory of origin has changed in recent times? Despite these drawbacks shore anglers still love Rock Hopper boots.

LATEST SOLUTION

In my quest for the perfect foot solution and needing replacement reef boots I recently came across an update by Mirage I thought might work better for me. Called the Rock Gripper Shoe these differ in a few ways to the Rock Hopper boot. Firstly the shoes are a low cut and don’t extend up the lower leg. Therefore they don’t have any zips to constantly come undone. For a secure fit these Rock Grippers have a velcro strap which tensions across the top of the foot.

Secondly the Rock Grippers are a bit softer and more flexible so they mould to the shape of the wearer’s foot a lot more than the Rock Hopper boots. This allows for a huge increase in wearer comfort while still providing an adequate degree of rigidity and overall foot protection. The Rock Grippers still have the same thick rubber sole with metal spikes moulded into the rubber so they grip the same as Rock Hoppers.

In practice these Rock Grippers have worked out well. I can leave them on for longer periods without any rubbing or discomfort and the velcro straps are a big improvement over the zips. The only disappointment is that after a week on and off Rottnest reefs they have lost at least half of their metal spikes from the soles. I think the quality of the rubber soles has to be improved but other than that I love them.

Captions:

From right to left: Kay-Dee reef sandals from New Zealand, Mirage Rock Hopper boots and Mirage Rock Gripper shoes.

Rock Hopper sole on the right with metal spikes almost completely worn down but still in place. Rock Gripper sole on the left with many spikes missing.