I usually get a harsh reminder that it’s time for a new set of waders right around this time of year. The small leaks that were easily ignored in the summer and early fall can no longer be overlooked when it’s 40-some-degree water seeping in through seams, abrasions, and pinholes.
Fishing the surf provides a unique set of challenges for waders, most of which are designed with the stream-strolling trout fishermen in mind. We’re much harder on our waders, scuffing them up on barnacle-covered rocks, dodging toothy bluefish and big hooks, and occasionally taking a wave over the top. The following is a guide to help you choose your next set of waders for surf fishing.
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Bootfoot vs. Stockingfoot
The first consideration in choosing a new set of waders for surf fishing is bootfoot or stocking foot.
These waders come as a single unit, with the boot stitched right onto the bottom of the waders.
Pro: Easy On, Easy Off
Simply slip them on and hit the beach.
Con: Fewer, More Expensive Options
Relatively few companies make breathable bootfoot waders, and most of the ones on the market are expensive.
Pro: Warmer Feet
With a rigid boot seperating the water from your foot, there’s extra insulation in a pair of bootfoot waders, which can be a big deal early and late in the striper season.
Con: Less Ankle Support
The boots on a set of bootfoot waders lack laces and can’t be tightened down, meaning they’ll have no more ankle support than a pair of deck boots.
Pro: Keeps Sand and Gravel Out, Completely
While churning waves can wash sand between a wading boot and a pair of stockingfoot waders, there’s no such worry with bootfoots.
These waders must be paired with a set of wading boots in order to provide traction and support.
Pro: More Options
Many companies make stockingfoot waders at a wide range of price points, giving anglers more options.
Con: Additional Purchase Required
Fishermen buying a set of stockingfoot waders will also need to buy a set of wading boots to go with them. Though, when considering the price of bootfoot waders, this pretty much evens out.
Pro: Improved Mobility
Walking in stockingfoot waders and wading boots feels more natural than walking in bootfoots, and the tightly laced wading boots provide much-needed ankle support for fishing uneven terrain like boulderfields.
Con: Sand and Gravel in the Boots
Sand and small rocks get in the top of a wading boot or between the toungue and laces, making walking uncomfortable in stockingfoot waders. Most have a gravel guard, but in the surf, sand is still likely to get through.
Pro: Easier to Store
Stockingfoot waders are easier to store for long periods of time as you can keep the boots and waders in separate places.
Where do you do most of your fishing?
While many surfcasters cover a variety of terrain, the best waders for sand beaches aren’t necessarily the best waders for the rocks. Taking into account where you do most of your fishing will help you select the best waders for you.
How often will you be wearing your waders?
If your annual surfcasting outings number in the trople digits, you’re asking more of your waders than an angler fishing the surf twenty days or less.
How important is it to quickly don or remove your waders?
If you have a lot or striper seasons in your wake, or you just like the ability to get in and get out of your waders quickly, you might consider a zip-front wader.
How much are you willing to spend?
Waders for Surf Fishing on Sand Beaches
Even the most secure gravel guards won’t keep all the sand from seeping into your wading boots, so it’s tough to beat bootfoot waders for sand beaches. This is especially true when driving on the beach, as the bootfoots tend to track less sand into the vehicle.
The Simms Freestone Z feature a four-layer Toray for durability, a built in booth with a rubber sole, and front-seams for improved articulation and mobility while chasing the blitz down the beach. At nearly $600, they’re a bit more than middle of the road pricewise for modern, breathable bootfoot waders, falling between the Simms G3 Guide Bootfoots and Orvis Pro Zip Bootfoot (both at $900) and the Frogg Toggs Hellbender and Orvis Clearwater Boot Foot ($290 and $379 respectively).
Waders for Surf Fishing in Boulderfields
Uneven, often unstable, terrain requires more ankle support than can be found in bootfoot waders, so if you do most of your striper fishing around the rocks, you’ll want a sturdy stockingfoot wader with a multi-layer construction to survive abrasion as you climb over boulders.
While I haven’t used them myself yet, I was interested by the features of Simms Confluence stockingfoot waders, which contain compression-molded neoprene knee construction that provides padding and additional protection while climbing atop boulders or kneeling to release fish.
Waders for the Old Guard
One elder statesmen of the surf I knew, let’s call him Pop-pop, was reluctant to move on from his ancient Red Ball waders, until he finally had to accept that emptying a couple gallons of the Atlantic out of his boots after each trip was limiting his enjoyment of the sport.
Pop-pop tried a pair of zipper-front waders for surf fishing that not only allowed for easier on and off with aging joints, but also made it much easier to answer the call of nature.
The Grundens Boundary Zip wader was designed for the trout fishermen, with features like the net clip, but the Gore Tex Pro Wader Laminate and YKK Aquaseal waterproof and submersible center front zipper can stand up to the surf. Like bootfoots, zip-front waders tend to be pricey, and these are no different with a $900 price tag.
Waders for Surf Fishing on a Budget
For the casual surfcaster, a set of waders with a price tag north of $500 might seem excessive. The difference between the pricier waders and the more budget friendly ones is in the materials and how long they last. There are plenty of waders for surf fishing in the $250 to $350 range that will last several seasons for the fishermen who surfcast occasionally.
The LL Bean Super Seam TEK Boot-Foot Waders have leak-stopping Super Seam stitchless technology and 100% rubber boots, and at $300 are a great value in a bootfoot. The Orvis Clearwater, at about $100 more, offers four-layer construction, to offer a bit more durability. The Frogg Togg Hellbender Pros have also been a popular bootfoot option among sand beach surfcasters, with a price tag less than $300.
In a stockingfoot, the LL Bean Kennebec Stockingfoot Waders with Super Seam features an ultra-durable four-layer fabric, and at $279 leaves some money for a good pair of wading boots.
No matter which waders you buy, you’ll want to take good care of them to ensure they last multiple seasons in the surf. Here’s how to properly maintain and repair your waders.
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