Just as people walk at difference speeds and work at different paces you encounter anglers who fish at different speeds. I fish at a different pace to most. I’d describe my fishing pace as “cracking on with it” but usually my fishing buddies describe my pace as “will-you-bloody-slow-down” as I’m rocking hopping and boulder bouncing my way up, down and around a river. It’s not that I’m in a rush – my entire world slows down while I’m fishing as I’m sure yours does too, it’s just that I really enjoy the physical side of exploring a freestone river!
There’s no escaping it, this has sometimes got me in to trouble. I’ve had a couple of nasty moments in rivers – one particularly difficult one on the Clutha river in NZ springs to mind as well as a few near misses on the Usk in South Wales. On the whole though I trust myself to make the right calls when wading and rock hopping these days. That’s not to say I won’t have any scrapes in the future, sometimes there’s a rock down there that you don’t even see that just has your name on it.
Trusting myself is one thing, trusting my kit is another. When it comes to hopping around a freestone river the things you wear on your feet can be the difference between a comfortable days fishing and a total disaster. Prior to my recent trip to Slovenia my old Scierra Dynatrak boots had completely given up. In fact, prior to this season my old Scierra boots had given up and fallen apart but I figured that with a little luck and a lot of Aquasure I may just get an extra season out of them. This was an ambitious idea and was doomed to fail. I found myself needing new wading boots the week before a trip – not a good place to be.
The Simms Vapor boot is a product that had caught my eye since their recent release. They look different to other wading boots – slightly shorter on the ankle and a little more stylish than could usually be expected from a fishing boot. In truth they’ve got a hint of sneaker about them – they’re pretty cool!
Simms say the boots will take the wearer “From high-elevation rivulets to coring into no-man’s land with nothing but bear mace and Ramen noodle rations” . Nope, I’ve no idea what any of that means either but the bit they say about the boot bridging the gap between a wading boot and a hiking boot is what sold them to me. I’ve worn hiking boots to wade in and I’ve hiked in wading boots and I can promise neither compromise really does the job.
My Vapor boots arrived just in the nick of time – the day before I flew! I decided to screw in half a dozen Hardbite Cleat Studs in to each boot. I’ve actually heard some conflicting reports about these so really this was an experiment as much as anything. Vapor boots immediately feel lighter than anything else in the Simms range, and slipping my pair on dry for the first time told me they were going to be every bit as comfortable as I hoped – they really are a pleasure to wear.
Wearing them in my living room and hammering them around Slovenia for five days of constant use are very different things however. The acid test came on their first outing on the stunning Trebusica river, a tributary of the mighty Idricja. The Trebusica is as slippery, mossy and treacherous a river as you could ever wish to stumble over in. Sat at the bottom of a steep valley, many of its boulders are smoothed out and have that film of green algae on them that breaks hearts and bones.
For the first ten minutes I was very very careful. I knew my limits with the old Scierra boots, I knew what I could and couldn’t get away with. I could feel the Vibram sole and Hardbite studs searching out traction each time I put my foot down which felt great – I began to trust my grip in these boots really quickly. Laced up tight the ankle support was plentiful without being restrictive. I really believe that one of the keys to safe rock hopping is to have soft and relaxed ankles that will give and bend at the right time when you lose your balance and the larger boots on the market prevent you from doing this completely.
I intended on taking it easy for a bit longer with the boots, to get to know what they did and didn’t grip, and how they moved and felt. Then I hooked a big Grayling that tore off downstream twisting and turning and then leaping repeatedly out of the water like a Salmon! I had no choice but to run and rock hop downstream after it and did so without a second thought to my own safety or my new footwear. I lost that fish after half a dozen jumps about fifty yards downstream (a mile in rock-hopping terms) but I did realise right afterwards that at no point did I slip, trip, roll or twist. The Vibram Vaportread sole finds dry grip immediately and has enough flex to ensure that the contact area is at its maximum. The studs found grip on wet rocks that I had no right to have even considered putting my foot on. In fact when I re-traced my steps I noticed that on the rocks I had hopped on the Hard Bite Studs had actually scratched and cut in to the moss, algae and even the stone which was why I had such amazing grip.
Confident that I was now wearing the safest boots I could possibly have bought what bugged me now was how good they were going to be after a few days and a good few miles of hiking. Somebody at Simms has really done their homework here. Wearing this boot really feels no different to wearing a hiking shoe. Often wading boots can be a little uncomfortable worn dry but the Vapor is just as comfortable as my Brasher Hillmaster hiking boots which is as much as I could ever have hoped. The neoprene collar totally eliminated any ankle rub – this can be a real problem with many boots on the market. Simms say there is only a partial lining on the inside but they feel like they’re lined with eider down, candy floss and clouds – they’re so comfortable it’s untrue! After five days of heavy and constant use my feet showed absolutely no signs of discomfort at all. What more could you want from a wading boot?
I had heard a few times that the Hardbite Star Cleat studs were prone to falling out during heavy use and in truth this was a concern. Those things aren’t cheap so to have them falling out would be very frustrating. I’d also be concerned about what effect screwing things in and out of the rubber on the sole would have in the long-term. I can say now that following a decent hammering all the studs are still in place. A couple of them in the high contact areas had come a little loose so I can see where the reports have come from but half a twist with a screwdriver has seen mine firmly back in place. If you’re the kind of angler who trusts their safety in the things they wear, be it boots or a coat or waders, you really should be prepared to be diligent in taking care of your kit.
I try to write nice balanced reviews for The Incompleat Angler, I don’t like reviews where everything is rosy because that often isn’t the case. Maybe somwehere down the line I’ll find something I don’t like about the Vapor boot other than that Simms spelled Vapour incorrectly. The combined price of the boots and studs is the best part of £200 – they certainly aren’t the cheapest option available. If you’re the kind of angler who pootles around a nicely manicured chalkstream then these probably aren’t necessary. If you’re standing chest deep in the Tweed or the Varzina for a week I think I’d still rather go for the Simms Guide boot in felt with their studs. If however you’re like me and move around a rocky river at the speed of light then these really ought to be at the top of your list. Having spent a season there I think that these would make a particularly fantastic New Zealand boot but in any situation where you’re keeping mobile and looking for grip the Vapor really has to be the one.
Just keep an eye out for your fishing buddy, they’ll probably be a long way behind you before you notice you’ve lost them!