Neoprene booties are easy to maintain, cheap to buy, and best of all, never any sand under the ball of your foot.
Waders are a necessary evil for surf fishing which we must accept for a whole host of reasons. Yet, being in waders for many hours can be uncomfortable, and I find this particularly true in the surf, versus trout or bass fishing. It always seems I’m walking that tight rope between too hot, and too cold. Further, there is a constant nagging threat you’re going to rip them on a rock, or catch them with a hook and have a very soggy walk back to your vehicle. Yet, the one particular annoyance that drives me absolutely crazy, more than any other factor, is sand in my wading boots. Having a ball of sand under my foot while trying to walk a beach makes me mental, and I simply cannot tolerate it. I’ve stripped off my boots and fished just in the stocking feet before, because I couldn’t keep sand out of a brand new pair of traditional wader boots. Boots which I immediately returned the next day.
Of course, one easy way to avoid this is to buy waders with built in boots, or “boot-foot waders”. These eliminate any chance of getting sand in your boot, because they are completely water and debris proof. However, the tradeoff is these are often heavy, hot, and the boots don’t fit as well when compared to using a stocking foot wader and separate boot. Further, I have found that the vast majority of boot-foot waders don’t fit as well overall as stocking foot—not just in the foot, but in the legs and waist as well. While this isn’t true across the board, it is true of most mid- and budget-priced waders. It’s why the majority of trout fisherman choose stocking foot waders, over boot foot.
For years I struggled with getting sand in my boots and the liners of the boots. No matter how good the boot was, it seemed sand would find a way in. Asking around, someone suggested I give neoprene booties a try. This has been a life-saver of a tip that I’m now passing on to you. Essentially, these are just dive booties that are marketed as neoprene wader boots. Many quality brands make options, and I’ve had luck with both Simms and Hodgeman, but you can find a ton of different brands in dive shops and online. They are cheaper than traditional wader boots across the board, and take no maintenance. I don’t even rinse mine, yet still find they last just as long as a traditional wader boots, with my current pair still going strong after three years. This, despite me walking many, many miles in them—often over six miles in a single night.
The key when buying these booties is to account for the extra bulk of the stocking foot. Some brands will already take this into account, while others will not, so do your research before purchasing. My current pair is a size 11, and I wear a size 9 stocking foot. They fit over the waders easily, with room for thick socks when it’s cold. I actually really like the fit, as the compression of the neoprene fits more naturally over the stocking foot, regardless if I have thick or thin socks in them. My foot just moves around in them so much less than traditional wader boots, where I have to always wear thick socks or I get blisters.
The downside to using neoprene booties are twofold. First, they have absolutely zero ankle support. While on the sand that certainly isn’t a huge issue, it is something to note. I personally feel it’s better to work on your ankle and leg strength, and balance, versus relying on the boot to do it for you, but I understand some anglers need that support. Second, the booties will require some kind of studded over shoe if you want to ever use them on any rocks. I use Korker RockTrax, and have for many years. There is a zero tolerance for these booties without them when trying to walk or stand on rocks—unlike wader boots where you might be able to get away with standing on rocks or jetties without studs in certain situations, you simply cannot with neoprene booties. A few drops of water, even without algae and sea-weed, and it’s like you’re on ice. They are very slippery. Some are better than others, but there is no replacement for carbide studs.
Still, I find the positives far more important than the downsides, and I actually use neoprene booties in virtually all my surf fishing now: sand, rock, jetty or otherwise. It’s great, because I can have one pair of waders for both surf and fresh, I just have different boots for each setting. I encourage you to give them a try.