Its that dreaded time again of figuring out what to do about purchasing new waders. Now a normal person, not an average person, would buy some waders during some year, wear them for a few years, and then get rid of them and purchase a new pair. You use something, get the life out of it, and then repair or replace..... but that's not how most fisherman, lets just say fly fisherman, think.
In the days of "Lifetime Guarantee", like the Orvis business model, one thinks they can make a one-time purchase and said item should last our entire life. Is that reality? Is that sustainable? Is that fair? Now what that means to me is, companies that offer those kinds of guarantees have goughed our eyes out with high profit margins on the initial purchase so they don't care if you return it for repair or replacement, they've already made their money. I am glad to see a reasonable warrantee from Simms, that makes us accountable to our own wader use and abuse.
Anyone who fly fishes, unless you are in an environment where wet wading occurs, has dealt with leaky waders. It's just inevitable. Leaky waders aren't too bad, just annoying, if the goal in wearing them is to just stay dry. When the water temp is above 60 it's not too bad to get your socks a little soggy. But when you're steel heading or striper fishing in water temps mid 40's or below wet and cold feet and fun just don't go together. So what to do?
Years ago when I started The Average Angler I had two pairs of waders. A Simms boot foot that I used for the salt and some Orvis stocking foot/boot combination for the freshwater. When the Simms waders became beyond the point of return I made the switch to the Orvis boot foot waders. That began a love/hate relationship that lasted for nearly 10 years. So many pairs, so many returns, so many issues.
I remember getting a pair of Orvis River Guard Silver Label waders, those came with a Vibram sole, and getting the screw in studs that went with them. I never liked those soles, nor the Muck Boots that came with I think Simms back in the day. Then Orvis went to their Endura waders and now Clearwater. Over the years, and I don't want to just pick on Orvis, but the terms of the technology has been fantastic for marketing but questionable for reality. "Sonic Seam", "Welded", 'Waterproof" "Constructed" "Integrated"...you get the point.....they all will leak at some point.
Years ago I was an Orvised Endorsed Fly Fishing Guide, they call them ELOG. So in 2013 after experiencing several bouts of leaky and less than durable waders I wrote to the guy in charge of the wader design team....
Well, lets just say that offer was never entertained. I continued the purchase/return game over the next few years before I purchased a pair of Simms waders in October 2018. It was a pair of G3 waders with the felt bottoms. Now here's the thing, at least in my opinion. I like waders that are, duh,
comfortable, durable and waterproof and the most important, safe. I don't want a wedgy when I put them on. I don't want the top so big I look like I could fit a hoola-hoop around my chest. I want and need ankle stability. The cheap pair I bought this past year are great to stay dry on the sand and in the mud, but offer zero ankle stability. You could break an ankle on a Lego if you stepped on one. And what
I need is the bottom of my waders to stick on the rocks and be flexible enough so when you are rock hoping it allows for maximum "stick" so I don't break my ass. Vibram soles, great for the rivers, you can stud them up, and they will prevent you from slipping and sliding. But, if you ever worn a pair of Vibram soles, with studs, if you catch the wrong rock on the wrong step you will glide and slide and hit the deck hard. For me, felt plus metal studs is best. Not perfect, but best. Why not perfect?
Let's say you are on the Upper Delaware, back in the day before didymo, and wore felt waders. You basically put them on, and either got in the drift boat or walked down to the water and jumped in to fish. But maybe you were that angler that wore them into the diner or fly shop hours before you went fishing, okay whatever. But if you are a saltwater fly fisherman, you generally do a mix of walking, long distances, on blacktop, sand, and on the jetties or groins, which can be natural rock or concrete. That mix can put a beating on felt soles and the rubber, or whatever material they use, that the sole attaches too. Above is a picture of my latest pair of Simms G3's, in service for two years and two months. You can replace your felt soles, good luck with that, you'll most likely walk like a duck after self repair, no matter what kind of supersonic glue you use.
So where does that leave me? Here is where I am at the moment. Orvis Clearwater Bootfoot Waders. I still am an Orvis guy. Even after some really disappointing things, from the guide program, to the quality of some of their products, use of overseas manufacturing and labor, and the politically correctness with each social issue that comes along, I am still sucked into the nostalgia of what old Orvis used to be, which I have learned over the last two years, is wrong on many levels. But I'll digress. The waders look good, $349 with their long standing guarantee for happiness, regardless of how you, well I, mistreat and abuse their gear, without any personal responsibility. That keeps a lot of people loyal to their brand.
And then I saw a new offering from LL Bean, another company with a solid reputation backing their waders. Guys like them, me not so much. So new this year are their Double L Stretch Boot Foot Waders with Super Seam. Look good, price point like Orvis, $369. But why wouldn't I get them? Here's why?
Many lives ago I dabbled in the family business of ironworking. Yep, that's me, Camden Local 399, book number #1162349. One of the most important tools in an ironworkers arsenal is their boots. You need a couple of things, They need to be flexible, durable, and safe. Kind of like waders. In durability
and safety, they need to high enough so that when you climb and slide down columns you don't open up your calf like a roll of bologna. They also can't have a large "heel". A heel, will cause you to get caught up on a flange and you will "fall in the hole" as they say. A large heel will also give you less flexibility and therefor prevent you from "catching" yourself after you lose your balance because the heel got caught up on or landed on something when you stepped on it, like a bolt or nut placed on the top flange of a beam. Now let's look at the heel on the LL Bean
waders. Large heel, and not a "level" surface to walk on the rocks nor to put studs in. Now these may be great for long stretches of walking the sand, or bike paths of the Cape Cod Canal, but for the sand, mud, and rock jumper out there, I'm out on these for them.
So where does that leave me? Where does that leave the "average angler". Now I am, but not really, an average angler. Not better or worse, just kinda my own self. In no way anymore hardcore then the next guy, maybe just a little more careless and hazardous. So lets talk waders. I put them on near my truck in the parking lot on Sandy Hook and walk to the water. Park on Darlington and walk on the street
to Roseld. Walk the Cliff Walk in Newport, RI to get to The Point. Park near Trenton Thunder stadium and through the parking lot and along Route 29 to get to the Delaware River. Park on ??????? and hit the Raritan River. Park in the few spots on Lobsterville Beach and walk the mile or so along Lobsterville Road to get to Red Beach. That's a lot of walking on macadam before I even get to fish.
And then there are the slip and falls. The jetties and groins are just one type of rock that I jump around on. The Delaware River is a mix of silt covered smooth river rock and razor sharp steel reinforcing rods, concrete and prehistoric boulders that have been chiseled into the sharpest Ginzu knife edges you can find. And there's wading in water just a tad to high which leads to fresh and salt water intruding into the inner fabric. And there's just salt water spray and fresh rain water that soaks down your back into those "Sonic Seam" waterproof interior edges, which degradate over time.
I think that leads me back to Simms. American made, which I really like and try to keep my purchases in line with. I like the limited warranty and self responsibility that goes with it. Now the price is a, for most, had to swallow at $749, but I have realized that I'm worth it, and if I were to calculate the hours I am in them and the joy that I experience while fishing then it's not a bad investment. When you're fly fishing there are more important things to worry about then if or when your waders have or
are going to start leaking. Lets say these waders cost $800 in the end, and last four years. That's $200 a year. You start fishing January 1st and end December 31st. In between your fish 8 times a month, but not during February and March, and Ill give you a fishes April, lets say 9 months a year. So 9 months times 8 times a month is 56 times, which for me is way, way low. 200 divided by 56 is about 3.50. In dollars that would come out to $3.50 each time you go, for waders. Add that to the coffee, gas, lunch, butts, and flies.
If you go with the other brands, and lets just say they come out to $400, or half as much. That would make the more expensive waders cost $1.75 per outing, because if you went with the cheaper waders they would cost half as much, or $1.75. It doesn't make sense not to go with the better pair. Peace of mind. Better. Safer. I'll keep you posted throughout the process of purchasing as Simms is now only doing custom orders only. You may be able to snag a pair from another company, since they all now just drop ship each others stuff, or at one of The Fly Fishing Shows, if they are even having them due to Covid.
On January 1st I struggled for the last time trying to get my feet out of my Simms waders. In two years and two months, I, yes I, have killed them. It's not Simms fault. They don't have to make good on them. I look forward to start fishing in March in a new pair, dry, warm and safe.