February 14th, 2004
There’s a pivotal moment in any fishing trip – any serious fishing trip, that is – when you have to ask yourself an important question. It is not an especially profound one, although there are plenty of those to be asked too, should the mood take you. It is nothing to do with tackle or technique, and it is certainly not the one about where babies come from. It is, instead, this:
What the hell is wrong with my feet?
Now, I concede that this question is unlikely to crop up very often on the soft and lush banks of an English chalkstream, or in a boat at Rutland, or even wading the sandy bonefish flats in the Bahamas. But if you have just spent four or five hours clambering over rocks and scrambling up thorny banks and tripping over branches in a remote glacial valley somewhere, it can become a somewhat pressing one; much more so if you have been doing all of these things while carrying twenty or thirty kilos of assorted camping equipment. Under these conditions, it can become the only question you can really concentrate on at all – indeed, the only thing in your universe that your brain is really able to contemplate.
In an ideal world, of course, you should never really have to ask this question at all. We have, after all, had protective footwear for quite a long time now, most of it a big improvement over the sheepskins and pieces of tree bark that our ancestors relied on for millennia, and which I suspect Paul resorts to when nobody’s looking. Now, we have Vibram and Gore-tex to keep our feet well-cushioned and dry; we have strong, lightweight synthetic uppers to bind everything together; and we have felt to stop us slipping to a gruesome watery death on the algae-plagued stones on riverbeds. The problem really arises when you give this admirable technology to fishing tackle manufacturers and ask them to create something that might reasonably be expected to do a good job of making it all work together.
Now, I concede that this is not an easy problem to solve. In the sorts of places where intrepid Sexyloops readers are likely to find themselves, they’re likely to need footwear that does various and sometimes quite demanding jobs. If you’re hiking into a river or lake somewhere, you clearly need proper walking boots with strong soles and good ankle support. You also need wading boots with felt soles, or some sort of equivalent, to avoid the aforementioned watery death; and you need some sort of more casual arrangement for keeping your feet dry around camp, going to pubs (or whatever the local equivalent is) and maybe even checking into hotels without it being assumed that you are some sort of diseased streetperson.
Nobody in their right mind wants to take three pairs of boots on a fishing trip with them, especially if you’re taking tents and waders and stoves and abundant quantities of red wine. So the logical conclusion is this: just take a pair of boots that you can walk and wade in. Doesn’t sound too hard now, does it? Surely one of the hundreds of companies that make walking boots must have spotted a market among the legions of flyfishers worldwide? Or, at the very least, the fishing tackle manufacturers must have designed some kind of boot that one can walk more than fifty yards in without stripping all the skin from the soles of one’s feet. Right?
Errrr, not quite.
People who make walking boots don’t seem to even realise that there are such things as fishermen, assuming that everyone who needs footwear for the Great Outdoors is some sort of of goatee-equipped mountaineer or cardigan-sporting hiker. Meanwhile, the fishing gear companies have universally failed to acknowledge that human feet are not in fact flat and rectangular, but have curves and bumpy bits that need supporting – oh, and that need to actually correspond to existing size standards, too. Now, I’m sure that they and their supporters will claim that actually, their clunky, felt-soled monstrosities are perfectly good for walking in, as long as you never need to walk on mud or grass without having to stop and spend a couple of hours screwing badly designed and ill-fitting studs into the soles – and then taking them out again as soon as you come to anything approaching a rocky surface. But they are wrong, as was amply demonstrated by the terrifying, eye-watering blisters and bruises that both Paul and I recently acquired on what was actually quite a short and theoretically undemanding hike. And I promise you that if Paul's rhinoceros-hide feet are getting blisters, there is something seriously wrong with his boots.
I know that at least one company has tried to create a boot which solves some of these problems – an effort that while admirable in its sentiments failed to inspire confidence in your correspondent, for reasons that had more to do with engineering than anything else. I hope they keep trying. Meanwhile, I’d hope that some of the people who are responsible for the footwear design at the big-name outfitters – and they know who they are – read this and feel at least some sort of twinge of remorse at their staggering inability to even address an issue that is, after all, hardly an uncommon one. In a sport groaning under the weight of technology in every other respect, it really can’t be too much to ask that they apply some of it to allowing me to be able to walk more than 100 yards from my car.