The Ultimate Field Test - for a wading boot!
I have just returned from attending what was billed as the Ultimate Atlantic Salmon-fishing Course on Russia's Varzuga river. Apart from giving me the chance to catch numbers of salmon in a day that in Scotland one would hope for in a week (or month), the course gave me the perfect chance to test out for Fish and Fly, Patagonia's new Rock Grip (aluminium bar) wading boots and also their new wading Crampons too.
Six days of fishing on the Lower Varzuga gives you a chance to yomp over potentially foot-crushing expanses of bankside shale, red sandstone, and what geological sources refer to as an ancient ‘gneiss’. (I don't know what that is either!) Underfoot can be uneven, slippery (but not too slippery) and .. inconsistent.
All in all, perfect terrain to test out Patagonia's new Rock Grip aluminium-bar wading boots.
The boots are built in a very tough yet light poly-fibre. They are extremely supportive of not just ankles but the whole foot structure. Okay (and inevitably) there is nothing fancy about the laces which are just that: laces and take a fair old time doing up of a morning with fingers numbed by the Arctic chill - but the traditional ways are the best in this regard at least.
Now, I wore them all week and they were just superb. And for one particular reason, they seemed to give me something extra in terms of a casting platform. What I mean by this is they keep the foot grounded, still, level and supported. Which is just what you need for confidence when casting with a big double-handed rod.
It was a pleasant surprise, because at first sight they seem almost too stiff and unforgiving. Blisters or other foot-sores (I always get it around the top lacings to the front of the foot where the whole boot can ‘hinge’ against your flesh) seemed inevitable. But of course the neoprene of the stocking-foot waders I was wearing gave me real relief and there was no pain.
I was happy to wear these a lot of the time although I'll admit I always mix it up with good old-fashioned thigh-waders, especially for evening fishing so I wasn't pushing the boat right out. But all in all I was able to keep busy with the job in hand – and with anything from 2 to 5 salmon a day to pick out of the rapidly shrinking summer waters of the Varzuga (albeit in weights up to very fresh, hard-fighting 10-pounders), I had my ‘work’ cut out.
The boots themselves with their aluminium bars that look like they were knocked up by a sixth-form metalwork student with their evenly drilled holes with fixings into the boot sole were very good overall in my opinion.
Now, the crampons. These are designed to be used with regular wading boots and in particular where you have a long hike in to your fishing where studs or bars would be a nuisance. I will be honest and admit that if there were instructions for strapping them on I had left them back in Cambridgeshire - but I had to test them and test them I did, on the final day, which also gave me my best salmon catch of five fish in ‘extreme-fishing’ locations of fast water, rapids wading. I strapped them on okay, with a turn of the lower laces at one point and they did very well, giving additional grip but were still comfortable. The crampons actually comprise a similar aluminium bar format on their soles and this worked well, as it does on the boots.
As a final word, Patagonia are renowned for their well-justified green credentials and a label on their ‘River Crampon’ made me smile. ‘Repair, re-use, recycle this product.’ So that's sorted then - I'll strap the crampons to my climbing boots the next time I climb Helvellyn.