Wading steelhead alley . . . . By Caudell Peduncle
I’ve done much of my trout fishing on the nutrient rich limestone spring creeks of central Pennsylvania. My favorites are those that eventually become higher gradient, rock and boulder strewn streams. These waters are difficult to wade, in part because of the silica cell walls of microscopic algae known as diatoms that cover large, submerged rounded rocks. I soon learned that waders or boots with felt soles and a wading staff are required for safe wading. Felts have recently been criticized, fairly or unfairly, as being responsible for transporting a variety of harmful aquatic invasive species. In fact, the well-known didymium is also a variety of diatom.
The sport fishing industry has developed a variety of solutions incorporating exotic rubber-like compounds and metal cleats or studs. Invasive species aside, those of us wearing felts soon learn that they aren’t the ideal solution when you leave the water. Climbing up a wet clay bank often gives genuine meaning to "a slippery slope" followed by a less than graceful reentry and a cannon ball splash. So, what’s the best solution given the trade-offs? The answer is further complicated when aggressively climbing and wading the typical shale-bottom shelves we all know and love in Steelhead Alley. Pulverized shale produce a slippery surface when wet or submerged, similar to a graphite lubricant -- great fun when darkness falls. Vibram soles do reasonably well in limestone waters but can fail miserably when you need them most on the Erie tributaries. Here’s where studs prove their value. I’ve never ponied up $50-$60 for a couple or three dozen carbide studs offered by high end wading boot manufacturers. But I do copy their placement patterns and follow their installation suggestions offered on the Web. Good equipment is worth its price over time, but these prices are over the top.
If you’re wading in waters that feature hard rock, steel slotted hex head sheet metal screws are adequate. The softer metal gives you better grip and they’ll last a lot longer than you would expect. Start with #6, three-eighths of an inch long. This allows for one half and five-eighth inch replacements when shorter replacements no longer fasten well over time. Softer metal will also cause less damage to floors and boats. You’ll climb muddy banks like a mountain goat. The cost is about $5-$7 for one pair of boots. You can buy them at your local hardware store. Zinc/aluminum hex head sheet metal screws are even a softer alternative at a lower price. Softer rock may require carbide studs for maximum grip. There’s a company called Kold Kutter Racing that supplies these studs for knobby tires used for motorcycle racing on ice. I’m not sure about the cost of stud service for motorcycles, but you can expect to pay about $20-$25 plus shipping for 250 carbide stud hex head screws. That’s enough for about 15 installations for one pair of boots. Check the Web for Kold Kutter.
Bait and tackle shops around Steelhead Alley are known to carry them, especially those located on the Salmon River near Oswego, NY. Additionally, if you’re a hard water or winter time steelhead angler, one of these solutions will make for a better day on, around, and in the water. Don’t forget to scrub your waders and boots with warm water and dishwashing liquid when you return home.