Do I Need Special Boots For Wading Saltwater Flats?

A drone-view of two anglers wading the saltwater flats.

Here’s something on a lot of anglers’ bucket lists: Flats fishing for bonefish, permit, and tarpon. Is easy to understand why. With blue skies, vast expanses of water, and fish strong enough to smoke a reel and burn themselves into your mind forever, tropical fly-fishing trips can be dreams come true.

If you’re lucky enough to be planning for something like this, maybe a few days at Andros Island or a week at Cuba’s Ciénaga de Zapata National Park, you’re certainly pulling together a list of gear to bring.

While you’re deciding which rods, reels, and flies to cram in your bags, don’t forget to pack something much more mundane but just as crucial: A pair of flats-fishing boots.

Even though these boots only cost $100-$200, not having a pair on your feet can take a lot of the fun out of even the most expensive trips.

Flats Boots—Really?

Sure, spending money on such a specific piece of gear may seem foolish. After all, that money could go to more important things—like a couple bottles of good Scotch. But the more you understand what flats boots are all about and learn how they’ll benefit you, the more you’ll realize a pair is absolutely essential for wading in the tropics.

From sandbars to boulder fields and coral reefs, flats-fishing destinations have their own environmental characteristics and hazards. This makes it necessary for anglers to switch from a simple pair of old tennis shoes to a piece of technical wading equipment that’s designed to keep your feet safe and comfortable through several days of tough conditions.

How Flats Boots Are Different

  • With zippers on the side and Velcro closures, they go on fast. This means you come throw them in a flash and leap into the water to chase down pods of cruising fish.
  • On some, the soles and sidewall feature heavy-duty, ridged rubber. This protects against coral, barnacles, and other abrasive obstacles that chew footwear—and feet—apart.
  • They combine excellent support with a good feel for bottom structures and uneven surfaces. This helps you stay upright and your feet stay strong through longs day of wandering on the flats.
  • The soles are “non-marking”, so you won’t mar your guide’s skiff as you jump in and out and travel around.
  • Neoprene cuffs keep sand and fine particles out of the boots, leaving you with a steady and debris-free platform for wading (and less grit grinding between your toes).

Can’t I Wear My Regular Wading Boots?

If you’re frugally minded, or maybe just out of room for more fishing gear, you may wonder if you can use the regular pair of river wading boots you already own.

River wading boots are designed to give you support and traction while you’re standing still (or moving slowly) in rushing water. That’s why they’re heavy and cumbersome. River wading boots are also a pain to put on.

Flats boots are designed for mobility and protection. That’s why they’re streamlined, light, and easy to get on. With a pair of them on your feet, you’ll get in the water and on the fish faster. You’ll also experience less fatigue and be able to withstand the high sun and heat of your tropical destination for longer periods of time.

Do Your Feet a Favor

When shopping for flats boots, keep in mind that like fly-rods and fly reels, not all are the same. Different makers offer different models. And in different parts of the tropics, the fishing conditions call for totally different designs.

For example: Say you’re traveling to Ascension Bay. The flats there are mostly easy-on-your feet sand and turtle grass. In those conditions, you can get away with a pair of super lightweight flats-fishing booties.

But if you’re going somewhere else, say Belize’s Turneffe Atoll, you want to leave the booties at home. In Belize, you’ll be wading in ankle-chewing coral structures and bruising boulders. To protect your feet and ankles, you’ll need rugged flats wading boots that are still easy to throw on and off.

If you’re going flats fishing for the first time, the best thing to do is contact your guide or the fishing location and ask about the wading conditions in their area. Are the flats coral lined? Is their fine sand? What about vegetation? Once you have your answers, it’s time to go shopping.

The best place to start is online (of course). With a little Googling, you can review and research models from every maker out there. Then, if you’re lucky, you check out your favorite flats boots at some fishing shops near you. Because of the different ways flats-wading boots fit and feel, it’s important to try them on before you OK the sale, toss them in your bag, and show up in some exotic location.

Shop Wading Boots