October can bring immensely different weather conditions depending on how far up the coastline you fish. Those in Florida are likely still seeing high 80s, while anglers in Maine are feeling freezing temps. In some locales, temperatures can change by the hour. Fortunately, you can find appropriate footwear no matter what the mercury reads.
First and foremost, fishing footwear must provide sure traction on damp surfaces. Wet decks can be treacherous, and a fall on a pitching vessel can easily end in a trip to the hospital. Even if you don’t end up on the floor, losing your footing can cost you a fish, turning a hook-set into a fight with gravity. Shoes should also be comfortable. As the old saying goes, “If your feet aren’t happy, you won’t be happy.”
Deck boots or deck shoes such as Top-Siders used to be the only purpose-built fishing footwear, but those days are in the rearview mirror. Now you can also get ankle-high boots, go-anywhere sneakers, slip-ons and even high-tech flip-flops. Wherever you are, however you’re fishing, there’s a perfect pair of shoes for you.
Tall deck boots are all but standard issue on fishing vessels in the Northeast from October to May. The calf-high height keeps pant legs dry and helps fight against cold weather. Xtratuf may be the oldest brand in the game, having crafted deck boots for Alaskan fishermen for the past 60-plus years. The NXT Legacy continues this tradition, as do many of the company’s excellent offerings. But others have gotten into the deck-boot game, including Pelagic. Though the company is known for its warm-weather wear, the Pelagic Expedition 12-inch-tall deck boot features a neoprene outer shell that keeps anglers warm, comfy and dry.
But if recent introductions mean anything, ankle-high deck boots might surpass their calf-high brethren in popularity. Anglers all over seem to enjoy the easy-on-and-off nature of this style, with the lower cut providing waterproof protection that straddles the seasons. In fact, they may be the most popular fishing footwear out there, with models from Grundens, Xtratuf, Huk, AFTCO, Pelagic and Salt Life. AFTCO’s Ankle Deck Boots took top honors in ICAST’s footwear category. These feature a quick-drying neoprene liner and a compression-molded anti- microbial insole for dawn-to-dusk comfort.
Sperry Top-Siders used to be the only choice for a capable slip-on deck shoe, but a number of makers have stepped up to provide competent competitors. Models like Columbia’s Castback TC PFG, which will be released in the spring of 2024, offer superb comfort with a midsole engineered to absorb impact and provide balance. Huk’s Performance Brewster has a stylish look, with a performance outsole.
If your style of fishing involves a wet exit onto the flats, then consider one of the next-generation sneaker models designed to protect feet from underwater hazards that also drain quickly and dry fast. The Simms Flyweight Access wet wading shoe provides athletic-shoe comfort and support, with a built-in gaiter to keep rocks out. Vibram Idrogrip Flex soles stay stuck no matter how wet it gets, but won’t mark up the deck of your skiff. Korkers makes a similar model, the All Axis, with swappable soles that allow you to choose between traditional rubber, felt or spiked bottoms.
It’s hard to beat a pair of flip-flops for comfort. The open design lets feet breathe, helping you keep cool on the hottest days. And they dry quickly if you take some water over the deck. I used to forbid flip-flops on my boat because they typically had smooth bottoms that didn’t provide traction. But recent advances mean they’re now sure-footed, with high-tech outsoles that grip.
Salt Life and Grundens incorporated an innovative siped sole that utilizes a series of cuts to provide traction on slick decks. The unisex sizing of Salt Life’s Crestline and Horizon flip-flops are perfect for both men and women, with attractive and sturdy web straps featuring leather trim. Grundens Fish Finder Sandals feature an anatomically molded footbed topped with SeaDek for comfort. OluKai’s Ulele channels the company’s island roots to provide flip-flops with sneakerlike support and plenty of grip.
Even if you prefer other footwear styles for fishing, flip-flops are an excellent choice when you get back to the dock. So, kick off those boots and get comfortable. Xtratuf has a slide that is perfect for when you take off your boots at the end of a long day, though the slip-resistant outsole of the Après Fish slide can hold its own on deck.