By Vagabond Fly
Sure the proverb goes, “Before you judge a man, walk a mile in his shoes” and sticking with this chain of thought for this article on the Patagonia Ultralight Wading Boots – Sticky we decided to walk a year in them before we ‘judge’. Many a wading boot has graced the back of our pick-ups and steered our feet on the path less traveled and we have become firm believers that you get what you pay for. There are countless brands and respective models on the fly fishing retailer’s shelves that tick the boxes of their target market so labeling a pair of wading boots “the best” or “the only pair you will ever need” solely relies on the individual footing the bill (sole(ly) and foot(ing)…see what we did there?).
Instead of giving you the conventional review listing all the technical prowess and feature of the Patagonia Ultralight Wading Boots we would much rather tell you where it has left a footprint over the past 12 months.
Backcountry Hiking, Trekking & Stomping
Our stout supporters would know we often travel to the Bokong River in the mountainous country of Lesotho to chase Smallmouth Yellowfish (link to our last trip report here). The terrain is not particularly treacherous but certainly has all the character traits of an idealistic backcountry stream – steep banks, boulder gardens and miles of untouched river with every bend revealing an even more cherubic stretch to cast a fly at.
Hand-in-hand with this are long hikes, scrambling wading and shuttle sprints as you nurse the paper-thin tippet attached to a Yellowfish hell-bent on making his way down the escarpment.
Fishing the basin of Katse dam and then well into the Bokong river valley you get to navigate everything from deep gravel bars that swallow you up to the knees to bedrock so slippery they have been labeled “The Skate Park”.
Float Trips, Vaal Shuffling & Going Under
The Vaal River within 1h30 from Johannesburg, South Africa is our weekend playground when not off on international travels. Access is through various farms and lodges and is inexpensive – an ‘every man’s’ river stacked full of Small-&-Largemouth Yellowfish, Carp, African Sharptooth Catfish, Mudfish, Grass Carp & Largemouth Bass all of which reach trophy size and box dirty. In winter the Vaal River does reveal its more tranquil façade when most days are spent floating for miles as we bomb minnow patterns close to structure in search of the Unicorn of the Stream, the Largemouth Yellowfish.
For the better part of the year it is hands down the hardest river to wade – murky, pumping hard, with unexpected deep slots that engulf Vaal-Virgins & is slippery as heck! But when the elements align it offers epic sightfishing, dry-fly magic and its glides are scarily well suited to Euro-Nymphing techniques.
Scotch, Highlands & Stillwater Trout
Perhaps it’s because we were introduced to fly fishing through Trout and to this day we remain smallstream and stillwater trout addicts; winter has us donning waders, (not so common in the African heat) straddling float tubes to reach the deepest of channels and leopard crawling on pale colored banks stalking bruisers cruising the shallows. 2-hours from Johannesburg we have access to the Stillwaters scattered around the towns of Dullstroom and Belfast and when the urge really gets us we hit the long road to Underberg & Nottingham Road – pretty foreign names for towns within South Africa’s borders.
These trips are highlighted by freezing mornings where you clinch onto a hot cup of coffee to warm the fingers and in the evenings you break in the single malts to chip away at your frozen bones. We intermittently jump between our tubes and wet wading on these larger stillwaters so these trips see us living in wading boots.
Head-on into the Breath of God
The Río Grande in Tierra del Fuego, and specifically the Villa Maria section, is renowned for its monstrous Sea Run Browns and gale force winds (trip report here). The terrain is stark and remind us of our Karroo district back home. Being mere miles from the ocean the scenery is relatively flat and lacks big boulders with a riverbed characterized by hard-packed gravel and mud. Wading is not particularly difficult and most walks to the river a breeze but navigating the currents and deep channels whilst leaning into a wind strong enough to rip the doors off a sizeable SUV does require multitasking.
You go from zero to a hundred in an instant; one moment you are gracefully flipping out a Spey cast and swinging your flies through the gentle current and the next you pray that the lactic acid buildup does not burn a hole through your waders as you run after your next trophy on its umpteenth run.
These are not trout. They are hell-hounds making you work for every hero-shot!
Reading through these trips and sessions from a 12-month season spent in the Patagonia Ultralight Wading Boots you would note how varied, unpredictable and challenging some of the terrain we traversed in these boots was. Being able to slip on a pair of wading boots in the morning knowing they will not leave you in flip flops in the backcountry or having enough faith in them to throw them into the gear bag for a once-in-a-lifetime international trip without blinking is essential in our world. Only a pair of boots that is versatile, hardy, comfortable and with reliable grip will do. And for the past year the Patagonia Ultralight Wading Boots was just that in our books!
FEEDBACK & COMMENTS
BUT for those in the market for a new pair of boots we have put together our Vagabond Fly Scorecard and listed some of our main observations below.
AESTHETICS & DESIGN
Sure we can sometimes be a bit superficial when it comes to gear, but the Patagonia Ultralight Wading Boots are by far the best looking boots we have crossed a stream in.
After a year of abuse they look used but certainly not worn down as the photos below would attest. True to their name they are remarkably light (even when drenched) yet still offer adequate ankle support and a reinforced toe box for protection. The back of the heal has a dedicated rubber overhang making taking them off effortless – no hands required!
Where did the Patagonia Ultralight Wading Boots Shine?
We are not entirely sure if it is due to the high-quality all synthetic construction, meticulous stitching or the full-length molded EVA midsole but these boots are as tough and hardy as the farmyard tractor. We do look after our gear and between trips always cleaned and dried them indoors but by no stretch of the imagination did we mollycoddle them. The lacing system allows the boot upper to mold and wrap around your ankle regardless of whether you pair them with a pair of wading socks or slip them over the booties of your waders making them super versatile.
For the backcountry hikes they offered spectacular comfort and lightness and for those hard deep wades they felt rock-solid and stable – delivering infallible grip throughout thanks to and attributed to the Rock Grip Sticky Rubber.
Additional comments on the Patagonia Ultralight Wading Boots
For the individual who predominantly fish/guide one destination you can afford to lock yourself into a purpose built wading boot, but you will be very hard pressed to find a pair of wading boots that offer such overall performance and versatility no matter the destination.
Though they make mention of a fast drying construction we cannot say that the Patagonia Ultralight Wading Boots dried faster or slower than other all-synthetic boots we have used. Also, shaving weight means the inclusion of a tough monofilament mesh construction in the tongue of the boot. This was great for 99% of the destinations we fished but those with predominantly fine gravel and sand we found the boots could be sealed off better.
Deal breakers? Not in the least if you are in the market for a high performance, durable and versatile wading boot that is equally light on your feet as it is in your carry-on luggage when off to that next international destination the Patagonia Ultralight Wading Boots should undoubtedly be on your radar.