Photos © 1996 Keith Kolischak
During the long winter months I pass the time by looking in all of the fly fishing catalogs and dreaming of new rods, neoprene waders, trips to exotic locations, and even a new pair of wading shoes. My first pair, Orvis ® Lightweight Wading Shoe, are worn out. Current price $78. After a hundred and fifty trips the fabric on the heels is frayed and the seams are coming unglued, they are still serviceable, but I have never been real satisfied with them. They might be light weight when dry, but once out in the water they become a dead weight around your ankle.
Then I saw the L.L. Bean Aqua StealthTM Shoe ($90). Could it be true,a strong lightweight (even when wet) boot that grips better than felt? I called to get more information. I was concerned about the sole wearing out and wondered if they could be replaced. I was told that the uppers would wear out long before the soles. I had to find out, knowing that Bean has a money back guarantee, I ordered a pair. They arrived within a week and I waited a week for a break in the weather. This has been a long cold winter in NC.
Stone Mountain SP was the first place I tested the boots and to my surprise and delight they did seem to "grip better than felt". I had no trouble negotiating the rocky streams in the park. Then I encountered some algae covered rocks and I felt like I was ice skating! I slipped but did not fall. When they grip you feel like your glued to the rock...when they slip, look out. I waded cautiously and built up more confidence, but continued to "test" each step.
After three more all day trips I am getting comfortable with my new boots. Once I was at the top of a waterfall and needed to cross the stream, the choices were to walk across the narrow lip of the pool, risking a 20 foot fall if the boots slipped, or back down and walk around. I never make these decisions hastily, I always ask myself, "Is the risk, worth the reward". The boots held firm as I inched my way to the other side. They don't track mud and water, they dry quickly and the do grip better than felt most of the time, it's those other times that make me wish that I was just wearing felt. I am going up on Hazel Creek for four days and when I return I will update this review.
After much planning, two postponements and a dropout, a fellow TU-Blue Ridge Chapter member, his friend and I finally made a four day trip to Hazel Creek in the Great Smoky Mountain National Park. Although a ferry is available from Fontana, our plan was to camp at Cable Cove the first night, then canoe across the lake to the trail head. Cable Cove is a large campground located in the National Forest, camping is on a first come first served basis and cost $5.00 per night. The first night passed quickly, setting up camp, anticipating the fishing and retiring to our sleeping bags as the temperature dropped into the low thirties.
The next morning greeted us with crisp air and the promise of a warming sun. After a hearty breakfast we drove the half mile to the boat ramp and launched the canoes. The lake was down about fifty feet, revealing an unsightly steeply eroded bank of rock and soil and stumps. The relaxing paddle across Fontana took less than two hours. Following the rangers recommendations we carried the canoes well up into the woods. Donning our heavy packs filled to the brim with neoprene waders, wading shoes, tents, food, and all of the other "necessities" of camping and fishing, we headed three and a half miles up the trail to the "Sawdust" campsite # 85. Along the way we paused often to look at the stream for potential fishing spots. The water looked great from the trail.
After setting up camp we hit the stream to "rip some lips".Once we stepped into the stream we realized that this was no little freestone creek. It was running hard and fast and the stones on the bottom ranged from one to four feet across. Every step had to be measured and tested. Not only was the wading difficult but dangerous as well. My L.L. Bean® Aqua StealthTM boots held firm and secure. The fish weren't looking up that afternoon but we all managed to catch and release several trout apiece. Dan and Greg both complained about the fast water and slippery rock, their felt boots were not holding on the rocks of Hazel creek. Dan tried on one of my boots and did a "side by side" comparison, confirming that the Aqua StealthTM boots offered superior traction.
Camp sites that are heavily used often attract raccoons, skunks, bears and mice. Greg left a bag of trail mix inside his fishing vest. The next morning he noticed a small hole and discovered that a mouse chewed through the pocket and had eaten all of the trail mix. All food should be placed in a "bear bag" and hung from a tree away from your camp.
The weather was unsettled and it rained on and off for the next two days. The fishing was dismal, no one landed anything over ten inches. Just after packing up a terrific thunderstorm complete with hail, high winds, blow downs and dangerous lightening blew through. After waiting out the storm we crossed Fontana in an hour. We were on the road headed for home .
June 1996. I just sent my first pair of boot back to Beans. After only twenty days of wading the threads in the stitching were wearing out. The uppers on this boot are made out of four or five pieces of synthetic leather. The seams are in high wear areas and I think that this is a design problem. I called Beans to report the problem and to see if anyone else had similar experiences. The seemed to think that my boots were the exception and that I should return them for replacement. I still have my doubts, and now that "wet wading weather" is upon us I don't think that I'll be using the new boot until fall. I think that the uppers should be made out of one piece, this would eliminate the wear problems on the side seams.
May 1997. I was fishing the Pit river (see my fishlog) when I noticed that my boots were coming apart at the seams. I just sent my second pair of boots back with the same problem. The new boots are an improvement. The stitching is recessed into the material. This will prevent the threads from ware. I think that the new pair will last four or five years. This will be satisfactory. I just couldn't see paying $90 for a one season boot. At first LL Bean seemed hesitant to accept the return, but when I asked them if they wanted me to take them to a shoe shop to be restitched they said, "If you are not satisfied, then we will replace them".
January 1998. At the end of the 98 season I am reflecting back on a year of great success, I fished 38 days and took my kids with me on a number of trips. I carry the youngest in a backpack. The latest version of the Aqua Stealth have held up well. I'm really pleased, but now LL Bean has come out with two new models, both look like an improvement over the original boot. They have lowered the price on the old boot. Added features are insole arch support and a hiking/wading boot. When I'm ready for a new boot I'll be looking at these.
December 2001. Still fishing with the same pair of boots that I got back in '97. The are holding up well. I might have to wait another four years before I get a new pair.
Questions, comments? Keith@kbrcomm.com.
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