I’m just going to put it out there…
I love my wading boots. Battered, broken, resurrected, and nearly killed again; they’ve been with me now for so many years that we’re like old friends, both a little haggard, both definitely showing our age and – according to my beloved wife – both about due for replacement.
Most of the other fisherman I talk to about my boots don’t seem to feel the same way, and generally give me a ‘Are you out of your freaking mind?’kind of look. “What about a favourite rod?” they ask me. Sure, I love my rod – but take away the boots and I can’t bloody go anywhere.
Funnily enough, the boots I’m talking about didn’t get off to a very welcome start. They came home in their Simms-branded box, wrapped in crisp white tissue paper, the packaging blazoned with ‘Bozeman, Montana’. The guy in the fly shop had been very helpful, and there’s no doubt they were the boots I wanted…
What did come as a surprise, however, was that on further inspection the boots turned out to have been made in China. Of course, I realise that Simms obviously moved a lot of product offshore years ago; it was simply that some small part of me still hoped that a gnarly old Montana fisherman in the Simms factory had cast his experienced eye over them – maybe even looked at them with a little wonder as he asked himself: “Who’ll buy these? Novice or dickhead?” So, I think I stewed over the Chinese connection for a while; an email may even have been sent following a couple of beers… Thankfully, I never received a reply.
Now, it always cheers me up when I look out of my back door and see my waders and jacket hanging there, my boots on the deck just below – waiting patiently for the next outing, and a constant reminder that good fishing is only twenty minutes away. I think back to how many places the boots and I have been together: wading up those tricky sections of the Meander with rocks the size of soccer balls (and just as slippery); climbing the steep gorge section of the St Pat’s, a place so old that the river has carved whirlpools through granite three or four feet thick, forcing the water to disappear underground; and the many days spent walking beside the South Esk looking for feeding fish, with the whole thing taking on the air of a Sunday stroll.
The first inkling that my beloved boots were on their way out was when I had to have them re-soled right before our last New Zealand trip… yet within the first two hours of the trip both soles were flapping around again like the tongue of a thirsty Labrador, and the rest of the day was spent simply trying to stay upright (no cleats + summer river beds = not so easy).
A quick visit to the hardware store the next morning resulted in some too-long screws (no cleats in Opotiki!); those screws, with the assistance of a borrowed De Walt cordless, then found themselves deep in the boots’ leather soles. For the next four days, it was a case of not only not slipping over, but also being constantly reminded of the screw length as they drove themselves into the bottom of my feet. It was like a beautiful relationship gone suddenly bad, and when I lamented this fact to the local lodge owner he cold-heartedly offered his rubbish bin as their last resting place. Declining, I packed them for the trip home, checked them through customs – and they’re safely sitting on the deck once more.
After a few days at home, it came time to head out again; I grabbed all my gear, including the boots, and off we went.
Pulling on my waders always brings with it a sense of expectation, another adventure, another chance to do battle… I draw the boots on. Lace them up. I feel the expectation rise: how will I go today? Red letter or skunked? It gets me every time.
Moving downstream, to cross that first barbed-wire fence, there’s a spring in my step – and we’re up and over without a thought. The world that I so love opens up in front of me, the river seems to slip through the landscape, its silken surface beckoning. Looking down at my old boots seems to only add to my excitement; we’ve done this so many times together that they seem to know exactly where I want to go.
A couple of quick steps, a jump over a small ditch and we’re off. Here we go again, my old friends.