Photo of the Month: Through the Fog

Photo of the Month: Through the Fog

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Gear Review: Chota RockLoc Boots

So far my experience is limited on these boots but I want to share my preliminary impressions with you. As many people have heard, there is a big push in the fly fishing industry right now to get away from felt soled boots. The main argument being that felt aids in the spread of exotic species like New Zealand Mud Snails and didymo. In their natural environment, these species are not as much of a problem but once they get out of their established ecosystems they can wreak havoc.

Of the various companies offering rubber soled wading boots, the only one that I have experienced so far are the Chota boots. Previous to trying them out, I was extremely skeptical having taken more than my share of falls on the stream even when I was using felt. I've waded in sandals that aren't necessarily designed for good traction on wet rocks and had some near disasters. Understandably I was a little nervous about trusting myself to rubber soles on a stream bed covered in water.

When I made my last trip to the Smokies, I stopped by Little River Outfitters as is my habit to pick up a couple of items I needed and see what goodies they have started stocking for the new year. After checking a few things out and saying hi to Daniel, he asked what size wading boot I normally wear. It depends and when I told him somewhere between a 10 and an 11, he asked if I wanted to try some new boots. Of course I'm always up for something new so he went and got them for me. After wandering around the shop a little more I finally made my purchases and headed for the stream. Upon arriving, I got my waders on and then pulled on the boots. The first thing I noticed was the Chota Quicklace System and the resulting ease of getting your boots on. When you're in a hurry to fish you tend to notice such things.

After putting my rod together, I headed for the water and noticed something else about these boots. Instead of sliding down the bank on my rear end, the rubber soles allowed me to keep my feet under me the whole way down without slipping. This was a nice change and I was beginning to think that the boots might not be so bad after all. After taking a moment to look for insect activity, I finally tied on some flies and the moment of truth arrived. I was nervous to enter the water in these boots but I pretty much had to eventually unless I was going to chicken out. Carefully, leaning on a tree in case I slipped, my feet felt their way along the rocks on the bottom and immediately I was pleasantly surprised. The very first thing I thought was, "It isn't as good as felt but it's definitely not bad at all..." Gaining confidence, I started roaming the stream bottom farther and deeper while noticing that the bottom was slippery on the larger rocks where I normally expect it. Still I hadn't felt particularly unsafe.

I fished my way across to the other side that promised a better angle to fish up and another challenge presented itself. When wearing felt, I'm always very careful when transitioning onto dry rocks and even more so when I wear sandals with rubber soles. Normally it's a recipe for disaster. I probed the dry rocks streamside with my toes and then the the whole foot. This was the high point in the rubber sole experiment for the day. The stability and grip was amazing. It felt almost as good as my rock climbing shoes do with no concern at all about slipping even though the bottom of the boots were dripping wet. I left footprints of water but couldn't slip even when I tried to.

At this point in the day I was sold on the boots. Later on as I fished some different water I started to change my mind but only a little. While the grip is excellent, it still is not as good as felt on large rocks underwater that are normally the slickest in the stream. As long as I stayed on gravel and smaller rocks where I spread my weight over more than one rock I was okay. When I tried walking on the smooth rocks though I slipped, almost going down once. Despite this, I still think these are great boots.

My overall opinion on these boots is that they are a great job and will do a reasonably good job on mountain streams. I think the best application for these as they currently are would be for hiking into to remote smaller streams. They are perfect for hiking in and grip very well on dry rocks. When you fish smaller water you are often on dry rocks along the stream anyway so it is perfect. If you're fishing larger water with a lot of slick rocks (the Hiwassee and Abrams Creek come to mind), I probably can't recommend them as I tried them. The nice thing about these boots though is that they come with studs that you can screw into the sole if you want. Clearly, my experiment in no way gives a good idea of how they would be on our area tailwaters so I don't have an opinion on that yet. If you're looking for a good boot, especially for hike-in fishing or fishing smaller streams where you only get your feet wet part of the time, I highly recommend these as a great alternative to traditional wading boots.


  1. Good review David. Sticky rubber is definitely a viable outsole option and it has it's benefits but when it comes to felt, I feel as though the rhetoric has been off the mark.

    Felt definitely has the ability to harbor single celled diatoms like Didymo but NZ mudsnails are hitchhikers and ride along on the surfaces or in crevices of any boot regardless of outsole type. I personally aspire to the mantra - Clean, Inspect and Dry to be safe. There are also clear disinfection perscriptions which can rid felt and other gear of aquatic hitchhikers. Carrying capacity applies to more than just your footwear. Minute organisms can be stored in gravel guards, laces and even flies.

    Keep in mind that some anglers may spend a week on a single river. They aren't hopping form water body to water body. Wouldn't felt be OK for that situation? What about all the felt boots that people already own? Do they need to trash them? There seems to be a lot of confidence that eliminating felt will take care of the problem of invasives. I'm not so confident. I believe in choice and that an educated angler who understands when disinfection is necessary can wear whatever they trust.

  2. I have to say that I basically agree with you on this one. As Daniel at Little River Outfitters pointed out, the rest of the boot still has cloth and other materials that absorb water and don't dry as quickly. It does not really solve the problem unfortunately. It would be nice if science could start answering the question of how to deal with the various invasive species because while prevention is the best solution, there will always be a few people not doing their part...

  3. Anonymous12:36 AM

    I've been a fan of Chota products. I have a pair of their STL boots that I love. Last week, I purchased the RockLoc boot thinking that, like other Chota products, they were well thought-out........wrong. My first outing was to a freestone mountain stream in central Pennsylvania this weekend. These boots, like my STL's, were very comfortable to hike in, and fit well. However, they performed miserably in water. I wasn't even in a "greasy" stream and I was slipping and sliding with nearly every step. I didn't expect them to be as good as felt soles but this was lousy performance. After a half-hour, I gave up. The traction wasn't any better than wearing tennis shoes. I hiked back to my car and changed boots to something with a reasonable grip. I was very disappointed. I expected more from Chota. I can't even imagine how poorly they would be on a steelhead trip. These boots are getting tossed in the junk pile.