Newfoundland’s salmon rivers flow through some of the most rugged terrain on the planet. There are places you need the dexterity of a mountain goat to cast flies over the best pools. Rivers tumble though steep-walled canyons and gush around endless boulders in age-old glaciated valleys. Fishing salmon on “The Rock” isn’t always and everywhere for the faint of heart.
The Pinware River in southern Labrador is definitely a waterway that can put one’s nimbleness to the test. The river is big and intimidating, and as if that’s not enough, it’s filled with round, tumbly boulders ranging in size from an apple to a Volkswagen.
The rocks get shifted around each and every spring by rafting ice, so they never really get settled into solid positions. Any stone you walk on could potentially roll under your weight.
As you can well imagine, this can lead to a very nasty fall.
Add to this a generous layer of slippery river slime and you’ve got yourself some seriously challenging wading and walking conditions.
An editor of one of the fly-fishing magazines I write for took a visit to the Pinware about 10 years ago. On his very first day of fishing, he fell and broke his arm. He told me afterwards that it was like walking on ball bearings. He had never experienced anything like it, either on his travels or around his homewaters in Nova Scotia. He has, so far, never returned to the Pinware.
The first time I fished the Pinware was almost 20 years ago. My feet were shod with simple hip rubbers of department store variety. These sorts of boots are fine for fishing around the boggy edges of a backwoods trout gully or roadside pond, but in a salmon river with slippery rocks, they can be very dangerous. You might find yourself soaking wet or much worse, like belly floating precariously down a whitewater rapid.
If you’re venturing into wild waters, get yourself a pair of proper wading boots, complete with felt soles that stick to wet, slimy rocks. They will keep you dry, and ensure that all your bones stay intact.
If you shop either at fly-fishing stores or online for proper boots, you will encounter an option that you might not fully understand. Most companies — such as Patagonia, Simms, Orvis and Redington — offer boots with metal studs in the sole, supposedly for additional traction, like studded snow tires. This must be a good thing, right? Improved footing for a few dollars extra — why not?
You can crack your neck with them. That’s why not.
Wading studs are made of tungsten carbide and are extremely hard to penetrate and grip on solid rock. They are meant for very slimy rivers where standard felts won’t give you sufficient foothold for comfortable and safe fishing. The studs cut through the slime and stick onto the rock. Studded boots are very popular in the Pacific Northwest, where many of the rivers are extremely slimy. The rivers in Newfoundland aren’t that slimy by a long shot, and felts alone will keep you upright and casting in all but the strongest currents.
Like most things in engineering and design, there’s always a tradeoff. Although studs do work and give you extra hold in the river, they can be treacherous on dry rocks. The studs sometimes cause the felt sole to lose contact with the rock and the boot just skates out from under you like you were walking on ice.
My angling buddy Matt Brazil almost took a nasty tumble leaping along the dry boulders that line the sides of the Pinware. It’s not unlike how studded tires increase stopping distances on dry pavement. Matt caught himself, but others haven’t been so lucky.
One of my column readers emailed me this story just last week. He and his buddy decided to hike up from the bridge to Sunshine Pool on Main River, near the town of Sop’s Arm in White Bay. I’ve done the walk myself and it is challenging, to say the very least. Mountain goats would be right at home there. There are cliffs to scale, fields of boulders to traverse, and fast running water; all blend together for a grueling hour’s walk. Fishing Sunshine Pool is not for the weak in spirit or half-hearted angler.
About 20 minutes into the hike, my reader’s buddy took a bad fall while wearing studded boots. It looked at first like his leg was broken, but a bit later he could move it. He tried walking with a makeshift spruce cane, but that was absolutely impossible on the demanding terrain. The pain from each step was unbearable. They decided to try a splint.
My reader fashioned a splint from two sticks and bound it with a piece of rope that he salvaged from a cliff face. It was left there to aid anglers in their crossing, and I well remember that spot from my last trip there. It’s scary.
Every movement was painful, but with the splint and his friend’s help, the injured angler was able to crawl back to his truck. It took three hours and 40 minutes to cover what had taken 20 minutes on the way in. But they made it and headed directly to the emergency room in Corner Brook hospital. Four hours later, they were told his kneecap was torn from his knee and he would require surgery.
I commend you guys on your resourcefulness, ingenuity, grit and self-reliance. Lesser mortals would have called in a rescue team and sat there crying till help arrived. You are true woodsmen.
The moral of the story is that you should use studded boots only if absolutely necessary for extra-slimy rivers. Then be extra cautious when walking on dry land. There are some boots available with screw-in studs that you can add or remove with a supplied tool. These might be your best option if a few of your
special fishing holes require studs.
Wade safely this summer, and watch out for those tumbly rocks.
Paul Smith, a native of Spaniard’s Bay,
fishes and wanders the outdoors at every opportunity. He can be contacted at