There is still a considerable debate as to which sole is better for fishing - felt, rubber, or metal studded soles. Years ago, felt was king. It gripped the river bottom better than (older) rubber soles and gave anglers piece of mind knowing they were a little more surefooted.
But with time, state regulations outlawed the use of felt in some areas, plus fishing companies developed better rubber soles such as Vibram. This lead to less anglers buying felt and a driving demand for comparable grip to felt. In came various rubber sole configurations, metal studs/screws/bars, and replaceable soles with multiple options. But are any of these better than felt? Felt was good while wading, but held clumps of snow during the winter and did not fair well during hiking (out of water).
A few years ago, with some slight apprehension, I decided to try the Simms Alumibite Star cleats. I fish in some rivers where the bottom is very slippery, and combine that with my aggressive wading (read: usually stupid), I wanted to give myself a little more reassurance in the water. So I bought a couple packs of these Alumibite cleats and tried them out. I wore them for a few seasons - put them in, took them out, put some back in, took some out, etc...This is what I found...
I used my Simms G3 boots for this test. There are 10 designated spots on Simms wading boots for their cleats. This made inserting them very easy, especially with a powered drill. There are 10 cleats per "puck" so to utilize all given slots, one would want two pucks to cover both boots. There is no question after putting these in the boots that they provide more grip on the river bottom. Whether it was rocks or logs, these aluminum based cleats gripped and dug into everything. This was very noticeable difference between strictly rubber. But after a while, this started to change.
I walk a lot when fishing - especially trout fishing. Whether it is actually in the river, along the river, or on paths getting to the river - I usually cover a lot of ground. So even after a full weekend of fishing, I would start to feel less "grippy" the next time I went out. After quick inspection of the bottom of my boots, it was pretty clear that the cleats were getting worn down and losing their edge (the "grippy" part). I also noticed a fair amount were falling out. This was solved by adding some Aquaseal before screwing them in. But, the issue of them getting rounded off persisted.
You can see from the photo above that a fair amount of metal would get worn down. This would happen to a degree that after a decent amount of wading/walking the cleats were flattened/rounded-off on the bottom. When all of the cleats got to this point, my boots were actually more slippery than before. The cleats no longer dug into the rocks/logs with their "bite" edge. The solution was to replace them, but that got expensive and I started to feel like I was chasing my tail doing so.
Additionally, being the audio-nerd that I am, I recorded decibel levels of myself walking with and without cleats on the river bottom. It is seemingly an overstatement that cleats make noise on rocks, but it was enough of a difference to factor in the fish's hearing/senses as well. Trying to target spooky fish, especially in smaller rivers with cleats, proved harder. In some situations I don't think it made a difference, but in the smaller water it did.
So, do Alumibite cleats work? Simply stated: yes they do. But keep an eye on them. If you start to feel less grip, replace the worn ones. These are the types of cleats you will want to replace before or after each multi-day trip. Simms also makes the Hardbite Star cleats which are supposedly more durable. I have not tested these to the extent that I have with the Alumibites. Review on those coming soon!
Words + Photos by: Josh Thelin