Chico Fernandez says in his book Fly Fishing for Bonefish that wading barefoot is the quietest way to stalk bonefish. It might be the quietest method, but it’s only practical in a few places with clear sandy bottoms. So what’s the answer? Minimalist shoes, and one rises to the top of the Google search, Vibram Five Fingers. They advertise a closer relationship with the earth, better traction and all round better experience. I wanted to see if these shoes measured up against the fox of the flats. (I also convinced my wife, that someone had finally invented a flats shoe that had practical non-fishing uses. Not the best argument, but it worked) If Chico is right, and I think he is, Vibram Five Fingers design should provide the sneaky angler with the right shoe for being almost as sneaky as the bonefish. The big test occurred in Hawaii against some of the biggest and crafty bonefish around.
Over the course of my trip, five days fishing, I hooked up five fish and landed three (for DIY Hawaii, that’s pretty good). Was it the shoes? Who knows, but I was exceptionally stealthy in the water. The shoes are basically gloves for your feet, but add rubber sole. They provide enough protection to walk across rubble bottoms, marl, open sand, weed and grass flats. I wore them with a pair of Injinji toe socks and the snug fit and hook and pile straps held them on even in some pretty thick mud and the socks prevented any loose sand from rubbing my feet raw. The barefoot feel forced to me slow down, take careful steps and be more stable on my feet. Slowing down and taking careful deliberate steps allowed me to enter the bonefish’s world practically unnoticed. For me, the shoes really lived up to the advertising of offering a better out-door experience. In my mind the Vibram Five Fingers are a great tool for the wading bone fisherman seeking to stalk wary, tailing bones on shallow flats.
If these shoes have a draw back, it’s the limited protection. This is a classic compromise between stealth and protection, much the way a single solider can sneak up on an enemy while a tank announces its approach miles out. I knew enough not to try the step on an urchin test, I figure I’d rely on avoiding urchins as my source of protection, and I also wouldn’t recommend trying to cross submerged old reef, the old limestone type that sinks Spanish Galleons sort of stuff. These are low-cut shoes, so a degree of common sense needs to apply. I managed to avoid any catastrophic incidents by following the Zen philosophy of mindfulness, paying attention to where I was and what I was doing.
As Chico says, wading for bonefish is the ultimate flats experience, and the Vibram Five Fingers significantly enhanced my time on the flats. To use another military reference, smooth is fast and slow is smooth, so go slow. For anyone interested in closer, more challenging wading get yourself a pair of Vibrams, slow down, pay attention to where you are, notice more fish and make careful presentations. You’ll have a better time and most likely catch more fish.