I first heard the word Simms from Bob Clay. Probably the world’s premier craftsman of two handed split cane fly rods, a veteran steelhead guide, and a talented steelheader who understands the nuances of the Kispiox River better than anybody, Bob is in demand as an endorser of steelheading equipment.
While on a trip to the Western United States, Bob made a side trip to the Simms factory. Bob was enthusiastic following that visit. Here, Bob told me, was an outfit that hired Americans, treated them fairly, and paid them a good wage, while winning awards for their environmental conduct.
A few years later, Simms products were ubiquitous. My first purchase was a hat I bought in the first week of December. It was a well padded, waterproof sky piece with insulated velcro tipped flaps riding on top that could be disengaged and fastened below the wearer’s chin to soften the blow of a knife-edged winter wind. It reminded me of the wooly boyhood caps whose fleecy flaps we secured under our chins with laces in a time before Velcro. Unlike the flap caps of yore, Simms’s cap was waterproof. It’s the best winter hat I’ve owned.
A few years later, my friend, Art Lingren, voiced his satisfaction with the Simms wading boots he’d been using for a season. This was when wading shoe manufacturers were casting about for something other than felt soles for the bottom of their boots since it had been discovered that the noxious algae didymosphenia geminata, (more commonly known by the disgusting nickname rock snot) was hitching rides to streams all over the world on the felted soles of wading boots. Simms’s solution to this predicament was a hard rubber sole made of a material with Vibram, the same material used in the manufacture of almost all hiking boots.
I bought a pair and discovered that Vitale Bramani’s patent was fine on clean rock and sandy substrate but when it came to bottoms paved with rocks of the snotty variety, Vibram soles behaved like ball bearings. Fortunately, Simms anticipated this. For an additional cost they provided cleats of aluminum and carbon steel, that customers could screw into the soles of their shoes to provide better purchase in the aforementioned conditions. I screwed 17 of them into each boot as per the dictates of the Workman’s Compensation Board, and have been wearing them happily for three years and counting.
My next acquisition were three sizes of dry bags, a large one for raft trips, a mid size one for day trips, and a small one that is dandy for winter snow shoeing or skiing trips. The beauty of these bags is that they are completely waterproof backpacks which, provided they are not overloaded, can be worn comfortably all day. I was so pleased with the utility of my trio of waterproof packs that I bought a steelheading backpack and a collapsible wading staff that I’ve been using on longer hikes.
So, after going through breathable stocking foot waders from a host of manufacturers and finding them all unsatisfactory, I paid over $300 for a pair of Simms, fully expecting the same quality I’d found in their other products. After three outings, the neoprene feet began soaking in water like a couple of sponges. I boxed them up with a note, paid the freight, and sent them to Montana. They arrived back two weeks later with new feet. A few outings later, the waders began to leak at the crotch and along the seam of the left leg. I circled the leaks with an indelible felt pen, wrote another note and sent them back. The people at Simms acknowledged the defect and repaired them. Why they didn’t simply replace them still escapes me.
The repaired waders lasted one season then sprung leaks again. When I sent them back for the third time, I got an email telling me the cost of the repair was over a hundred dollars. I sent back a reply telling Simms to keep the damn things because, with shipping costs and all, I couldn’t afford them. I got a phone call from a Simms employee within the hour. He was pleasant and helpful. We had a lengthy talk about breathable waders, the upshot of which was that my waders were repaired gratis and shipped back. They lasted six months and after using two large tubes of Goop without stopping the new leaks, I gave up on them.
Was this pair defective? Should I save up $850 for the top of the line Simms waders? These questions were answered when I met Willy McCleary on the Lakelse River last fall. Willy fishes a lot, like I do. He had shelled out the big bucks for Simms high end waders and told me after a season they leaked just like the cheaper brands do.
Breathable waders, it appears, have a life lasting approximately 150 outings. That means they will last six years for a casual fisher, three seasons for an active fisherman and one season for a fishing guide or Willy and I. The plain truth is even Simms can’t build a long lasting breathable wader.