The answer to the question, "What kind of shoes to wear kayaking?" has special requirements in saltwater. When considering what type of footwear is appropriate for saltwater kayak fishing, evaluate any potential choice against these four factors: Protection, Grip, Comfort, and Durability.
Protection of Footwear in Saltwater Fishing
Why is protection at the top of the list? Saltwater fishing is unique from freshwater fishing because you will routinely encounter sharp, dangerous oyster beds. You may want to get out of your kayak and fish from on top of the bed, or you must dislodge your kayak when it hits a submerged bed. Since oyster beds are common, ankle-height kayak shoes are not appropriate. Oyster beds are not flat. Oysters stack on top of each other to create small vertical structures that easily exceed the height of an ankle. You risk slicing your leg without high-top shoes!
Another unavoidable feature while fishing in saltwater is mud, and saltwater mud is really muddy mud! It is not uncommon to sink up to your shin in some places! A low-top shoe is more likely to be sucked off your foot than a high-top shoe as you wiggle loose. A quick pro tip on wading in the coastal marsh is to look for short grass. Typically, short grass grows in firm sand, while tall grass grows in the mud.
Grip of Footwear in Saltwater Fishing
The next important characteristic is grip. At some point, you will want to stand in your fishing kayak to look over the top of the marsh grass or to cast from a more comfortable position. Therefore, any boot must have a nonslip texture and offer an excellent grip on slick, smooth surfaces. For example, Piscifun designed their fishing deck boots to excel on slippery services. They feature microchannel openings to allow water to escape between the treads and incorporate multidirectional traction into the design.
Comfort of Footwear in Saltwater Fishing
The previous two characteristics were all about safety. Second to safety is comfort. The obvious attributes of comfort are fit, cushioning, and support. If your kayak shoes do not feel right, they will feel even worse at the end of a long day. Kayak shoes should fit just like tennis shoes. One thing to consider is whether you will wear socks, neoprene, or go barefoot. Each choice impacts the size of the boot. Rather than default to your normal shoe size, look for a sizing chart based on the length of your foot, including whatever you will wear. Here is an example from Piscifun:
Be sure to get shoes with a removable cushion. No matter how much you try and avoid it, sand and mud will collect inside. With a removable cushion, you can rinse and clean the inside quickly.
Accept that your feet will get wet because you must wade into the water to launch your kayak or push off an oyster bed. Therefore, any boot you select must advertise a moisture-wicking lining that promotes breathability. Second, check for drainage. The ideal shoe has drainage to allow water to escape. Sadly, good drainage seems to be a feature exclusive to expensive footwear. A quick do-it-yourself fix is to drill some holes, if possible, into the heel of any boot that does not offer the water a channel to escape. Why the heel? The natural position for your feet in a kayak is for the heel to be next to the deck. If you fish in cold weather, wear thigh or hip waders with a neoprene stocking foot to keep your feet dry and for warmth.
Durability of Footwear in Saltwater Fishing
The final attribute is durability. Remember those oyster beds? Any footwear must be robust enough to survive numerous encounters with oyster beds. The shoe should work fine if the manufacturer made it using a solid material (think rubber, neoprene, or thick fabric).
The bottom line is to pick footwear that matches where you fish and how you fish.