Wade Fishing Safely

News & Tips: Wade Fishing Safely

It happens every year: An angler wades one step too far; makes one little mistake; and suddenly he or she is in a position never bargained for. I think we've all been there once or twice.

WadingSafely blog
Try positioning yourself in front of or behind a boulder to take advantage of a current break.

Sometimes it's not too serious — you go over your waders, get soaked and maybe lose a fly box or two. Other times it can turn into something far more dangerous like being swept downstream through rapids or into deeper, more treacherous water.

If there is peril in fly fishing, wading is where it's found most. And, if there is a time when an angler needs to be most cautious, it is certainly in spring when melt offs or heavy rains swell frigid rivers and creeks we visit.

Good gear can prevent wading accidents or, at least, lessen the risks.

Proper fitting waders give you the agility and mobility needed to stay out of trouble. The soles — whether attached or on accompanying wading boots — should be suited to the river bottom you are fishing too. Felt works well on most surfaces. But keep in mind that they can transfer organisms from one system to another so wash them off after each trip. Studded boots or cleats work better, in my experience, on all surfaces. But really good modern lug-soled boots, with far better traction than the old rubber standbys, are being developed every day it seems. So shop around and talk to other anglers on the waters you wade. You'll learn what works well on those waters.

There are a few desirable qualities in waders and boots alike. Durability and sleek design, with very little that could catch on sticks or underwater protrusions, are foremost among them. I once wore a pair of wading sandals that got caught up on an underwater stick, which was problematic given the current I was in.

A wading belt is also a must. Keep it cinched up too — it's no good otherwise. If it's done up right, your waders will trap air and keep you buoyant should you fall in. If you are being taken by the current, get on your back and hold your knees with your feet pointed downstream until you have a chance to escape the current's pull. If you have an CO2 inflatable flotation device — a great safety item — use it too.

Wading staffs are a great safety tool, especially in faster flows. They help you maintain balance and allow you to probe the bottom before you step — a simple act that can save you from potential disaster. A pair of polarized glasses will help you determine depth and see underwater snags that might trip you up.

All this is important but wading is mostly about common sense. If you have any doubt about your ability to shuffle through the current, don't even try. Instead find a safe place from shore to cast from — you'll probably spook less fish that way.

If you must wade, however, remember two things. The more surface area you expose to the current, the more pressure it will exert on you. This means the deeper you wade the more current you'll feel. And the more body profile you place perpendicular to the current, the harder it will feel.

Think of it as the difference between holding a sheet of plywood perpendicular to the wind or edgewise.

That's why I always cross heavier currents so that my hip faces into it rather than my front or back. If I have to stand in heavy currents, I try to position myself in front of or behind a boulder to take advantage of a current break too.

The next thing to remember is that the less points of contact you have with the bottom the more vulnerable you are to being swept away. That's why you should take small shuffling steps rather than big ones and use that wading staff if you need to. Go slow so you are in control. If you are tired, don't wade; this is not a time to be sloppy or clumsy.

The bottom line, when it comes to wading is knowing your capabilities and not taking any stupid risks. Remember, you're there to fish; not to swim.