Any fly fishing magazine you pick up will have all the information you could use to have a successful outing; from tying your own flies to where to go, to what gear to use. The one thing that usually seems to be left out is wading safely. We here at River Traditions would like to pass on a few safe wading tips so you not only having a great outing, but live to plan your next trip out.
The first place to start is when you pull on your waders. Wearing your wading belt may well be the most important decision you can make. If you take a spill in the water, a cinched belt will slow the flow of water into the legs and boots of your waders. This means you will find it easier to get out of the water rather than being dragged deeper into the water.
What soles you wear on your wading boots is often a choice you don’t get to make. It may be regulated by your state fishing regulations. Felt soles are great but are often outlawed due to the ability to carry invasive creatures. We wear studs and/or cleats and find that they seem to increase how securely we are able to walk on rocks and uneven stream beds.
When you’re geared up it’s easy to forget that wading staff. How many of you have wadded out into the water and suddenly found yourself in a position where you couldn’t move in either direction? A wading staff gives you a third point of contact with the river bottom. This in turn gives you two points of contact while you lift your leg to you search out your next step. A wading staff in fast broken water could very well mean the difference between taking a dunking and staying safe and dry.
When the hatch is on and the fish are rising we tend to want to rush to get in and get fishing. Slow down! Not only is it important to evaluate what’s hatching and where the fish are, but rushing into the water will guarantee disaster! Take your time, especially if you are on unfamiliar water.
A mistake that a lot of people make is when trying to walk or turn in the current. Step sideways. In shallow water, less than knee deep, you may be able to walk “normally” with a modified, wide stance. As water gets deeper and footing becomes obscured by water depth or turbidity sidestepping will maintain a wide, stabile base. NEVER cross your feet while stepping! When exploring the bottom with this side step method, most of the weight is on the stationary foot, which helps prevent falling by either tripping forward over a high rock or slipping spread-eagle over the far edge of a smooth rock ahead of me. The idea is to not commit to the moving foot until you know you can stand on it. Typically, when using this stride I’m in fishing water, so it is an easy method to move and cover water. In these difficult conditions if my next move is 30 feet or more I will wade back to shore, walk down the bank, and then back out into the water.
Go with the flow. This recommendation is aimed primarily at efforts to cross a stream. It’s easier and safer to move at a slight downstream angle with the current than move directly across or against the current. There is often a trick to finding the balance between shallow water with fast current and deeper water with a slower current. Either situation can be disastrous, knocking you down and sweeping you into faster, deeper water, so test the current as you proceed. This is the perfect place to use a wading staff.
While fishing, you will often want to move upstream. Take advantage of slower currents while fishing upstream. Move through shallower water or use current breaks behind boulders.
There will be times when you must move against the current to cross or move from your location. Don’t let yourself wade down a gravel bar above deep water to discover that you have to wade back against a current that is too strong to move against! Sometimes apparently moderate currents can be treacherous when the water gets well above your knees, and wading that was easy with the current becomes seemingly impossible when trying to move back against it.
Some final safely considerations. A personal floatation device is necessary for waders that can’t swim and may be a good investment for anyone in big rivers and cold water. Both CO2 inflatable suspenders and solid, kapok-filled vests can be found in stores that sell sporting goods.
Be careful and have a safe successful trip.