Spring is almost is here!! Ok, maybe I am jumping the gun just a tad bit. But it is close enough to think about warm days, casting March Browns and not taking a swim in the high flowing rivers that are a part of springtime fishing. Every year high water, poor judgement and the wrong gear cause a certain number fly fishermen to take an uncomfortable plunge into a frigid river or stream. Most of the time embarrassment and a good ribbing are the outcome of a sudden bath in the drink. However; there are enough serious incidents(not just losing that new fly rod you just bought) that result in the worst possible outcomes to warrant writing down a few things to think about when you are wading.
Stop, Look & Take Your Time
Obvious? Not really. I have fished several anglers out of the water who didn’t take the time to evaluate the water that they were entering. The first step can be a doozy, don’t make it one. If you are stepping down make sure you know your foot will reach the bottom before the top of your waders go under. Secondly, be prepared for what the bottom may bring. Slick rocks and gooey mud may look very firm. The entry spot with the best looking bottom is often times deceiving. Lastly; don’t be in a hurry. Excitement tends to blur judgement. Rising trout tend to make fly fishermen a little fool hardy to begin with, add high water and there can be instant problems.
Good Waders and Wading Boots
Makes sense for sure, doesn’t it? But what I mean here that the waders and boots fit properly and the boots have good ankle support. When you wade in current your waders should be just lose enough to be comfortable but not baggy. When waders are fitted properly the have reduced drag in the water. This will definitely help keep you upright
The most important part of the whole gear equation for me are the boots. Lighter isn’t necessarily better. Stiff ankle support with a sole that grips the bottom is your best and last defense at staying upright in current or on slick, uneven footing or when wading in a combination of the two. I prefer favorite heavier wading boots in the spring that have a Vibram sole or sticky sole. The simple, cheap additions to their soles that makes all the difference in the world in strong currents flowing over slick rocks are cleats.
I won’t even wade in boots without cleats anymore. A bum knee and surgically tied together Achilles have made really accentuate the difference between boots with and without cleats. It’s so noticeable that I feel like I am walking on greasy marbles when I am not wearing boots with cleats. I would highly recommend easily screwing them into the soles of your favorite boots for superior traction and security.
A Wading Staff
I rarely use mine. But having one when you need it is like having a parachute when a plane is about to crash. If cleats are the secret weapon of wading than the wading staff is the Cavalry riding in to save the settlers from the Indians. I can think of several instances where I have gotten into fast water with a slick bottom without having my wading staff out and had to deploy it just to be able to get to across. Just having a wading staff on my belt is like having a security blanket mid-stream. I like having one that fits nicely on my wading belt for those unforeseen wading situations we have all gotten ourselves into as anglers
Safe Techniques in the Water
Here are some things to remember when you are wading:
- Always stay sideways in the current. It is safer to backup than to turn around in swift water.
You expose your body to more than 4 times the force of the current when you either face or put your back to the current. This also allows you to maintain a solid base while leaning into the current.
- Your WADING BELT will save your life if you go swimming in your waders! Wear it at all times when you have your waders on, wear as tightly as you can comfortably. I was in a boat crash in Alaska and if everyone in the boat hadn’t had their wading belts on, including myself, the outcome would have been quite different.
- When crossing heavy currents, take a buddy. Wade in pairs when crossing strong currents with the stronger wader upstream makes it possible to cross where a fisherman wading alone can’t. Hand placement is the key to wading together. Don’t lock arms because there is no leverage. The upstream angler should place his hand on the shoulder of the downstream angler and vice-versa. This allows for a solid hand hold and great leverage. Holding hands or sharing the same wading staff is an invitation to disaster.
- Slide your feet. Don’t lift them up off of the bottom in heavy currents or murky water. If you slide your feet you can feel for solid footing and obstructions while keeping a somewhat balanced base.
- Avoid (if possible) stepping up or over obstacles. The higher one foot gets the more your center of gravity rises and your balance is compromised.
- Avoid gazing straight down all the time. You want to look at what is on the bottom if you can see it. But not lifting your head periodically to see where you are going can give some fly fishermen vertigo. Being dizzy is something you don’t want to be when you are waist deep, mid-stream.
- Start upstream of the point you want to reach on the other side. This will cause less fatigue on long wades and keeps you from losing your balance from fight the current. There is one long wade that I start easily 50 feet upstream of where I want to end up on the opposing side. Before I found this route it took me longer and felt much more dangerous since I had to fight the current to maintain my position.
The safest wade is the one you don’t do. If it is questionable or you are unfamiliar with the water, find an easier spot to fish or just chalk it up to it being spring conditions. Because there is no fish in the world worth anyone drowning over.
About the Author-Sean Johnson