When it comes to wading, it's best to examine the basics, one step at a time, no pun intended. Sure, it seems obvious; pull on your waders, secure your boots, and get in the water. But good wading goes far beyond a slow walk down a river. And when the flows are up, one wrong step can mean anything from a simple dunk to a drowning.
Wading skill and safety starts well before an angler ventures a-stream. Following are some basic rules on preparing for safe and effective wading:
Know the water. If you are not familiar with the water to be waded, learn as much about it in advance. Contact a local fly shop, check with other anglers, and determine if there is a USGS water gage. Consider these questions:
- Is the water a tailwater where releases can suddenly change flows, or are flows fairly stable?
- Is it subject to flash flooding? How remote is the water? What are the flows like?
- Can the river or stream bottom be characterized? Are average depths known?
- Are there areas that are known to be hazardous for wading?
Know your ability. Wading can be strenuous and can also require good flexibility and balance. An angler's weight, upper and lower body strength, flexibility and balance all play into wading capability. If you're not fit, either work on improving fitness and endurance, or avoid challenging high-flow waters.
Have the right gear. Besides a good pair of quality waders, make sure wading boots are in good condition and that the traction is up to the challenge. Stud or felts soles, or a combination are always good, but some rivers, such as the Salmon River in upstate NY require cleats under certain conditions. It's advisable to have a quality wading staff and wading belt, and in some cases, an emergency floatation device is a good idea as well. In cold water conditions, be sure to pack extra clothing in case of a spill and always layer up.
Check your gear. There's nothing worse than leaky waders or worn boot soles to mess up a fishing trip. Worn wader felt soles, in particular, can cause slips and falls on slick surfaces. Check your wading gear condition before heading out. Make sure your wading staff works as well.
Have a plan. If fishing alone, let others know where you are fishing, including the hours you'll be gone. If fishing with others and planning to set out to different parts of a river or stream, have a rendezvous point and rendezvous time. While cell phones facilitate communication, cell phone coverage and function can fail. Plan for the worst.
Stay tuned. Part 2 of this series will cover the specifics of wading once you are on the water.