What Gear Is Important To Have For Safe Wading?

An angler wearing waders crouches in a shallow river, inspecting the fish in their net.

People drown every year while wading, or while fishing from boats. Wading can be extremely dangerous and at the very least, put you in a precarious situation. While wading you may find yourself teetering the edge of doing something safely and confidently as well as doing something very dangerous. There are some important safety precautions that wading fly fisherman have at their disposal: wading belts, wading staffs, metal cleats in your wading boots, and a whistle close at hand. If you are wading while fishing, then it's a good idea to use a combination of the available pieces of gear that may mean the difference between simply falling in and getting wet, a trip to the hospital, or something much worse.

Wading Belts

If you're wearing waders, then having a wading belt on is a must. From shallow knee-deep riffles to rushing torrents of rapids, a wading belt may be your only defense from drowning when going for an accidental swim.

  • Wading belts will help keep the rushing water from pulling you from every which way. If you go under without a wading belt, the waders will become extremely difficult to swim in.
  • Water filled waders aren't going to pull you to the bottom, but they can act like a sail in the water.
  • With a belt around the waders, you're lessening the ability of the water to pull you every which way and making the ability to swim to safety that much easier. It's a simple and easy choice: wear a wading belt and keep it snug.
  • Stray away from stretchy wading belts and stick with one made from webbing. Stretchy wading belts may seem more comfortable, but serve little purpose when strong currents can force their way through and put you at their mercy.

Wading Staffs

Wading staffs can really help in plying the river bottom for hazards at your next step, and bracing yourself against the force of the current as you move.

  • Since you're already wearing a wading belt, it's easy to clip it to your belt so that it's at your reach whenever you need an extra support.
  • The combination of a wading staff in one hand, and your free hand with a rod held high in the air, can be a great combination to aid in wading balance.

Cleats and Studs

If you've ever been wading and had a really tough time getting around and slipping every single step, studs on your wading boot may help you stay dry and safe while traversing the dangerous river bottom.

  • Thick algae, certain types of rocks or moss, even a plethora of river bottom insects can all create dangerous and slippery wading conditions. You'll still want to take as much care when wading in studded boots as you would without them, but you'll notice a definite difference in your ability to stay in contact with bare rock.
  • Studs will often allow you to drive through thick algae or slippery seaweed and get down to firm ground so you can feel confident to make your next step.
  • Studs placed around the perimeter of a boot are more effective than ones on direct foot pressure points. Don't put studs on your heel or balls of your feet. This will create discomfort while walking.
  • Studs around the perimeter allow you to walk normally and will help catch the grooves between rocks and boulders.

A Whistle

Probably the most overlooked item of safe wading gear. If you have trouble wading, are prone to slipping in the water, or just lack real wading confidence, a whistle stuck to your wader belt is a must have.

  • If you fall in, blowing the whistle shouldn't be priority #1. Keep your head protected, feet pointed downstream, and get your bearings. If possible, start to swim to shore with backstrokes, always keeping your feet pointed downstream.
  • Do not exert yourself with big whistle blows, simply keep it in your mouth and breath normally as you swim. It should create enough noise and alarm that anyone nearby should know something is wrong.
  • A whistle could mean the difference between being saved and drowning. It should be in any first aid kit and all fishing bags.

These fairly simple, relatively inexpensive pieces of gear can help you stay safe when wading. There is no doubt that wading rivers is a risky business. Even if you fish with other people all the time, adding these pieces of gear is an easy way to keep accidents to a minimum. Always wade confidently, slowly, and safely. Do not take unnecessary risks. Remember, no fish is worth drowning for.

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