River Safety 101

by Josh Patterson on August 15, 2018

Many fly anglers wear chest waders with a bootie rather than a boot-foot.  Additional wading boots need to be purchased for waders with booties.  An advantage is the boots can be replaced or used with other waders when needed, among other advantages, like being lighter than boot-foot.  Felt soles are illegal in some states but can be very effective for walking on river bottoms.  Just make sure to dry the boots out before returning to the water again, as you could spread invasive species to new waters if you do not.  This should still be a caution taken when wearing any soles.  Spikes and rubber soles can help too.  If you are new to wading, start with the slower and shallower water and work yourself up to being comfortable with deeper and faster water.  Slowly “dip your toes” into the faster and deeper water. 

Your wading belt is part of your waders for a reason.  If you take a “dive” in your waders, the belt slows the waters ability to get down past your waist and onto your legs.  If your belt is too loose, water could fill your waders and make it very hard to self-rescue in the case of an emergency. 

A wading staff can be a very good option also.  A wading staff allows for three points of contact while walking in the water.  This means better support and stability as a wading angler.  The wading staff can be a great tool when wading becomes more difficult.  You must always use your own judgment.  It’s better to be safe than sorry!  Seeking a trout is not worth risking your life!

Wade slowly.  Stand Firm.  A wider stance about shoulder width and lowering the knees will also help your traction.  Precise foot placement is critical to safe wading.  Like many things, this comes with experience.  Step-sideways and never cross your legs.  Like we always say, awareness is key.  The slower you move, the more aware you become with your surroundings.  Simply take your time, especially if you are new to wading.  It takes time to develop the skills required to be a successful wading angler.  If you simply turn your body a little bit, the window of sight you have to the trout will also shift.  Many times, slowly moving your body position and trying to cast again with only a slight change of body position can actually change your drift and presentation to fool a weary trout.

Crossing the river can be challenging.  Sometimes just being aware of the river environment can help you cross the river.  Shallower and slower spots like riffles can be easier spots to cross the river than those deep and swift spots that will carry you down the river before you realize what’s happening.  Some portions of the river bottom will be slicker than others depending on what the bottom of the river is composed of.  Gravel is better to cross a river than mossy and slick pebbles.  Choose your battles wisely when wading and crossing the river. 

Wade with the current and downstream a bit.  Going with the flow is much easier than trying to muscle yourself against the current and depending on the current, going against it can wear you out very quickly.  Plan your escape before you even enter the water and as you make your trek throughout the river, always be evaluating an escape plan as the conditions change and as the river changes beneath you.  Listening to ear buds is great but it greatly reduces your awareness and could significantly reduce the chance of you keeping your life, depending on the situation.  When it comes to my life, I’ll take every advantage I can get.  Whistles and PFD can help those weary about wading.  Many anglers fish lakes during spring run-off and don’t attempt to wade rivers as it is too dangerous.  Thanks for reading!