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Technical Wading - Your Guide To Success!

By Mark Blauvelt



Ok, Iíll admit it, ďMy name is Mark Blauvelt and I am addicted to wade fishingÖ.Ē


My story goes something like this: For over thirty years, I have been wading creeks, ditches, rivers and waterways all across the US and Canada and have learned a few things (while wearing out a dozen pair of wading boots in the process).  Now in the midst of all those miles I've picked up a great many useful tips.  Do you want to be a bit more more "goat-like" when negotiating a slippery, rocky stream bottom?  Do you need to be able to protect yourself, and your equipment, from embarrassing and potentially dangerous situations? Finally, do you want to get closer to your quarry?  I'll share a few key points with you, and even the most experienced waders might learn a few things from this battered old-timer.  Hey, we do this stuff so you don't have to!!!


Start with the tools of the trade: boots, gravel guards, waders, wading belts, wading staff, hats, polarized glasses and vest.  Sure, this seems like a long list, but all items contribute to helping you wade safely and effectively every time out; therefore, I will offer a few tips on each subject:


Boots are the single most important piece of every fishermanís toolbox.  Considerations include what type of stream bottom you will be wading in because this will depend on what type of boots to wear.  Sand, snow, and mud bottom require lug soles; while cobble and gravel are best suited to felt bottoms; where as the flat shale rock and large bowling ball sized glacier stones call for felts with carbide tips.  Over the years, I have found that the felts along with carbide tips allow for longer wear while providing the best grip for all surfaces with the only negative being that, when entering the stream, you will need to be very careful so you donít slide down the muddy bank and end up on your keester. Best advice: look for tree roots to ladder you down and up from the stream, and always enter near a riffle in shallow water.


Gravel Guards are best seen as a tool that increases the comfort level and longevity of your wading experience. They keep gravel out of the small layer of water between your boots and your waders (stocking foot models only). Imagine a rock in your sock: Thatís what we are trying to avoid. Also, when rocks do get in there, they'll wear a hole within minutes into your neoprene footies - and that can't easily be patched. So when you get rocks in your sock stop immediately, remove the boot, rinse in the water to get out all the rocks, and then continue.  I have found the waders with built in gravel guards to be the best because you will never loose them nor forget them as common as it was with the old Velcro wrap around styles.


Waders could be an article by itself, so Iíll try to keep it short. Best all around waders are any of the breathable kinds, made by  top manufacturers. I happen to love my Simms Gore-Tex waders with many great features Iíll never go without, including: the opportunity to custom order the boot foot size, belt loops, hand warmer pockets, zippered inner pockets and retractors, double layered knees, shins and butt seats, and easily adjustable shoulder straps. With waders, you really do get what you pay for, and even the coldest waters can be waded by layering up underneath.  Now, when itís really cold and snowy out, (steelheading) I prefer to use a boot foot style neoprene, 4 MM since the 5 MM ones are just too bulky and the 3mm are not thick enough, furthermore, Iíll always opt for the lug sole when snow is on the ground in order to avoid the Frankenstein boot syndrome. Boot foots also allow you to have a warm pocket of air around your foot to increase circulation, and they sure are easier to put on and off when your hands are numb for the fact that there are no frozen laces to try to untie. Another tip; put on your waders at home and drive in them to the river, so your feet will be toasty and warm when you start. Additionally, when standing in one spot, always keep wiggling your toes to increase circulating warm blood to your extremities. I always opt for waders over wet wading unless I am in gin clear clean water, where I can see any obstacles which might cut me. (Rebar, glass, concrete rip rap, e coli, fungus and raw sewage are nasty things you do not want your skin to come into contact with.)


A Wading Belt is a MUST for aging baby boomers (like me) for two reasons: sore backs and safety.  We all know about wading belts, which keep the top of our waders from ballooning up and becoming a drift sock should we take a fall. But I find the bigger belts that resemble a weightlifting belt really allow me to wade for longer times by preventing my lower back from getting sore and tired. Both Hodgeman and Simms endorse this style, and I highly recommend them from a comfort standpoint.  Be sure to add a water bottle carrying sack to it, and your shoulders will last longer as you lighten your shoulder yoke on the vest by 24 ozs. Some friends even lasso their net to the back of it, which would lighten the load another pound or so. 


A Wading Staff is something I have come to appreciate more and more as I continue to get older and less nimble.  Now, if you are wading in sand bottom streams, you may never have a need for a staff, even though I have had the gravel washed out from under me several times. This has taken many a hat floaters that I might not have had I had a handy wading staff (hindsight is always 20/20 or better). I have wade fished in almost 40 states and waded on stuff that was easy,  all the way to maneuvering around huge, car-sized boulders, where in a several hour stint, only went a 100 yards. Trust me on round bowling/beach ball glaciated boulders, a staff is like having a third leg, and provides tons of stability. It is like the blind: allowing you to feel where the next step is going when you cannot see bottom. I prefer the fold up ones that can be attached to the wading belt, are easily pulled out, and snap into place for quick use. They are also attached to the harness in case you drop them; lightness and the ability to lean into one without it breaking is important.  Always cross sideways and use the staff on the upstream side, additionally, hold your rod in the opposite hand to allow you better balance. Should you take a fall, you should be facing upstream, the tendency is to post to the bottom with your upstream hand (which is holding the staff), so your rod will be safe on the high side and may not even get wet.


Many are wondering why a Hat is on the list, but I am here to tell you that a good hat will help your wading in several ways.  The first is that it protects the head from errant flies on windy days. It also helps protect the top of my head from sunburn, ( yeah, Iím a little soft in the hair dept), and lastly, most importantly it helps shade out the glare, allowing you to see into the water making you able to see where the next step is going. A ball cap is best, but one with a longer bill works even better in conjunction with polarized glasses. (see next subject)  On cold, windy days, comfortable ears are very important, so invest in a winter hat with ear flaps. Letís not forget about spider webs, yeah, we all have found those a few times, and a ball cap keeps them off your face. I prefer a natural earth tone such as a brown or green one, so the fish arenít spooked when they see my hunter orange cap moving above the surface.


Polarized Gasses are yet another big piece of the puzzle, and this is where you will definitely get what you pay for.  Polarized glasses allow the lens to filter out the glare and furthermore assists you to see into the bottom of the stream, thus allowing you to move quicker and more sure footedly. This also comes with the bonus of allowing you to better see structure, logs and fish; and anytime itís possible to see what is under the water better, I want that advantage!  The cheapies from Wal-Mart are better then nothing, and when you decide to get serious about this business: you will blow anywhere from 100-300 bucks on a quality pair of glass lens from any of the top makers like Action Optics or Ocean Waves. I personally have 2 pair of prescription Ocean waves and have never had any problems with them for the last 15 years.  Next topic is the color of the lens: some like amber, some like grey but all around the amber/yellow will do you the best in all conditions and allow you more light as darkness falls. Here is a tip: as darkness falls, I switch back to my regular glasses at dusk, because my polarized glasses make it darker then it really is. Donít forget to get a nice hard case for the glasses, and make sure they are on some sort of attachment such as Croakies so they can be taken off and held around your neck, because it is very important to take off your glasses when photos are being taken.


The Vest is also something that allows you to be balanced when you are wading. Make sure all zippered fly pouches are always zippered shut, and that the stomach clip is fastened because it helps to take pressure off the shoulders while allowing you the most freedom.  I like a vest that is a shorty version, so I can get into deeper water, but the negative to a shorty vest is that nowadays the fly boxes are often right where the arms rest, and that can be uncomfortable. Chest packs and waist packs are also becoming more popular, and allow even better balance.  Some keys to comfort are: to pack as light as possible, always bring toilet paper and keep the net and water on the belt.


Now, that covers the tools of the trade, but let's talk about a few other good tips (in no particular order)...


When walking through woods, I always walk with my rod in front of me using it as a spider web magnet. In thirty years, I have never broke a rod and, when I try to walk with it behind me like the experts advise, I always snag my flies on limbs. Iíll never figure that one out.


When angling down a steep bank or walking on a sloped trail, always carry the rod on the downhill side in case you slip, you will use your free hand to post yourself when you fall, and wonít smash your rod into the bank.


Always take baby steps when you are moving up through a pool you plan to fish in. Always lead with your upstream foot, then bring the other foot up to it so you do not hear the water splashing.  


 I often walk fast then go into ďstealthy modeĒ when I get within, say 100 feet, of where I am going to fish.


Cross strong deep water with a buddy and hold hands to steady one another.


Always cross at riffles where it is shallowest whenever possible (you will notice that is where the deer always cross).


Always face upstream when crossing. Rod in downstream hand, staff in upstream hand.


I often wade to my spot, and then just sit there for a few minutes, perhaps re-rigging or switching flies before I start casting to rest the pool.


Once in my casting spot, I set my feet and wonít move them while I cast, because there is nothing worse than someone who shuffles and waddles slowly upstream while casting. Usually before they know it, they are casting from where they should be fishing.


Learn to read the water and as you wade upstream; you should be crossing and zig zagging across the stream to fish the deep spots from the shallow sides as the stream meanders, so should you, in opposite fashion.


Use tree roots to get into and out of the water and these are most often found in rifle areas.


If wading with a weaker wader, always stay upstream of them to help break the water for them (this really does help).


When canoe or kayakers are coming towards you, it is best to back away from the hole and let them pass. Whenever I try to walk forward so they can go behind me, they inevitably hit me sideways because often they often have no true boating skills. This is VERY dangerous and will ruin the hole.


While fishing along eddyís, be careful where you stand, as you may muddy the water you are about to fish. If you do not need to be in the water, stay out of it as it will improve your effectiveness.


Learn what nasty plants are in your area. Here in the Midwest: we have Stinging Nettles, poison Ivy and Poison Oak.  Here is a Nettles tip: when you get hit with it, as quickly as possible, grab mud and smear it in on the affected skin while rubbing it as hard as possible, then rinse with cold river water. This really will help in making it itch much less.


Know what snakes are in your area, if walking trails: rattlesnakes, copperheads and other non-friendly snakes are often found along streams. Rattlesnakes and Copperheads are usually found above the high water mark, so staying in the stream bed is good common sense.


A lot of folks ask me what I think about the Co2  inflatable vests like the SOSuspenders. I think that: if you are a poor swimmer, not confident about your wading, or are constantly in a deep, fast water, then Iíd say that they are a sound investment. The vests are a little on the pricey side though, and I prefer smaller water so I honestly have never tried them.


Some folks prefer hip boots, but I personally have found them to only help in getting your butt wet when walking through shallow water. Therefore, I cannot add much here other then I do not like them.


Always be careful when walking across flat shale rock that has a slight sediment coating on it. I have taken some of my worst falls in water less then 3Ē deep! That sediment coating is comparable to grease.


To summarize the whole of this article: be careful, walk slowly, be patient, and not try to hurry to the next spot.In questionable water, if you do not have a buddy helping you, always opt for the safe way out, many of my falls/swims were when I pushed the limit when I knew I should not have.  I hope some of these lessons will help you and your equipment to be safer and more effective while wading.   I encourage any further tips or discussions in email form to mark@flyfishohio.com.

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