Wading Safety 101

There’s something special about standing knee-deep in a river as you fish.  But wading can be tricky, and sometimes downright dangerous.  Follow these 10 tips to keep things safe:

1. Wear wading boots that offer good traction.  Either felt soles (where legal, and be sure to clean your boots after you fish), or rubber soles with cleats provide the best traction.

2. When crossing a river, go with the flow.  Angle downstream, so with every lateral step you make, you are also moving with the current.  Fighting the current will lead to slips and falls.

3. Feel your way along… with your feet.  Make deliberate steps, and try to keep your feet off the tops of submerged rocks.  You are more likely to slip off the top of a rock than you are when your feet are on the gravel bottom.

4.  Assume that the water is deeper than it looks.  If you’re not sure how deep it is, don’t step there.

5. Always wear a wading belt.  Doing so will limit the amount of water that fills your waders, should you accidently wade too deep.

6. Keep the water level at your waist, or below… even if you are wearing chest waders.

7. Fish close to the bank (or from the bank).  Just because you are wade fishing doesn’t mean you have to stand in the middle of a river.  Most fish actually prefer to stick close to the banks and around cover anyway… too much splashy walking ruins opportunities.

8. Kids should wade downstream, with the current, always within reach of an adult, and always wear a PFD.

9. Don’t tempt super-fast currents.  As a rule of thumb, if the water is white, it isn’t worth stepping in.

10. If you do fall in, again, go with the flow.  When you get dragged into the current, get in a seated position, with your boots pointed downstream… then use your feet to kick off rocks and other obstructions, and paddle with your arms toward shore.  Never face upstream and fight the current, especially in waders.

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Kirk Deeter

Kirk Deeter

Kirk Deeter is an editor-at-large with Field & Stream, and he co-wrote The Little Red Book of Fly Fishing with the late Charlie Meyers.