Stories Tips/Tactics

It’s Wading, Not Walking

August 28, 2018

My ten-year-old son stumbled across the river. With each step he seemed on the brink of falling forward into the flow. Wide eyed and stiff-faced, Joey battled through the current, expecting all the while to fall in, but hoping and struggling against it. It was like he was trying to win a race, thinking he might outdistance the impending accident if he just moved fast enough.

Joey glanced up toward me as I stood relaxed in the bank side ankle-deep water. I held my arms over my head. Stretched toward Joey, my open palms signaled a stop. And for a moment his rushed, splashing course halted. The calming water circled around him, and he seemed thankful for it.

Now I cupped my hands around my mouth to amplify a familiar message.

“It’s wading, not walking!” I hollered. Then I turned both hands back to my son and signaled thumbs up. Joey nodded, dropped his tensed shoulders and relaxed, Then he looked into the river and took one step at a time.

— — — — — —

Nothing in nature crosses the river like a fisherman in a hurry. We look so out of place, bumbling around in waders trying to find a foothold and fighting a battle with the river. The current is a foreign thing to many anglers — because how many of us fish as often as we like? And even for those lucky enough to fish frequently, the mistake is the same. We all get rushed and forget that navigating a river is not walking — it’s wading.

I’ve said this to my guided clients a hundred times by now. And no matter the level of river experience it helps to remember that wading really isn’t much like walking.

Yes, wading is one foot in front of the other, but the back foot doesn’t lift until the front foot is solid. Take a step. Settle that foot and find your balance, and only then pick up the other foot to take the next step. Simple, right?

Never be surprised by shifting rocks or sand. That’s the idea — to always feel the center of gravity underneath at least one of your feet. And when your lifting foot swings into an unexpected rock under the water, that’s alright because the front foot is set and secure.

By contrast a walking gate has some pace to it, enabled by our trust that the next piece of ground is stable. We see the path ahead of us, and there’s no current sweeping away our balance from underneath.

“Nothing in nature crosses the river like a fisherman in a hurry.”

Good wading ends up looking like walking. And that’s what confused Joey at first. Once, when he was about seven years old, I realized that I’d never made this point with him. And he was trying to emulate my walk through the river. But now, after his tenth birthday, he finally gets it. And his first foot is stable before the other one gives up its spot.


It’s wading, not walking.

But I’ll fall in again too. Because I’ll forget. And I’ll flail against the current and search for my balance as I go down among the drowned rocks and tree parts. I’ll clutch the cork of the fly rod when I slip. And I’ll worry what “water resistant” really means for the smart phone in my pocket. And when I finally get my feet beneath me, I’ll rise tall above the surface again, dripping creek water from my arms and feeling the cold rush down my legs to the toes in my boots. I’ll shake my head as I wade to the bank to dry off. Because I’ll know why I fell, and I know I’ll make the same mistake again. Just give me time.

Fish hard, friends.


Enjoy the day.
Domenick Swentosky



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I’m glad to see you fall too, Domenick. LOL. I fell for the first time this year two days ago. I was wet wading on Monday morning on the Little Lehigh. The air and water temp were about the same, 60 or so. My legs got cold, and a little numb, so they weren’t listening to me so well. I fell on the water’s edge, so no too wet, but I did think of my phone immediately! Nothing injured but pride. No one saw me. *whew*


It’s about time someone wrote an article on wading, I’m 76 always use a staff and still have a tough time, got any more suggestions ,,,,

Try bringing a right rear foot in-line with the front left foot by making a half step. Then a half step forward with the right foot and bring the left rear foot back even with the front right foot. This series of left-right-left-right half steps helps me in tough currents or on tricky bottoms. Also slide your feet just above the rocks rather than lifting up. Felt soles are superior to rubber and I don’t like studs because they prohibit a stealthy approach. (Felt soles have been exonerated as didymo agents so going back to felts is environmentally ok). However,… Read more »


It’s funny, when I was a younger man I was such a confident wader; brash, arrogant, no fear. Now, in my 50’s and a few years removed from spinal fusion surgery, I am almost too cautious. I hardly ever go above my knees anymore, my confidence shaky at best. I carry a staff with me now, even if I never set foot into the stream I feel naked without it. I loved your description of your son, it brought back so many great memories.


Same here, Mike. I was a mountain goat both in and out of water, over rocks, etc. I never even put out a wrong foot in my 20’s, much less fell. I’m 51 now. It’s a different ballgame, for sure, and I haven’t even had your back problems. Good luck.

Domenick Swentosky

Hi. I'm a father of two young boys, a husband, author, fly fishing guide and a musician. I fish for wild brown trout in the cool limestone waters of Central Pennsylvania year round. This is my home, and I love it. Friends. Family. And the river.

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