It’s Wading, Not Walking

by | Aug 28, 2018 | 18 comments

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 seemed like he was trying to win a race, thinking he might outdistance the impending accident if he just moved fast enough.

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

Now I cupped my hands to 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, our 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? Done this way, you’ll 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 on dry ground, 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 looks a lot 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.

Simple.

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 bottom rocks and tree parts. I’ll clutch the cork of the fly rod when I slip. And I’ll worry about 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
T R O U T B I T T E N
domenick@troutbitten.com

 

 

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Domenick Swentosky

Central Pennsylvania

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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18 Comments

  1. 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*

    Reply
    • Ha! My friends and I fall in all the time. If you don’t fall in once in a while, you probably aren’t wading into the best positions to fish.

      We try to get “fall-in shot” of each other, dripping wet.

      Reply
  2. Domenick,
    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 ,,,,

    Reply
    • Hi Andrew, aside from what I wrote above about having one foot stable before picking up the other foot, my next best advice is to stay sideways in the current whenever you can.

      Cheers.

      Reply
    • 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, nothing beats familiarity with the water. I still go down at least a few times per season. Back up clothing and a second set of waders makes for an easy recovery if you take in water after a major dunking.

      Reply
  3. 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.

    Reply
    • 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.

      Reply
      • I used to fall all the time when I was younger just because I was careless and took dumb risks. But I also remember flying along the river bank, dancing on top of rocks and executing crazy turns and feeling just about immortal. Now I’ve got terrible balance and zero confidence and I haven’t fallen in a very long time cause I’m takin’ it nice ‘n easy.

        Reply
  4. I love the way you seem to cover all the basics in your blog. I did a search for wading on your site to see what I was doing wrong that I’m sometimes off-balance. The answer is here! Thanks for having all this information.

    Reply
    • Thanks, Mike. Still working on it. Imagine how much more thorough it will be after ten more years.

      Cheers.

      Dom

      Reply
  5. Never heard this phrase before. Brilliant! Especially true when wading out into current or crossing a river. I also always have to look at where I’m going and start upstream from there as the current will carry my steps downstream .

    Another great post. Thanks.

    Reply
    • Cheers.

      Reply
  6. Domenick, well said.
    I always have to think about my forward step when I first get into deeper water as my raised foot is buoyant and wants to float up faster than I’d like!

    I find when crossing a stream the combination of side to side current, reflection and forward motion against it is a little disorientating. I use a staff and keep it slow.

    We fished from a canoe this weekend and ended up sideways in fast water. Everything I fish with is now laying in the sun. I went wading when I wasn’t dressed for it!

    Stay dry.

    Reply
  7. Just read all the comments. Felt has been exonerated as didymo transporter? Really? That’s great news! I only only trust felt; the last time I had a rubber sole on my Korkers I fell and broke my Winston. I have to add to your comments that a wading staff has made all the difference for me on the river. Having a third point is an incredible stabilizer. I was gifted with a Folstaff decades ago by my late wife, and it still accompanies me on my outings…..it’s indestructible. And it has saved my precious ass on many an occasion. There are a lot of dead fishermen who died wading…..you can increase your chances of survival with a staff or a stick.

    Reply
  8. I’m sitting here laughing to myself because I went down this morning. Trying to get where the big trout jumped before he swam away, knowing all the time he never moved. Thanks for the story . I’m sure I’ll remember it.

    Reply
    • Cheers.

      Reply
  9. I fall in a lot. I wear a dry top designed for surfcasting when the water temp is below 50 for that reason. I have scars on my shins from hustling down stream too quickly and encountering rocks at speed. Always amazed me how much I could rip my legs open without making a hole in my waders.

    Opening day this year in CT, myself and 2 friends watched a poor fellow drift for about a 1/8th mile after he decided to stop in the middle of some fast current. The next step forward after that stop was the fatal error. I almost felt the need to go in after him before he found his footing.

    Reply
  10. Many, many years ago I played around with rock climbing where the cardinal rule is to always, Always have three points secured before making a move. I fish one of the toughest rivers, the Pit, with a staff, and still fall. If you’re not a part of the swim club, you haven’t fished.

    Reply

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Domenick Swentosky

Central Pennsylvania

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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