There are two common problems that hold anglers back more than anything else: an aversion to tying knots and a resistance to wading. While successful knot tying is about practice and repetition, confident wading is both an acquired skill and one that you prepare for. Thankfully, wading troubles are mostly solved or eliminated with time on the water, with persistence and a few good tools.
Being a mobile angler is a state of mind. Watch a populated trout river some time, and you’ll notice the striking difference in angler styles. The fly fisher who is both stable and fluid catches more trout than the one whose boots are stuck in the mud.
I’ve heard the stories about bad knees, old bones, lost balance and the energy of youth. But I’ve also seen athletes in their twenties with wobbly river legs. And I’ve guided guests in their eighties who moved carefully and with confidence, working within their limitations. So, like everything else in fly fishing, confident mobility in the river is a result of experience and preparation.
Forever in Motion
Watch an excellent angler for a half-hour sometime. Notice how she’s in a nearly constant motion. After the cast, she might move a half step to the left and then another step upstream as the drift finishes. Those two steps put the angler in a better position to keep all the fly line in one seam and to perfect a drag free drift.
Wading is not just what happens between locations. And it’s not only about moving across the stream from one pocket to the next. Instead, wading happens continuously.
I’ve noticed this about myself, and I see it in the Troutbitten crew that I fish with. My feet are rarely still. They are always shuffling forward a few inches or settling back into the minor dip behind the rock, perhaps searching for a sand or gravel patch to lend stability. And that’s good wading — shifting, shuffling and stepping to improve the drift or to set up for the next cast. Unless I’m in a very flat, quiet pool, this is my strategy. I move a lot — almost constantly.
But many anglers wade nothing like this. Instead, they wade to a spot in the river and set up, calf, knee or waist deep, seemingly relieved to have arrived safely. Then they proceed to fish far too much water without moving their feet again. When the fish don’t respond, these anglers finally pick up their feet. Maybe they grab a wading staff and begrudgingly take the steps necessary to reach new water and repeat the process.
This method of start and stop, of arriving and relocating, is a poor choice. Instead, the strategy of constant motion is what wins out.
I’m sure that, for some of you, this idea immediately conjures a heartfelt anxiety. So whether young or old, if you find yourself resisting and struggling with this concept of forever motion, don’t let yourself make any excuses until you’ve done all that you can to gain a wader’s confidence.
Exhaust the list below before you give up. (And never give up anyway.)
These Things Make A Mobile Angler
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Good glasses are not just for spotting fish and choosing the next target. They are essential for seeing the riverbed and plotting a course. Wear polarized lenses to see where your feet go next. It’s that simple.
Studs and Soles
In my area, boot studs are standard gear. I’ll say that nothing beats the traction of fresh felt and new studs. But felt has its issues too. It wears quickly and is a poor choice for winter fishing. Rubber is arguably better for the all-season, hike-in angler.And if traction in the riverbed is sketchy, studs or aluminum bars or discs should be added to rubber boot soles. There is simply nothing like the confidence of real traction. Nothing.
For most of my years on the water, I thought that a wading staff would slow me down. But I was wrong about that. And now I chuckle at some of my friends who lag behind when we cross a roaring run over our waists. While they teeter on two legs, I have three.
That said, a poorly chosen staff or carrying method is a liability. I already put all my thoughts about this down in a previous article . . .
But the import points are these: Keep it lightweight and portable, and use a retractor to keep the staff out of the way when not in use Also, have the staff IMMEDIATELY available on the retractor when needed — not dangling in the water on a four-foot leash. Lastly, the staff should be mounted near your line hand and not your casting hand. That’s simple efficiency. Think it through.
I’ve had the pleasure of guiding some truly excellent anglers. And all of them were forever in motion. Some were young, ambitious and aggressive waders who could withstand the force of raging flood waters without wavering. But some of them were in their eighties. They were slower, certainly. However, the experience of decades on the water taught these fishermen the perfect angles of approach. And they learned to compensate, to adapt, and to use slow, constant motion to lead them to the next advantageous position.
Wade Within Your Means
I’m not suggesting to blast through a heavy run that feels unsafe. Instead, find water that you can effectively wade. Then enter the river and stay in motion. Continue the small adjustments of a half step upstream or a full step across, into the downstream stall of a pocket. Because your new position improves the next cast and sets you up for the following one.
Just keep moving, even if it’s short bits at a time. Don’t get stuck anymore.
Fish hard, friends.
Enjoy the day.
T R O U T B I T T E N