Be a Mobile Angler

by | May 21, 2020 | 12 comments

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.

Photo by Bill Dell

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

— — — — — —

Polarized Lenses

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.

READ: Troutbitten | Grip Studs Are the Real Deal

Wading Staff

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 . . .

READ: Troutbitten | What About the Wading Staff?

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.

Be Mobile

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.

READ: Troutbitten | Cover Water — Catch Trout

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.
Domenick Swentosky


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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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  1. More often than not I see anglers on rivers like the Housatonic, Farmington or Esopus who get out into the spot and stay there for hours on end. They could get a job in a physics lab as an Immovable Object.

    I started playing around with fixed-line rods about six years ago. A real plus to that style of fishing is how I had to relearn how to move around in a river. I realized I had gotten pretty lazy, preferring to compensate for a crummy position with a longer cast or tricky mend.

    My late father used to tell me to “fish with your feet.” I needed the reminder.

    • “Fish with you feet” … love it, great insight, thanks … easy to recall and I’m sure you can still hear your dad’s voice and then smile. Tight lines.

  2. On wading staff(s) …………..I am guiding an ” older” gentleman that has a very difficult time wading / getting in to a good position to caste and hit the RIGHT seam ! Seeing now that many hikers use two staffs for much better stability , i told him to get a second staff and perhaps he could do better on the water ……..btw , we are fishing a large freestoner here in south-central PA . He acquired a second one and has improved his wading 100% .
    I , as his guide , just hold his rod until he gets into position to fish . It is a little bit more of a hassle w/ the two staffs , but he is catching a lot more fish and having a lot more fun . I think that is what it is all about ………….Tight lines

  3. I am new to fly fishing and appreciate your blog very much. You have become my number one teacher. I do all wading for now but have few good spots close to home. I enjoyed this wading article. I am considering a drift boat purchase.

  4. I’m a little more concerned about excessive wading. I think trampling the river bed may not be the best thing for fly life or during periods when there are active redds. I’m not against all wading of course just suggesting that some restraint wouldn’t be a bad thing given the heavy fishing pressure these days.

  5. Great article, but it’s yet another one where I hope to many of your readers don’t actually put it into practice… I was on one of the famous central PA streams last weekend, spent a good morning fishing a half mile stretch of prime pocket water, always in motion, saw one other guy all morning. Finally worked my way up to a large hole by the parking lot, and sure enough, about 10 guys were just camped out right there, like statues in the current. My only thought was, man if these guys would actually move around this river would feel crowded! Hey, if they’re happy and content standing there I’m glad they are too.

  6. Dom, Thanks for the article on wading & moving while fishing. Starting the season late in Vermont this year. Last year did a serious fall in the Batten Kill River, at which my wife also plunged in to save. Went down face first with chest pack open, along with a wader belt that released. Somehow I managed to get both of us up. It was the most scary event I’ve had in 40 years of fly fishing. I commenting now to note that I’m a little gun shy starting this season. I’m normally fishing by the end of Feburary. Thanks for all of the articles that you post for us. After reading you’re articles, I have purchased the wading belt you suggested with a double release, while adding the back support from a very well known fishing firm. I also have invested in the staff retriever you suggest for my wading staff. Will need to adjust placement on the river to keep staff out of water. In regards too wading boots cleats & reviewing my adventure, I realized that I stepped in the river with out my cleats on my Korker boots. Several days prior, I fished with a Guide friend on the Deerfield River & switched to rubber sole to protect his raft. Currently have new Boa type boots, felt w/inserted metal studs. At 72 I find it that wading more energy now, & longer to build up the wading strength required. However, due to your articles I feel confidence in the equipment that I have. However, will always step in with a little more caution!

  7. Hello Domenick–Thanks for your long-time efforts on Troutbitten; I greatly appreciate it and I read it regularly. This posting was especially interesting to me, and I wanted to ask you if you’d be willing to comment on a couple of things:

    1. I would definitely classify myself as an active wader. But I do find that if I’m in a good spot for casting into a given run, for example–I’ll stay in that spot for a few minutes and will even change flies if I’m pretty certain there are fish in there. My question for you is: how many casts do you do before you decide that no one is home or no one is hungry? This is presuming you are casting well and getting down to where the fish probably are.

    2. When you are continually moving, what about the idea that movement that is not carefully considered would potentially spook fish? How do you think about that as you move? Just curious. I’ve seen a lot of guys just randomly plunge into the side of a stream, not even thinking that there could be fish where they are stepping, and also not thinking about what they might spook. What’s your take on this?

    I’d look forward to your thoughts on this if you have time. Thanks again!


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