All the good river anglers I know are natural waders. They are fluid, stable and confident enough to move through the river without thinking much about it. They wade in cooperation with the current, pushing against it only when they must. Intuitively, their body turns to offer the least resistance against the flow of a heavy run. And even in easy water, their motions and body positioning conserves energy. Like the trout themselves, good waders are efficient.
These are anglers of all ages, all sizes, all physical abilities. They are anglers of various experience levels, from different regions. And they’ve all prioritized good wading skills. Because, somewhere along a stony creek, they realized that without good wading, they are dead in the water.
We are river walkers. We wade, hiking watery trails with a fly rod, making plans to catch a fish and then adapting them on the fly, accommodating conditions and overcoming challenges. On a float trip, we look for a chance to exit the craft and get our boots wet, using the boat as a means for transport, hopping from one fishy island to the next, covering miles of river until the sun sets at the boat ramp.
The good wader keeps moving, shuffling and sliding, an inch here, a foot there, upstream or over, leaning and then stepping. Motion is a means for adjustment. Instead of lengthening the cast, stepping forward closes the distance with subtle motion — creeping sideways to cover the bank lie, cast after cast, methodically making progress and renewing opportunities. Later in the day, motions may be bold, with big and forceful steps to relocate after a series of casts. In heavy pocket water, once a feeding zone is found, cherry picking the inside lane becomes the strategy — ten casts and go. Pick up one fish and maybe another. Then move. Bold or subtle, wading is constant motion.
Relocation is not an event. It’s not here for ten minutes, wade for thirty feet and fish another ten. It’s a steady movement. Our fishing is a stroll through moving water. Keep casting. Keep stripping. Keep mending. Keep wading.
The good wader feels the riverbed more than he sees it. In muddy water, under the cover of darkness, or with his gaze focused on the targets, a river angler learns to explore the contours of a riverbed, searching for his next step without a glance.
The good wader is thoughtful, making a plan, modifying it along the way, and navigating to the other side while fishing, cast after cast. Five minutes to the west bank, now five minutes to the east. Pause for a drink to watch the airborne starlings feast on mayfly spinners. Stare at the tailout above and hope for a rise. Be thankful for the chill setting in, as it pushes aside summer air and trout that sit on a razor’s edge. Sigh. Change flies. Smile and refocus. Five minutes of wading and fishing to the west bank again, upstream and over, zig and zag.
The good wader believes in traction. Maybe it’s boot studs and a wading staff. Maybe it’s felt soles, crampons or chunks of aluminum screwed into rubber soles. But these particulars have been thought through, tested and learned. This is what works best for my river. Here’s how I stick to the riverbed. Here’s where my confidence lies. And here’s where fishing becomes the focus — when walking wet river rocks is second nature.
The good wader casts in rhythm. Fluidly moving to change angles allows your casting arm to do repetitive things, improving and refining a single stroke until it’s locked in. Let the feet move you to the next lane, two feet over. The arm repeats. The cast hits. Rhythm. Tempo. There’s a cadence to the cast when it’s the same length, the same angle. Let your feet do the work. Wade and cast. Step and strip.
The good wader makes no excuses. Skip water that is too much for today, but vow to get there eventually. Build the legs. Strengthen the core. Make health a priority. Consider boots and traction more than rods and flies. Find a confidence that opens up every piece of the river, every side channel and every rocky run.
The good wader becomes the good angler.
Fish hard, friends.
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Enjoy the day.
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