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 it, 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.
READ: Troutbitten | Tips for Better Wading and More Trout
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 things 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.
T R O U T B I T T E N
After 3 TKR surgeries in 2021 (the first got an infection and has been very slow to heal). I am just now beginning to venture back into wade fishing again. I do love setting my own pace while on the water, something much harder to control in watercraft on flowing rivers. I envy those of you with solid joints!
With two torn ACLs and no cartilage in my knees I’m like the tin man on the water. I’ll never forget Don’s concern when guiding me – at the ready to catch me a few times when I teetered a bit. I’m good, Dom! But oh to be as graceful on the water as you describe. It’s a pleasure to watch those who do it so well. Cheers.
Glad to be there for you.
I will say, though. It’s not about being graceful — not always. However it can get done, the point is to just keep moving. Everyone can do this. I’ve seen anglers with surgeries, disabilities, old age, etc. But when they are committed to movement, to wading, it works. If you step into the water, you can take the next step. We choose our water to fish. And we choose whether to stay in one spot or move. Slowly or with speed and grace, as long as we’re moving the opportunities keep changing. And that’s a good thing.
Good stuff Dom. Does the good wader recommend waders other than simms that leak at the seams? Both the g3′ and g4’s leak like a 1984 pontiacs exhaust….
Sure thing, John. I did a 100 Day Gear Review on the Orvis Pros a while back. They are STILL going strong for me. They are built for toughness first.
I’m also nearing 100 days in a pair of Skwala Carbon waders. They are damn good.
I bought a pair of G3 this year and couldn’t be more disappointed. Leaked with in 3 trips. I sent them back in the 90 day window and simms refused to replace them. It didn’t matter to them that I sent sent photos of my wet jeans. I will never purchase another item manufactured by simms.
I will check out the skwala waders Dom mentioned below.
Hello Dom. Being a good wader is something I really need to work on. Quite honestly, when it comes to wading, I suck at it. Especially new waters that I have not waded before. It seems I’m at my best in familiar water, particularly on a day that the river is clear, and I can pretty much see stones and branches on the river bottom. In new waters and conditions where I’m not able to see obstructions I find myself moving at a snails pace. Im 74 and never learned how to swim, so, I wear a flotation vest, and carry a wading staff thanks to your advice on how to carry one. I see other anglers traverse the rivers like there walking on ground and admire their abilities to do this. Might you have any other advice to help me become a better wader? Thanks.
Oh yeah, for sure, Frank. You’ll find that I rarely leave you hanging. Take a look at the link in the article above, titled, Tips for Better Wading and More Trout.
Here’s the direct link, too.
Across this website, wherever you see text in orange, it’s a clickable link to a companion resource. There are about 5-6 of them in this article. It’s a great way to move through the site.
Hope that helps.
Dom, this is really a timely post. I have been watching steelhead fisherman on Uncle John’s webcam and am totally amazed watching people just plow through the stream. There is no stealth involved.
Steelhead seem to make people do that. I think it’s because they will stay right there in the river. People think they are therefore not spooked. Not true, though. They are scared, they won’t eat, but they just hold their ground.
Another great article, Dom. Not sure why, but I really, really like this one. I guess I can relate because it’s exactly how I approach the stream. Sneak in quietly, and you become connected. You definitely have to become a part of the river instead of trying to fight it, disagree or conquer it. Spending lots of time in the ocean will also teach you that. I guess it can apply to anywhere in nature, really. I love navigating upstream with as little disruption to the river as possible. I feel when you can do this everything falls into place with a flow and sometimes when you are really in the zone, it’s like you move upstream without even knowing it. I’m not sure if I ever stay in one spot for more than 3 minutes. Shifting 1 step to the side here or 1 step back to get a better angle. That’s why I mostly fish in the rain so I can flow without seeing anyone. I get out of my zone quickly and become distracted and lose focus when someone is encroaching on my space or I have to work around and get out of the river to move way up past someone. It’s amazing to me how many guys will spend hours in the same spot. I need to move. I need to cover water. I love every one of your articles Dom. This one really connected which was unexpected. You have a way of doing that with all your writing. I share many of your articles with even my non-angling friends and family. They feel the same as I do. Thanks so much for all your work.
The good wader is always mindful not to spook the prey. Step too soon, line passes the threshold, shift too hard, the prey knows its wrong, move when accuracy is key just risks a waisted cast. Yes, wading is so important to sighting and minimizing being detected.