Of all the pieces we’ve published, by far the most popular (per our tracking data) is “The 10 Commandments of Wading.” Based on your feedback, and on further reflection and on additional experiences, here are five more suggestions for safe wading. They may not be on the level of “commandments,” but they at least deserve consideration.
1. Use a second wading belt
This may seem like overkill, but it’s a wise strategy if you insist on wading in deep water.
Typically, a wading belt will go around your mid-section. The place to add a second belt is around your chest—that is, near the top of your waders. It can keep the top part of your waders from filling up, especially if they do not have some kind of a drawstring or mechanism to seal them around your chest.
2. Use a Personal Flotation Device (PFD)
Alright, this one might really strike you as extreme. But I can see the value in it if you need to wade in deeper water.
I remember floating the Wyoming Bighorn a few years ago and stopping to wade a few stretches. I was surprised how much deeper I could wade because the current was not as swift as, say, Montana’s Yellowstone River. Also, the river bed consisted of gravel instead of greased cannon balls (what I suspect lies on the bottom of the Yellowstone). But whenever I waded into deeper water, I noticed how the current gently drifted me into deeper water. I struggled to get momentum to back out of it or to turn around and walk towards the bank.
A PFD would have provided a great safeguard. I’m not suggesting that fly fishers need to take one along in most conditions. But if you insist on wading into deep water, a PFD might keep you from getting in over your head.
3. Wear Patagonia Foot Tractors
Full disclosure: I am not secretly sponsored by Patagonia!
I only mention this particular brand and model because I haven’t found any other wading boots (aside from those with felt soles) which provide such good traction. The aluminum bars in zig-zag fashion on the soles of these boots really do the job. Felt soles seem to be on the way out. They are now illegal in Yellowstone National Park, and I expect other watersheds or even states to follow suit.
4. Beware of Mud
I’ve had a few situations over the years where my feet have sunk a ways into the mud—both in the west (Montana’s East Gallatin River) and the Midwest (Canfield Creek in the Minnesota Driftless).
This fall, I was wading the inlet of Quake Lake (not far from West Yellowstone, Montana) when my boots started sinking into a sandbar. I was standing in knee-deep water at the time. I moved too quickly, and actually fell down. It was a bit tricky to stand back up with both feet being stuck.
It reminded me to test any suspicious looking spots before stepping into them. It’s quite a fight against suction to pull out your boots when they get stuck in the mud. Add a couple feet of water into the mix, and the situation can become downright dangerous.
5. Slow down
Per my previous point, the worst thing you can do when wading (or trying to stand up after you’ve fallen!) is to panic and hurry. I tend to hurry this most when I’ve crossed a difficult stretch and I’m nearing the bank. It’s tempting to run those last few feet. But a couple times, I’ve hurried too quickly and have slipped into the water. I have to remind myself to slow down. Slower is safer in most cases. It preserves your balance and helps you keep your legs together so that you’re providing only one pressure point – not two — for the current.
Admittedly, it’s a bit of a hassle to following some of these suggestions. But your life may depend on it. Whatever you can do to stay safe while you’re wading is more than worth the inconvenience.