5 Reasons You Need a Fly Fishing Wading Staff

A year ago, I bought a wading staff for use on the big rivers of the American West — particularly the Yellowstone and the Missouri. I had visions of strapping it to my side only for use in thigh-deep or even waist-deep water. But last week, I discovered that it’s worth wearing on small streams when I’m only wading ankle-deep water.

Dave, my podcast partner, and I were getting ready to fish Willow Creek south of Three Forks, Montana, with a good friend. I was mildly surprised to see our friend strap on his collapsible wading staff. But when he explained to me why he always wears it, I decided to take mine out of my duffel bag and give it a try.

Now I’m a believer. Here are the reasons why it makes sense to use a wading staff even when you’re on a small stream in shallow water.

1. Traction

This is one of the two reasons my friend cited. Even with state-of-the-art wading boots (we both wore Patagonia Foot Tractor boots that day), moss-covered rocks can be slick. I was pleased how my wading staff helped me stay upright when one of my boots slipped.

2. Stability

I’m in reasonably good shape at 54. But my legs are not as strong as they were at 44 or at 34. I found that a “third leg” gave me more stability when I walked on the rock banks as well as the boulders in shallow water.

3. Stamina

I was also surprised how my “third leg” took pressure off of my two legs. We fished three miles up Willow Creek in a canyon which lacked any trails or gentle banks. Then we walked three miles down in and along the creek. My legs were not nearly as tired as I expected after the six-mile trek.

4. Snakes

This is the second reason my friend always carries his wading staff. We were in rattlesnake country, and even though it was mid-October, some fishing buddies of his encountered a rattler a few days before on the stretch of creek we were fishing. I’m no advocate of killing snakes. But I like the idea of packing something that can ward off a rattler when a surprise encounter happens.

5. Climbing

Again, I’m writing as a 54-year old. I found that my wading staff made it easier to scramble up steep banks and rocky inclines. Now I understand why another friend of mine raved about the walking staff he carried in the Swiss Alps a few months ago.

If you’re in the market for a wading staff, check out the ones made by Simms and Orvis. I tried them both, and I give the nod to the Orvis model because it snaps into place almost instantly. Both of these staffs are collapsible, although I kept mine assembled most of the day. It didn’t get in my way when I let it drag behind me (the staff was connected to its sheath via a retractor).

There are more affordable alternatives, too. I know fly fishers who use an old ski pole or even a mountaineer’s staff.

When King David composed the twenty-third psalm, he was not referring to a fly rod nor a wading staff when he wrote, “Thy rod and thy staff, they comfort me.” But still, I find comfort in taking both a rod and staff with me – even when I walk through quiet waters.

9 Replies to “5 Reasons You Need a Fly Fishing Wading Staff”

  1. This is admittedly the most over looked item I own. I have a nice fold up staff and always over look it when I go out to fish, next to a great pair of expensive hip waders. May be I’ll just send the hip waders to the AM Vets and re attach the wadding staff to my sling pack

  2. 5 days ago I didn’t bother with a wading staff as “I’ll not need it today ” stepped on a tuft of grass and riverbank that looked pretty solid ( usualy I would have given it a bit of a prod with my Staff ) well I was wrong it completely gave way . The end result was a torn muscle on my lower back , Bloody painfull I can tell you! I’m currently on holiday so I’m not having to take time of work but I’m not able to fish or do much of anything else , which is a real drag to say the least as I’m visiting family in England (I’ve come all the way from Australia)From now on ( when my back has healed ) I will always take my wading staff with me . My advice to anyone else , don’t be a idiot like me ! Always take your staff on any fishing trip to the river or stream . Basicly I’ve ruined my holiday through not taking my staff onto the river .

  3. Two thumbs up, Two Guys! Bought my staff (Simms) last year. It’s a great aid when navigating rocky terrain heading to and along the river. Clearly algae covered rocks, fast and deep water present their own challenges. Last trip to Wyoming with the staff = zero falls. Same trip prior year, I had 3 falls. One fall on the trail damaged a rod, reel, waders, some skin and pride. From now on, it’s indespensable.

  4. I think it’s a great safety measure for anyone, but I have an extra reliance on one.

    I lost my right eye a couple years ago at 49, and one of the first things I was afraid I wouldn’t be able to do is fishing. I’m determined to still get out there, but I have to do it safely. Also, since the loss of an eye I’m a bit more wobbly than I was before, and depth perception issues come into play as well. The wading staff helps a lot with both issues and helps me get out there and keep following this irresistible call of fly fishing. Now I just need to figure out the several thousand other factors of fly fishing.

  5. Wading staff: In rattlesnake country a wading staff is a very helpful tool! I use it to whack the tall grass before stepping in. One fine day on Oregon’s Crooked River, I crossed the stream to fish. Not paying attention to the rising water, when I attempted to get back to my pickup, the stream was at least 8-12 inches deeper and MUCH more dangerous. I leaned on my staff with both hands in the deeper areas as I slowly slid my feet toward safety. With no staff I’m sure I’d have lost my balance and been swept down stream.

  6. The 3 stages in a fly fisher’s life, based on the wading staff.
    Stage 1, invincible:
    Wading staff??? I don’t need no stinking wading staff.
    Stage 2, getting a little older:
    Wading staff? I wouldn’t go anywhere without my trusty wading staff.
    Stage 3, the final years:
    Wading staff? I am not going anywhere near water that would require a wading staff.
    – Steve in northern Indiana (currently enjoying stage 2)

  7. I totally agree with your comments. I have a pair of Levi poles I originally bought for hiking and now st 80 use them for nearly everything

  8. These also come in handy when you are trying to get flies out of stream side brush or trees. Adds another couple of feet of reach

  9. At ‘very’ close to being 81 years young my ‘staff’ is the main and most likely the only reason I can still toss a fly while wading. My trusty bamboo cross country staff has saved me taking an unexpected bath in the cool waters of the Betsie River several times. Occasionally it reminds me ‘it’s still there‘ as it floats behind me but It’s more important to me than my ‘rod’! My advise, never wade (especially new waters) without it.

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