Practice safety when wading in spring water

Spring is a time for fishing and getting out on the water to chase your favorite species after a long winter off. However, it’s crucial to remember that this season also brings rain, sometimes heavy rain, which can turn wading or crossing your favorite trout water into a treacherous endeavor. Before you head out for an afternoon of casting your favorite fly or spinner, let’s take a moment to understand the potential risks and review some ways to make your trip a little safer.

Wear the correct footwear. Although an old pair of sneakers may be comfortable, they are not the safest option when wading. Felt-bottom shoes or boots with studs or cleats will increase your traction and help prevent an unwanted fall. I prefer boots because they offer increased ankle protection when fishing in rocky areas.

Speaking of what you wear, how many of you wear a belt with your waders? Even if you do not use it to hold extra tools and gear, every angler who wades should wear a belt outside their waders. Why? Should you fall in the belt, it will help reduce the amount of water that can enter your waders, making it easier to recover and exit a dangerous situation.

Use a staff. Having a wading staff is about something other than looking cool but about maintaining balance in swift currents or slippery surfaces. Having a staff allows you to keep two points of contact with the ground even when moving and can also be used to probe for holes or underwater obstructions.

Check things out before you enter the water. Conditions change, and it is essential to survey the area and note any new obstacles, changes in water conditions, and where the current is heaviest before getting into the water. The path you used last fall may be better than the path forward following spring runoff.

Slow down and take your time. Walking through the water is like walking on ice — it is easier and safer if you go slow. Evaluate what is ahead, choose your path carefully, and take your time. When moving in shallow water, it is okay to wake usually, but when the water gets above your knees, slide rather than step. This will allow you to avoid stepping on protruding, often slippery, rocks and losing your balance by dropping your foot into an unexpected depression.

Do not fight the current. Fishing often requires moving upstream and against the current. When doing this, look for a path that involves fighting the least amount of current possible and in shallower water. If you are crossing a stream, do so at a slight downstream angle. This will reduce the current you need to fight by allowing you to go with the flow. Remember to take it slow and test the areas in front of you, especially when crossing the heaviest current, as it is easy to have your feet swept out from under you when crossing even a small stream during heavy flow.

Wearing a personal floatation device is not just a precaution, it’s a lifesaver. If you do fall in, your gear and waders are likely to weigh you down. Even when wearing a belt, some water will enter your waders and add extra weight. Having a PFD will provide the necessary safety buffer while you regain your footing. There are many different styles available, including those specifically designed for wading, that are comfortable and will not impede your ability to cast.

Finally, let someone know where you are going and when you plan to return. Should you have a mishap, this will allow someone to look for you, or give first responders an area to look, and could be the difference between an embarrassing story and tragedy.


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