It was cold. Really cold. Winter was just around the corner and the recent rains could have very easily been snow. It was also those rains that kept everyone else at home. I, however, did not shy away from the potentially high, dirty water; my only thoughts were of a fresh push of steelhead.
The water was high, and standing at its edge there was no doubt about the extra flow. Still I was a little shocked I was alone. It’s a rare occasion to have productive steelhead water all to myself. I smiled as I took my first step into the frigid water. That smile was erased a few steps in when my foot didn’t connect with the river bottom as I had expected it to and before I could react the current swept me off my feet and proceeded to carry me down stream.
My first thought (and not something I’m terribly proud of) was to protect the custom float rod I held in my left hand. My second was escape, and that escape came in the form of a downed tree. I was lucky enough to still be relatively close to shore and within arm’s reach of the tree. As quickly as I was in, I was back out again.
I consider myself to be a good wader. I’ve been doing it for years and there are very few situations that make me uncomfortable. But maybe that was my problem; I was a little too comfortable. Things can turn bad fast and I took that for granted. Here are a few wading tips to hopefully help you stay out of a situation like this.
Wear a belt- Although it’s a myth that waders full of water will make you sink (the water inside your waders isn’t any heavier than the water outside) the waders will aid the current in dragging you downstream.
Use a wading staff- Had I been using a staff that day it would have been the first thing into the hole and I would have realized that I shouldn’t step there. A wading staff basically acts as a third leg making you much more stable. I always thought it wasn’t something I needed, until I used one and realized the difference it can make.
Slow and steady- Move slowly. There’s no point in rushing, it’s going to lead to you taking an unwanted bath.
Shuffle your feet- Shuffling your feet means you always have one foot firmly planted, stabilizing you while you move the other. If you can’t see the bottom, shuffling your feet will help to detect any obstructions before you trip over them.
Face the current- Some will disagree with me on this one, saying that it’s much easier to wade with the current. I wade at an angle, facing the current so that if I get into a situation where I can’t continue forward, I can retrace my steps without having to fight the current. Facing the current also helps your stability.
Safe wading starts with your equipment. If you plan on doing a lot of wading invest in some quality waders and boots and make sure they fit properly. Whether you choose lug sole or felt sole boots I strongly suggest getting ones with metal studs for extra traction.
If something does go wrong don’t panic. Keep your cool and find a way out. Don’t fight the current, let it carry you downstream while you move towards shore.
Don’t let wading be intimidating. Have fun and wade safe.