It is 12 degrees outside and it is perfect weather to sit around the fireplace, enjoy a hot cup of coffee, and think about warmer temperatures on the river. I have to share a wading story with you.
I confirmed a marketing selling point about my wading staff…it floats.
During a trip to fish the Gunnison River and surrounding waters outside of Almont, CO; I waded a section of the Taylor River that I needed my wading staff. Once on the other side, I folded the staff in half and as I am in the habit of doing, I slid it down the back of my vest. Of course, anyone that has used a wading staff can appreciate the importance of having it attached to you. Yeah, needless to say I didn’t. I fished and had success catching browns on a #14 bead headed Hares ear and #16 ABU. When it was time to use the wading staff again, yep, you guessed it. It had floated down the Taylor to be found by some unsuspecting angler.Fortunately for me, I was able to find a stretch of the river that I crossed using pocket water, kicking myself with every step. I have been wading rivers for approximately thirty eight years and one would think that I knew better… I did; however, my focus was on the next cast, the next hole and lost sight of the act of wading.
As we prepare for the next trip it is always a great time to remember wading safety.
· Mindset: Remember to have a healthy respect for the river. Be aware of your surroundings and hazards that are inherent in any river – water depth, speed, hidden hazards, bottom surface and footing. Be aware of the path you intend to take and periodically, refocus on the river as it relates to wading as opposed to your next cast. Never let your pride or your fishing partners turn a wading challenge into a risk. Reading the water is not only important in finding fish; it ensures a safe route to and from the fish. Take some time, evaluate the river, and plan out a wading approach. Remember your experience and listen to that little angler that sits on your shoulder when they tell you that you may be stepping beyond your wading skills.
· Equipment: Wading equipment starts with quality polarized glasses that allow you the ability to see beyond the reflection of the water’s surface and see sections of the river bottom. All of my wading has been on tail waters and free stone streams and rivers in the Rocky Mountain west. Being able to see the bottom, when depth allows, is a critical component in evaluating your route and route selection. Always wear a wading belt! A wading belt should be worn tight enough to prevent your waders from filling up with water if you unintentionally go swimming. We will spend top dollar on rods and reels, yet neglect the quality of our wading boots. I am an advocate of a well constructed, ankle high boot that is going to protect my foot and ankle from any hazard that I have come across; including, snakes, submerged barbed wire, and my ankle getting caught between two rocks that shifted. I prefer a studded aqua tread sole on the bottom of my boots. A wading staff is a piece of equipment I would encourage all nymph anglers to carry. Even if you never use the staff, the one time you find yourself heading to the bank after painstakingly working out to a plunge pool and realize the water is stronger, deeper, and the bank is farther than you remember when you worked out to the pool… you will appreciate it! Whether it is a collapsible version or a ski pole, that’s right an alpine ski pole; make sure it is quality material and design. A great length is from your armpit down to the ground. Remember this is not a walking stick; it is going to face different demands on the river than a casual hike through the mountains. The added length allows for variables such as depth changes, bottom substrate changes, and an ability to manage your weight and water pressures. Make sure you can attach the wading staff to your gear with a quick release in case it gets stuck and you have to separate yourself from it. (Use the tether…..hahaha remember I didn’t) If you are concerned about the noise a wading staff may create, you can quiet the staff by wrapping duct tape on the bottom section of the staff. For you fashion conscious nymphers, you can get duct tape in just about every color and design out there. Personal flotation devices are on the market that are compact, light weight and easy to use. If you cannot swim or would enjoy the added safety of a personal flotation device they are out there. A back support - try one the next time you go on the water. Get a back belt from you local hardware store and wear it under your shirt. You will be amazed how it reduces your fatigue.
· Fitness: Think of the demands that are placed on your body while wading and you have a blue print to develop flexibility, strength and endurance prior to wading. Your fitness program should work on your legs, upper and lower back, abdominals and shoulders. A fun way to develop strength, endurance and core strength is to go to you neighborhood swimming pool, get into shoulder depth water and walk across the pool. As you increase the speed, focus on your balance, core strength, and feeling the bottom with each foot you place on the bottom of the pool. Work up to jogging in the pool. If shoulder depth water is too much, start at waist deep water. Don’t forget to work on the mental piece of the exercise and focus on balance, stepping, and seeing the bottom with your feet.
· Methods: Water weights approximately 8.34 pounds per gallon and is responsible for some of the amazing wonders we enjoy in nature to include the Grand Canyon! Respect its power. Try a few of these tips next time you are on the water. Look at the water before you get into it. Have a path you intend to take. Test the water current and bottom stability prior to wading by wading near the bank and testing your traction. Maintain a wide, deep stance when wading to improve your balance. Have your feet slightly wider that your shoulders and stagger your feet so one foot is forward of the other. Remember to use your knees as shock absorbers – allow them to bend. Deliberately look, step and feel – seeing the bottom with your feet. Moving during casting should be done by stepping with one foot feeling and seeing the bottom with your feet before transferring your weight. Always test the bottom before transferring your full body weight to your new foot position. Use the same current breaks that the fish use. Never cross your feet when you are wading. Take your time. Remember to use angles across the river, up or down, when crossing. Make turns slowly and maintain that wide deep base.
· Buddy System: Your safety is increased when you wade with your fishing buddy. We share our plan for fishing a stretch of water. We always have water proof small compact rechargeable multi-channel radios with us. This allows us to share the one that got away, hassle each other, and make sure if something does happen your buddy knows about it. Wading together across a river is very effective; however, remember to move deliberately and see the bottom with your feet. Hold onto each other and maintain a wide base. Wade together as you would independently. Buddy wading has the benefit of giving each of you the support of a wider base.
· Safety Plan: Let someone know where you are going and when to expect you back. Let everyone in your group know where the keys to the vehicle will be because inevitably the driver will be the one swimming with the car keys! Have extra clothes and a blanket in your vehicle. Check on each other periodically. Establish times to meet for lunch and/or meet to leave. Carry a small fire starting kit with you in your gear.
Now I have never found the wading staff I lost; however, I hope the angler that finds it gets countless hours on the water and not in it! Safe Wading!