Wade up or not?

On November 9, 2013
Comments (13)

We like to say that all you need to fly fish is a rod, line and fly. And, to a large extent that is very true. That really is all you need.
But what about the other stuff that will make things more comfortable, more accessible, or more effective? Like waders, for example?
Wading into a stream for tenkara
Should you wear waders?

We can tell you that you do not need to wear waders to fish. In fact, leaving the waders behind and going in with whatever one is wearing, or trying to stay out of the water a bit more, can be great way to reduce the load. Like the reduction in gear brought about by tenkara, leaving the waders behind can feel liberating. However,  waders can open up water that is difficult to fish without waders. On a long day out they can provide a lot of comfort, and depending on the weather and terrain they may be a necessary thing to avoid coming close to hypothermia.
If you’re just getting into the world of fly-fishing and contemplating whether you should invest the money for a pair of waders (as low as $50 for cheap hip waders, or $600 for a good pair of waders and wading boots), here are a few considerations I usually keep in mind.

The first thing that comes to my mind when deciding whether to wear waders or not is my intent for the day. Am I going mushroom hunting or backpacking and fishing on the side if I find a good pocket? Or, is fishing the primary reason I’m going out? If my primary intent is to fish, I’ll wear waders. Even if I have a side of me that really likes to rough it, I also like to be comfortable when I can. If I’ll be spending a lot of time in the water, and I want to focus on fishing waders will make me comfortable and will open up a lot of new water. Plus, I admit I’m not crazy about getting my undies wet if I have to cross a deep pool, even if it is hot out there.

But, if  the focus is on other activities and tenkara is the secondary goal, then I often leave the waders behind. Nothing says “simple fly-fishing” and “I’m just that cool”, like posing with a pair of torn-up jeans and sneakers.


Seasons and Weather
Winter is fast approaching. Those of you who are going fishing right now are noticing the water and air temperatures dropping. If you plan on fishing during the winter, then waders are a must. I have fished in the winter time wearing my skiing clothes when my primary intent was backcountry skiing. But, when you spend enough time near the water, you’re bound to get wet. And, getting wet when it is freezing out there not only feels “uncomfortable”, but can be outright dangerous with hypothermia a real possibility. So, wear waders and warm socks, and another pair of warm socks, and warm underwear…
Tenkara waders
If it is summer and it is warm out, not wearing waders is a good way to go. If the weather is hot and you are not going to be in the water for most of the time, then no matter how breathable your waders are they will feel very hot. In that case, think about intent and terrain. You can go either way in the summer. Some opt to wear wading boots with some neoprene socks and “wet-wade” when the main intent is fishing. This past summer I worn some fast-drying shoes fairly often when going hiking and fishing on the side. Your choice.
Wet wading with tenkara
And, of course, if it is really really hot out, swimming-wear may be the way to go (bonus: without a reel you can fish at the same time you swim!).
Swimming with tenkara.

Terrain also comes into play on making the decision. In most streams you can fish from the shore, or fish well by hopping rocks. In lakes you can certainly fish from the shore.

Tenkara in California on rocky terrain

But, some streams seem to call for waders. In particular, I like to wear waders in three types of places:

Streams that have a lot of trees and brush on the shores but a relatively open canopy in the middle. In these waters, which I admit may be a lot of waters, wearing waders allows you to fish in the middle of the stream and casting mostly upstream. By being in the water you can more easily avoid getting caught on trees behind you.

John Geer wading a stream in Virginia with tenkaraLarger rivers that have fewer features (e.g. boulders). Wearing waders will allow you get a little closer to the parts of the river you think the fish will be. Of course, you can fish from the shore very effectively in many parts of these rivers. But, once in a while you’ll come across a bend on the river where the riverbed is very shallow close to you, but there is a great looking whirlpool or something on the other side. Wading closer may mean getting your pants and underwear wet, waders will keep that from happening.

Canyons. If I’m fishing a relatively steep canyon I may end up being in the water a lot. And, sometimes I’ll be forced to cross the stream many times as large obstacles keep me from staying the course. So, waders will be a good thing to wear.

Though, of course, if the canyons are steep enough I may just opt for a full wetsuit.

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13 Responses to Wade up or not?

  1. I generally prefer waders but if it’s hot out, I like to wet wade with sandals. It’s nice not to have to wrangle in and out of waders and have to dry them out, etc.

  2. Jeremy says:

    Do you have a recommended or favorite wader and boot combo for when you’re covering a lot of terrain, several miles, both in and out of water? Curious as there’s a few places I fish that I hike in and wet wade in spring/summer, but are too cold in fall/winter, and would require waders, but it’s 2-3 miles in on trail then down a steep slope a few hundred feet into a canyon, then in and out of the river in a canyon like you mentioned in the blog. Thanks.

  3. Jeremy (achilles38) says:


    thanks for the info on the waders and boots. I’ll have to take a look at those waders, look really nice. I have a fairly cheap pair now that gets me through, but are bulky and heavy for long walks, and my boots are like walking with bricks on my feet. I’ll keep searching for some boots that might last a little longer as I’m pretty rough on where I hike to fish, and how fast I ruin shoes, haha.

  4. […] need them in the first place. Terrain, season, and size all come into play. Daniel Galhardo expounds on the issue on Tenkara […]

  5. […] need them in the first place. Terrain, season, and size all come into play. Daniel Galhardo expounds on the issue on Tenkara […]

  6. Bill says:

    “posing with a pair of torn-up jeans and sneakers.” Posing is the operative word. Wet jeans suck to hike or wade in

    • Bill, completely agree they do. If that picture was not taken right outside a bar in Italy by someone who was not hiking or fishing that day but just became curious enough to approach us and try tenkara, I’d agree with the posing comment too.

  7. Mike Hogue says:

    Deer Ticks, Neetles, Poison Ivy are some of the wonderful things I experience. Frankly, I don’t want lyme disease which is very easy to catch off of ticks in the Northeast. Poison Ivy is another joy.

    I’ve also had barbed wire, corn head tines from a corn head, bottles, glass, cans and assorted junk from floods in streams. I once collected a full set of ball from every major sport in one stream, same day, same place. Another time I found a boat dock, part of a boat and another time I found a car’s transmission in…. trout streams.

    How about cow poop? Horse poop, dead deer, dead other critters that carry e-colie and lots of other nasty bugs? Me, I’m keeping on my waders and I wear them ALL season.

    Last time I wet waded, I found half a dozen ticks stuff to me. Oh, yes, leeches are another joy…

  8. Losthackle says:

    Curiously, no-one has yet mentioned the New Zealand wet wading option: lightweight wool tights under shorts; wading boots (possibly with neoprene booties). The tights keep you warm while they dry out and protect you from some of those nasties. Looks weird, but works.

  9. Losthackle says:

    I’m pretty sure that it was a kiwi (New Zealander) invention. Before polypropelene/wool tights, the gentlemen wore ..um…ladies tights. So (we) Australians came up with a number of colourful names for the system, which are not suitable for a family blog (& frankly display the well known Australian homophobia).

    Of course, they don’t have snakes. Where I am at the moment, (Tasmania) we have the nasty (Australian) copperhead and the very nasty tiger snake. So I prefer to wear waders, which probably wouldn’t protect from a serious snake strike…but might just make skin penetration a little harder than tights.

    I suppose the kiwi system could be enhanced with snake proof gaiters …

  10. […] with my waders as they filled with water. In November, I wrote a post on whether to “wade up or not“,or when to wear waders. As I introduce many new people to fly-fishing, I think it is also my […]

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