Wading for Smallmouth Bass
“When the angler wades he becomes a part of the stream and its life and the more he fishes a fine stretch of water the friendlier it becomes.” From "Practical Fly Fishing" by Larry St. John. Learn More
Wading is simple, practical and perhaps the most effective method of fishing many river fish.. It is a no-frills way of approaching fish and carefully searching stretches not practically covered in a watercraft. When wading, start by fishing across or quartering down river. Fish below you have the best chance of being spooked by you, your fly line, or other commotion as you stumble along.
Tactic: Try to fish work an area moving up river and as quietly as possible. Experimentation has shown while you can catch some fish moving down, you will do much better quietly working up river. Since fish face upriver, the potential for them to see and hear you is greater if you are moving at them. A quiet up river approach is the tactic for putting up better numbers. There are a few things to keep in mind when wading to make the experience safe and pleasurable.
Wader Choice Canvas, rubber, neoprene and the new Gore-Tex like fabric waders all keep you dry. Some are designed for specific situations.
Uninsulated - Canvas/Rubber
These typically come with boots attached. If you are on an extreme budget, canvas or rubber might work. Remember they are tough but retain heat when out of the water and get stuffy. If the boots are uninsulated you will get cold in chilly water over time. If you are doing a lot of walking between spots in moderate to warm air temperatures, these may get uncomfortable. They are also non-flexible, making you look like a seal trying to get out of the river onto the bank. Nonetheless, they are inexpensive and waterproof and will work.
Good waders commonly are reinforced where the most bending and flexing occurs to prevent cracks or abrasion points as the materials age. These occur at the knees and boot tops.
Uninsulated - New fabrics
The greatest advances in waders over the last six years is the new Gore-Tex or similar with a breathable coating which completely blocks the entry of water while allowing perspiration vapor to escape for airy dryness, even on the hottest days. On some the outer shell is made from rugged nylon for abrasion resistance and all seams are sealed for wearing longevity.
Key Issues for fabric waders:
- Outer shell must be abrasion resistant. The early designs were easily punctured or torn.
- All the better ones have attached gravel guards and are made from the same durable nylon as the outer shell for convenience and dependability.
- Double-layer knees guards really help maintain waterproof-ness and seriously considered in your choice. This is the most vulnerable area against excessive wear.
- Neoprene booties pad your feet and protect the wader material from abrasion. This is an important characteristic! Most designs use the same material throughout the wader, including the stocking foot. The neoprene is great for comfort. Should you pick up some pebbles the cushion will absorb the abrasion that might otherwise chew into another material causing a leak.
- Adjustable suspenders and an external accessory pocket with a Velcro closure are other items to consider.
The wader chosen for cold water relates to the type of fishing and water temperature. 5 mm Neoprene waders, with boot attached, are standard fare for cold weather wading. Conforming fit, solid durability and warmth without the high price of most other high-performance waders make these an easy choice. The prices have come down precipitously through the years and you can get a set of high quality (for hunting too), for just over $100.
Key Issues for neoprene waders:
- 5 mm for most cold water situations
- If used just for fishing, a felt bottom boot is available and should be considered since this helps a lot on slippery bottoms.
- Double-layer knees guards are an absolute to maintain waterproof-ness seriously considered in your choice. This is the most vulnerable area against excessive wear.
- Insure the boots are well insulated. Your feet will get cold if the boots are not properly insulated. Pay special attention to the insulation of the boot!
- An exterior chest pocket with Velcro closure is mandatory, especially when side slots (sometimes with fleece-type inners and handwarmer pouches) so to slide in your frozen hands.
Water pressure compresses every square inch and makes the comfort of the socks very noticeable and potentially irritating especially in the foot. Feet can feel the most pressure, so bunions or other foot problems require a good wading shoe and stocking foot waders.
I never thought wading sandals could possible work, but they do! I’ve even used them in salt water and they are great, especially when trying to keep your gear to a minimum. Yes, you will get some irritating materials between your foot sole and sandal. If you have very sensitive feet, use a boot. But if you can put up with a pebble from time to time, the pluses outweigh the minuses.
Belts and suspenders are a must with chest waders. Water must never get into a wader from the top. A chest belt must be pulled snug to prevent water from coming in for safety as well as comfort. Suspenders keep everything from falling down when shore-walking.
Moss and other slippery algae make slipping and sliding a challenge to stay upright, so the addition of a few things prevents spills. If you are at all concerned about wading try a walking stick. Three legs are better than one and it pays to use a pole or stick to navigate around obstructions and holes, An important note to the pole is to always add a two or three foot bungee cord and clip to avoid loss of the pole.
Felt Soles - You can buy boots with felt soles or do it yourself. Most of the time it makes a difference but at other times it seems to add instability. If you do it yourself, use a product called Barge Cement. This is better than the shoe goop in our opinion. With wader boots, you will want to grind off the ridges on the boot bottom - flat, to make for a better fit. (This is not advised if your going to hunt with them, if so, don’t use felt.)
How to Cement a Felt Sole to a Boot
- Apply Barge Cement to the bottom of the boot and one side of the felt.
- Let the glue get sticky, usually after about five minutes.
- Press the two interfaces together and clamp securely and evenly.
- Make sure the glue runs out the sides.
- Allow to air dry at room temperature for 24 - 36 hours.
Other Wading Tips
Vests can be worn to hold lures, snacks in waterproof containers, fishing licenses, and a host of other useful things. One very useful attachment is a rod holder Velcro loop in front of the chest, above the top pocket. It helps when carrying two rods, with one in one hand and the wading stick in another or when changing lures or unhooking flopping fish. Waders commonly also have them to allow a hand or hands to be free. The vest may be worn inside the waders or outside. It depends on how much access you need to the lower pockets and whether the items need to be kept dry.
If a small tackle box is toted, it pays to make sure it is watertight and that a strap and clip attaches it to your vest or waders. Again, the rod holder allows you to open the box and fumble around for tackle with two hands.
One most important rule of wading is to never wade in high, fast water alone. Some anglers wear CO2 inflatable, fishing-life vests for emergencies, but if one is careful and mindful of current and depth, the life vest isn’t necessary. Water temperature should always be approximated and respected as a life-threatening element. When unsure of the bottom try to shuffle or slide your feet for firm footings and to avoid knee knocks on rocks. Do this at all times to avoid spills!
Wading can get you to areas not accessible by boaters and to pools that few ever fish. With the right equipment and safety always in mind, wading can be the vehicle of choice to great fishing, it’s simple, easy, fun, and most importantly, you can catch a bunch of fish when really scouring the water.