Wading safely for fly fishers
- essential equipment

Fishing instructor, fly fishing tuition and fishing trips based in Scotland. Salmon and trout fishing advice, flies and articles.

Safety for fly fishing advice on wading, waders, life jackets, wading staffs and survival

waders with a belt
Wearing a belt with waders

Safety for fly fishing advice on wading, waders, life jackets, wading staffs and survival. All anglers should be conscious of water levels. Some fishing spots are tidal; some have water levels artificially controlled and all rivers are subject to natural flow variations. Changes in water level are very important for fishing opportunities and for the wading angler failing to observe or to know the consequences of rising water may well lead to a disaster. For that reason experienced anglers keep their eye on the waters edge and on any markers such as prominent stones or height gauges that might indicate whether the river is falling or rising. You can easily make your own marker by pushing a stick into the bank at the water’s edge and keeping an eye on it. Rising water in undisturbed puddles by the side of the river causes a curious bulge in the miscus as it engulfs dry stones and this is often the earliest sign of rising water for the observant angler.

There are various arguments about the wisdom or otherwise of wearing a belt with waders in case you become immersed. Some argue that because the belt will trap air inside your wader legs (not that there is much of it because it is squeezed out when you wade), others say that it helps to prevent your legs becoming waterlogged by restricting the inrush of water. My reason for wearing a belt is one of comfort, either you find it more comfortable to have one or not. Belts are handy for attaching a wading staff and I don’t think that a belt will either cause you to drown or save you should you fall in, that is why we have life jackets. There are two types of life jackets, those that are permanently in a floatation state and those that must first be inflated and this is usually done automatically when the jacket is immersed, but manually operated versions are available. The permanent type is very bulky and restrictive and therefore is seldom worn by anglers unless they are in boats. Life jackets sold in UK must be

life jacket
Life jacket

CE approved and they must when inflated keep an unconscious person’s head in breathing position clear of the water. Buoyancy aids are a poor substitute for a life jacket so if you are concerned about survival make sure that you buy the best. Life jackets are sometimes incorporated in wading jackets or they can be provided as separate items and worn at anytime. It is wise carry a spare gas container for inflatable jackets just in case you have to use it and cannot conveniently obtain another whilst on a fishing trip. Wading staffs come in a variety of types from home made sticks of hazel or blackthorn to sophisticated folding metal ones. Wooden staffs are usually weighted at the bottom end to prevent them floating and becoming a nuisance tangling up with the line. If you decide to make your own staff, it is best to ensure that whatever you put at the bottom to weigh it down does not increase the diameter because it is sure to lodge in stones. It is normal to attach the staff to yourself to prevent it being swept away and the best method I have found is to use an elastic lanyard attached to my belt and then into the top of the staff to minimise opportunity for the line to get around it when casting. The last thing that I would ever wish to do is to attach a staff by a cord that was anywhere near my neck. Having a quick means of releasing a staff is also a good idea.

Survival. If despite of the foregoing you are unfortunate enough to fall in there are some basic rules that are helpful. First keep your wits about you and do not panic, swim on your back and if you are being swept downstream aim to travel feet first to prevent damage to your head. Kick with your feet to stay on the surface, if are wearing a life jacket you should be safe from drowning anyway. Get rid of your wading staff in case it snags. Choose a route to get into shallow water, swimming at right angles to the current will get you there quickest. Swim ashore until the water is too shallow to swim before trying to get to your feet. Crawling out on all fours is probably the safest way to get ashore. Once safely on dry land you are likely to be cold and shocked, you will need to get warm and dry as quickly as possible and for that reason it is always sensible to have some warm dry clothing in your car. Lightweight survival bags cost very little take up practically no space and are a very worthwhile addition to a first aid kit because they will maintain your body heat. Tread carefully - wade safely its better to stay out of trouble than to escape!

Wading Part 1

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Copyright 2007 Alastair Gowans AAPGAI and FFF Master and THCI, APGAI. All rights reserved.