Selecting Waders

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Trout fishing always involves cold water. Unlike fishing for smallmouth bass when wet wading is the popular summer choice, trout thrive in frigid water with the optimum temperature ranging from 56° to 61°. In fact, most experts agree once the water temperature rises to a still chilly 70°, trout become stressed and should be left alone. Whether the water is 56° or 70°, it’s still cold, and anglers require a good, comfortable set of waders to enjoy a day on the stream.

New fly anglers have many choices since manufacturers produce waders from rubber, canvas, PVC coated nylon, neoprene and breathable material. Of these, most trout anglers use neoprene or breathable. Rubber, canvas, and PVC coated nylon are durable, but also stiff, horribly hot and damp as the sweat from normal streamside exertion turn them into a mobile steam bath.

Sadly, neoprene waders are made of wetsuit material and, while being warm and flexible, suffer the same heat and sweat buildup issues associated with rubber and canvas. Also, neoprene waders may present a safety problem as their natural buoyancy reduces traction on the streambed when wading in deeper water, making it easier for the current to grab and push you off balance. Given those issues, breathable waders are the logical choice for safety and comfort with the flexibility to add base layers for warmth. Since you can sometimes purchase breathable waders on sale for as little as $50, the cost is not a barrier. To pick the right set, pay attention to style, size, safety, and type.

Style: Waders come in hip, waist or chest styles. In my opinion, leave hip waders on the shelf. Given the crystal-clear nature of most trout streams, it is sometimes impossible to estimate depth, guaranteeing an unintentional step into a pool deeper than their low top. While the shock of cold water filling boots might be refreshing on a warm day, the lingering chill in the spring or fall may force a miserable hike back to the trailhead.

The additional height of waist waders provides more protection than hippers without adding the sometimes unwelcome extra warmth of chest waders. However, the possibility of water slopping over the waist-high top is real; especially after slipping on a slick rock and ending up on your backside in shallow water. Nix the waist wader option. All this leads to chest waders as the best choice. They offer the maximum protection and warmth with the additional advantage of being quickly converted into waist waders during warm weather by merely rolling the top down, collecting material at waist level and locking it in place using the wading belt. Look for a model with gravel guards to prevent sand from getting into your boots, a pocket at the top and reinforced knees and seat.

Style: Waders come in hip, waist or chest styles. In my opinion, leave hip waders on the shelf. Given the crystal-clear nature of most trout streams, it is sometimes impossible to estimate depth, guaranteeing an unintentional step into a pool deeper than their low top. While the shock of cold water filling boots might be refreshing on a warm day, the lingering chill in the spring or fall may force a miserable hike back to the trailhead.

The additional height of waist waders provides more protection than hippers without adding the sometimes unwelcome extra warmth of chest waders. However, the possibility of water slopping over the waist-high top is real; especially after slipping on a slick rock and ending up on your backside in shallow water. Nix the waist wader option. All this leads to chest waders as the best choice. They offer the maximum protection and warmth with the additional advantage of being quickly converted into waist waders during warm weather by merely rolling the top down, collecting material at waist level and locking it in place using the wading belt. Look for a model with gravel guards to prevent sand from getting into your boots, a pocket at the top and reinforced knees and seat.

Size: I was at the Bass Pro Shop at Arundel Mills in Maryland and overheard a woman jokingly ask her male companion if the waders she was trying on made her look fat. Without missing a beat, he answered: “Anything you wear makes other women jealous.” While that is a great answer, waders will and should make you look fat. Select a size large enough to be loose and comfortable over any clothing used fishing across all seasons. If fishing in a cold place, you may need to get a larger pair to deal with heavy outer garments. One trick to light while increasing warmth is to put a “hothands” chemical warmer in a pocket next to the heart to allow the blood to pick up and circulate the heat.

Safety: Most waders come with a wading belt intended to cinch the garment closed at the waist. The belt should have no stretch and hold firmly. Wear the belt since it helps prevent water intrusion when (not if) you slip and fall. In fact, the best practice is to wear two wading belts; one at the waist and another at the chest for maximum protection. Buy the additional belt; they only cost around $10. Every angler should read the wading safety article on the Fly Fisherman website (tinyurl.com/wading-safety1) and watch the excellent series of videos produced by SIMMS (tinyurl.com/wading-safety-video). Even with two belts, do not wade in swift water. While each angler must assess a stream based on their unique physical ability, never wade in water exceeding the USGS guideline. Throw in a stick and estimate the number of feet it travels in one second. Multiply the distance times the depth. If the result is greater than 8, fish from the shore.

Type: Waders come in either stocking or bootfoot. The advantage of the bootfoot is it eliminates the cost of a boot. However, most do not have laces to adjust the fit, and the heavy boot is the same whether you are hiking the backcountry or fishing a stocked stream along the road.

With stockingfoot waders, the boot is an add-on; allowing you to select the right footwear for the terrain. Since the boot is not generic, it can fit properly, be light and double as a hiking boot for short treks into the backcountry. However, on a longer hike, use a real hiking boot and carry the waders and associated boots. Regardless of type, avoid felt soled boots to prevent the transportation of “rock snot” between streams.

As always, do the research to find the best match considering both when and where you fish. Look at the written online reviews and also check out YouTube for video reviews done by normal people for impartial perspectives like this assessment of the Frogg Toggs wader on the Adventure Outdoors channel (tinyurl.com/wader-review).

Breathable material is the best choice to avoid soaked clothing.
When selecting waders, consider all seasons
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