Waders are one of those taken for grant articles of clothing we use and to be honest, rarely if ever do we think about them. A friend of mine who is relatively new to fishing, in general, mentioned he needs to get waders. “What’s your recommendation,” he asked and jokingly said, “I want a pair of waders that can make me a better fisherman”. Wow, what an interesting thought.
Can waders make you a better fisherman? The benefit of waders is their ability to keep you dry, keep you comfortable and that in turn keeps you on or in the water longer. More fishing time will make you a better fisherman.
This question begged me to take a deeper look into waders. When I started out fishing as a kid it was in a pair of sneakers and by the end of the day, wet soaked jeans made the walk home pretty miserable. I remember getting my first pair of hip boots and back in those days hip boots were the thing. So what was the benefit of having hip boots and eventually waders? The obvious answer is comfort, but the unobvious answer may surprise you.
What Are Waders?
When I think back over the progression of my footwear on a trout stream, it’s like waders were the end result of a boot that kept growing up my leg and eventually to my chest. Each extension up the leg gave me a bit more freedom to wade in deeper water to fish.
Wikipedia describes waders this way: ” Waders denote a waterproof boot extending from the foot to the thigh, the chest or the neck”. “Waders” refer to a boot of varying height and defined by the extent of their coverage as “thigh waders”, “chest waders” and even “full-body waders”.
Typically when we use the term “waders” were talking about chest waders. Chest waders are worn over your clothes to let you wade deeper into the water without getting your clothes or you wet. Waders come with either a boot attached or no boot attached – stocking foot. Both keep you dry and it’s a matter of choice and purpose as to which you choose. Some guys like having a boot other don’t.
I prefer stocking foot waders because I like the flexibility to use whatever footwear I want. Also, I like to travel light and often I buy canvas shoes and wear those with my waders. I have tried a lot of different shoes over the years using everything from water shoes to shoes worn in restaurant kitchens. All have worked out well but the simple canvas shoes seem to be the most comfortable for me.
How Can Waders Make You a Better Fly Fisherman?
Being able to place yourself in the right location for the best presentation is a key element to fly fishing or any fishing for that matter. Wading provides a great opportunity to take advantage of a certain situation where being in the water is the best option. (Learn How to Read a Trout Stream to Catch More Trout)
Sometimes wading out towards the middle of the stream is helpful and other times simply being able to kneel in a few inches of water is the ticket. Waders offer us the chance to be in or out of the water as we please. When nymph fishing, for example, stealthily wading let’s you present to trout with straight upstream casts and gain an advantage over the trout who are facing upstream.
Additionally, crisscrossing a stream to take advantage of currents or sneak up on pools from differing angles is the flexibility waders provide. As a creek meanders the curves and bends of the stream often provide pockets where trout lie and being able to cross a stream and back again to present to these pockets from just the right location is a key factor. Imagine how limited you are when you can only fish from the bank.
It’s All About Comfort
When you really get down to it what we are talking about is being comfortable while we are fishing. Staying dry and clean are the two biggest factors that a good pair of waders provide. Waders are more like a cover we put over our clothes to shield us from the water and mud. The trick is finding a wader that is light, comfortable, but durable.
Breathable waders are perfect for achieving this goal. In fact, all of my hunting clothes are made from breathable materials as well. As we move around our body generates heat. If we overheat our bodies sweat to help us cool down. Certain clothing materials, like cotton, absorb and hold moisture. This is more crucial in the colder months because this moisture tramped in the material cools. It doesn’t take long before you get cold. But venting body heat through the materials helps reduce that moisture which helps keep you dry and “dry” is warmth.
Breathable waders are made from thin, waterproof, heat-wicking, materials. They are perfect for both summer and winter. In winter you can layer up underneath while in summer a tee shirt and shorts are all you need underneath. Again, if you are comfortable, you’ll probably fish longer.
An Evolution in Wader Materials
When you’re an older guy like me, you remember a lot of “the way it was” and as a younger person it’s good to know some history to help understand how things evolved. An example of what I mean relating to waders is what we use to use and how wader technology can make you a better fisherman. Things sure have changed.
Rubber was the thing once and a few guys I knew wore rubber waders. They were tough, relatively inexpensive, and easy to patch when a hole got in them. In fact, you could buy a simple inter tube repair patch kit used for bicycle tires and fix your waders. But the downside of the rubber wader was they were heavy, bulky, stiff, and hot. On warm days you would sweat up a storm in those things and walking any distance was a real chore.
Canvas waders seemed to be another wader alternative. I don’t remember if they came later or not to the rubber waders, but I do remember one of the guys having a pair. They were like the rubber ones, tough and generally lasted longer. But again, they were stiff, warm and a bit heavier. These canvas waders did have their place in brushy areas because of their durability and were used quite a bit by duck hunters.
Then along came neoprene. These were the ticket and are still popular today. They are basically like having a wet suit and made of the same materials. The thicker the neoprene the warmer they are in general. They can be repaired easily too with patches, Aqua seal or other leak stopping products. But again, they get hot in the warmer months and aren’t easy to get on or off. I used them for a long time until I discovered the breathable waders I currently use.
Gore-Tex revolutionized the sporting world when they introduced breathable materials to the market place. Both the hunting and fishing world benefited greatly by the introduction of breathable materials. Going back to our original question “can waders make you a better fisherman?” the answer is, absolutely!
As far as waders, the biggest advantage of breathable waders is comfort. They are so lightweight you really don’t know you have them on. Body heat can escape through the material as your body regulates heat, thus the meaning, “breathable”. They are a year-round item in that you can dress warmer, adding base layering to your clothing and wearing them inside your waders during winter. In the summer months dress as light as you want too. Best of all, they are easy to get on and off. This may be one of the best features of these waders.
The Key to All Of This is Comfort
When you are comfortable you’ll fish longer and more often. Being able to move in and out of the water giving it no mind is an asset to trout fishing and one we eventually take for granted. I often fish kneeling on my hunches in order to be more stealthy on some of the small streams we have here in Pennsylvania. Breathable waders, because they are so light and flexible, helps make this easier.
Lastly, breathable waders pack away taking up very little room. I like having my fishing gear with me all the time and the ability to store my gear in the truck where it doesn’t take up a lot of room is a plus. Can waders make you a better fisherman? They can if they are always available and that’s why I keep them in the truck. I can’t tell you the number of times when driving down the road and seeing a stream I’ve convinced myself I have a few minutes to spare. Getting into the waders is quick and I waste no time getting them on and getting into the creek.
Waders Offer Some Protection
Stream fishing requires us to walk to the stream and many times this means along paths cut through the woods, brush, and fields. Most of these aren’t anything more than a deer path so ducking under limbs and plowing through sticker bushes is pretty common.
Waders will offer some protection from these environmental hazards too. We already mentioned the cold, but they also protect us from insect bites and minor abrasions. Poison Ivy & Poison Oak for some of us are a real danger. Contact with the oils from these plants is what causes the allergic reaction some of us suffer from. Waders are a barrier between us and the plant and can reduce our risk of getting the oil on our skin.
Although here in Pennsylvania, generally, we don’t have to worry about snakes, we do have snakes. In the more mountainous regions, Timber Rattlers and Copperheads exist along with non-poisonous water snakes. Waders may not prevent a snake’s bite from penetrating their materials but certainly can help deflect a glancing blow. Either way, it’s better than bare skin that’s for sure. But a snake can bite through your waders so be careful and don’t think they are a snake bite proof material, they aren’t.
Things to Keep in Mind When Owning Waders
If waders are going to leak they will do so at the seams. One of the reasons some of the waders are so expensive is due to the construction of the seams. For example “welded” seams are more expensive than double-tapered seams and are designed to be more durable and leak-proof. Additionally, radial seams are more comfortable and less prone to wear-causing leaks as opposed to straight seams that go up the back of the leg.
When purchasing stocking foot waders get a pair that have or come with gravel guards. These guards go over your shoe to help prevent gravel from getting down into the shoe. A small little sharp stone caught in between your shoe and the wader can cut the material and cause a leak.
For safety reasons, good waders come with a waist belt. I highly recommend using it. In the event, you should fall while wading, the belt will help reduce the amount of water that gets inside the waders. Many fatalities occur because water fills the waders.
Waders have a life span. They will eventually leak from a puncture or wear and tear. Waders aren’t cheap and when considering their purchase be realistic about how you use your waders. Sure it might be great to own an $800 or $1000 pair of waders and if your budget allows for that, don’t let me stop you. But for most of us spending 2-3 hundred bucks is painful, especially on an item you know you’ll replace in a few years. I fish year-round and spend a great deal of time on the water so my waders do take a beating. I get about four years on average for waders in the 2-4 hundred dollar range.
There is no question that waders can make you a better fisherman. The main reason is comfort. Being able to stay dry and clean regardless of the time of year is a huge asset. Spring and fall are times of the year when weather changes are constant and cold mornings give way to warm afternoons. As your body adjusts by giving off more heat the venting capability of breathable waders adjust to the change automatically without you having to give them a thought. Thereby keeping you out on the water longer.
The second reason is versatility. Versatility is the ability to step in and out of the water, cross creeks, wade to a specific spot, or kneel in the water to keep a low profile while not worrying about getting wet. Sitting on a sandy or muddy creek bank to watch the water or to change a tippet is commonplace. Underneath the waders, you’re dry and clean. Because breathable waders are so comfortable and lightweight there isn’t any reason to get out of them to have lunch or to drive to another spot. When you finally finish fishing for the day, the waders easily come off and tuck away neatly in whatever is your storage compartment may be.
I have no idea what new technologies await us in the future, some will be good others not so good. Whatever replaces breathable waders will be amazing. There is no question in my mind whatever it is, they will help make us better fishermen as long as they can keep us on the water longer. Fish on!
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What are the best waders for cold water?
Neoprene waders may be the best waders for cold water because they are well-insulated and hold heat better than breathable waders. Neoprene waders come in various thicknesses which gives you good options for choosing the best waders for the expected temperatures.
Do you need waders for Fly fishing?
If you are fishing off a dock, out of a boat, then obviously you may not need to be wearing waders. In summer many anglers enjoy wading in shorts and sneakers. The “need” for waders is dependent upon your personal choice, fishing style, and location.