Wade fishing is any any fishing when you get into the water itself rather than standing on the shore of the lake, river or beach.
The reason we wade is to reach more fish – fish that might be out of range if we were to cast purely from the shore.
Wade fishing gives us some of the advantages of having a boat or a kayak without the downsides (having to launch it, cost etcetera).
Wade fishing gets us closer to the water and makes us more attuned to fish that might be moving around.
Pros and Cons of Wade Fishing
- Reach more fish
- Able observe fish and structure more closely (especially if sight fishing)
- Able to approach fish in a stealthy way and get better hook up rates
- You need to have the right gear to avoid cold and hazards
- You can spook more fish than fishing from the shore
- Higher chance of getting wet even with waders
Wade fishing situations
Some of the classic situations where wade fishing is effective are:
- Trout fishing on freestone rivers, streams or tailwaters – these are classic waters where wading enables you to reach spots where fish are holding and present the lure of fly the right way
- Fishing shallow bays in lakes – wading is very effective in lakes as you can position yourself the right way respective to the wind and sunlight direction for the best sight fishing opportunities
- Fishing the flats in the salt – this is another classic wading scenario where you are walking the flats looking for fish to cast to get the fly or lure in front of a hungry bonefish, permit or other species
- Surf fishing – anglers fishing from the beach need to throw out long casts (hence the powerful surf fishing rods they use). To assist with that, it is often necessary to wade out at least into the chop to get out far enough to find fish. Waders are great for saltwater wade fishing without discomfort in cooler areas.
Wade fishing gear:
Warm water/flats: saltwater wade fishing
No waders required, but reef shoes are a necessity where there are sharp objects in the water – whether that is rocks, debris, glass or even razor clams.
Other than that, shorts are usually fine for wading in these conditions as the water is very warm.
Fishing from the beach involves long periods of standing immersed in water that can be fairly cold. A good pair of chest waders and wading fishing boots helps keep your warm and safe in this environment. In really cold water, neoprene waders are great (see our best surf fishing waders reviews).
Trout streams and lakes/cold water
Wade fishing is almost mandatory in these environments, particularly for fly fishers. If you don’t get out into the stream you won’t reach the fish and even if you can, you won’t make the required presentation to fool them and you won’t be catching fish.
To wade fish in these situations you need wading boots as a bare minimum. These are heavy duty, durable boots designed to maximise your grip and stability on slippery rocks and other types of bottom. (See here and here for our favourite wading boots).
In moderate water temperatures, you can “wet wade” either in shorts or with a good pair of thermals as a bit of protection from the cold. Wet wading simply means fishing without waders.
For cooler conditions, in both saltwater and freshwater, you need waders. Most of the time the best choice are breathable Gore-Tex or Toray waders (except in extreme cold where neoprene waders are the best choice).
Good breathable waders will keep you warm enough when you in the water without overheating you when you are out of the water walking between spots.
The variance in temperature when you are – say – fishing on a hot day in the cool waters of the tailrace is huge so these waders need to offer high performance (see our choice of the best waders here).
We prefer stockingfoot models where you wear the boots on top as the boots tend to wear out quicker than the waders and they offer more flexibility.
Other wade fishing gear: Wading staff
While not strictly necessary, a wading staff is sometimes a useful aid. Crossing rocky rivers with slippery boulders while fly fishing is challenging, particularly in periods of high flow.
In these situations a wading staff can help give you another point of contact with the bottom to help your stability.
There are good wading staff designs that are collapsible and come with either rubber or carbide tips for best hold on the bottom.
Wading Safety: Important Wade Fishing Tips
Drowning is the second biggest cause of accidental death in the US and each year a portion of those deaths are people wading.
Wading is obviously hazardous for people who aren’t strong swimmers and should be avoided by anglers that fall into this category.
But even fishermen and women who can swim well can find themselves getting into trouble while wade fishing.
Most often this is as a result of their waders filling with water. The weight of the water-filled waders then anchors them to the river of lake floor making escape difficult.
This can happen easily with hip waders, which are very prone to filling with water when an angler creeps out that little bit deeper to try to catch fish or reach a likely spot. For this reason, we don’t recommend using hip waders. Chest waders are far safer.
Wader Safety Belt
While it is harder for those wade fishermen and women in chest waders to get into trouble, it does happen. An impromptu fall in the river or lake, or from a boat or pier, can easily see an angler in trouble with water pouring into their waders.
The key to preventing death or injury in that situation is wearing a wading belt and this is one of our top wade fishing tips. A wading belt cinches above your hips and ensures that if you do fall, water can’t rush into the legs of the waders immobilizing you. You’ll still have water to deal with in the chest region, but this is more of a nuisance than a health hazard.
We always wear a wading belt – it is a vital bit of wade fishing gear – and ensure it is done up for all river crossings, fishing a deep hole or pool and any time we wade fish in waist deep water or hazardous areas.
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