We like to say that all you need to fly fish is a rod, line and fly. And, to a large extent that is very true. That really is all you need.
But what about the other stuff that will make things more comfortable, more accessible, or more effective? Like waders, for example?
Should you wear waders?
We can tell you that you do not need to wear waders to fish. In fact, leaving the waders behind and going in with whatever one is wearing, or trying to stay out of the water a bit more, can be great way to reduce the load. Like the reduction in gear brought about by tenkara, leaving the waders behind can feel liberating. However, waders can open up water that is difficult to fish without waders. On a long day out they can provide a lot of comfort, and depending on the weather and terrain they may be a necessary thing to avoid coming close to hypothermia.
If you’re just getting into the world of fly-fishing and contemplating whether you should invest the money for a pair of waders (as low as $50 for cheap hip waders, or $600 for a good pair of waders and wading boots), here are a few considerations I usually keep in mind.
The first thing that comes to my mind when deciding whether to wear waders or not is my intent for the day. Am I going mushroom hunting or backpacking and fishing on the side if I find a good pocket? Or, is fishing the primary reason I’m going out? If my primary intent is to fish, I’ll wear waders. Even if I have a side of me that really likes to rough it, I also like to be comfortable when I can. If I’ll be spending a lot of time in the water, and I want to focus on fishing waders will make me comfortable and will open up a lot of new water. Plus, I admit I’m not crazy about getting my undies wet if I have to cross a deep pool, even if it is hot out there.
But, if the focus is on other activities and tenkara is the secondary goal, then I often leave the waders behind. Nothing says “simple fly-fishing” and “I’m just that cool”, like posing with a pair of torn-up jeans and sneakers.
Seasons and Weather
Winter is fast approaching. Those of you who are going fishing right now are noticing the water and air temperatures dropping. If you plan on fishing during the winter, then waders are a must. I have fished in the winter time wearing my skiing clothes when my primary intent was backcountry skiing. But, when you spend enough time near the water, you’re bound to get wet. And, getting wet when it is freezing out there not only feels “uncomfortable”, but can be outright dangerous with hypothermia a real possibility. So, wear waders and warm socks, and another pair of warm socks, and warm underwear…
If it is summer and it is warm out, not wearing waders is a good way to go. If the weather is hot and you are not going to be in the water for most of the time, then no matter how breathable your waders are they will feel very hot. In that case, think about intent and terrain. You can go either way in the summer. Some opt to wear wading boots with some neoprene socks and “wet-wade” when the main intent is fishing. This past summer I worn some fast-drying shoes fairly often when going hiking and fishing on the side. Your choice.
And, of course, if it is really really hot out, swimming-wear may be the way to go (bonus: without a reel you can fish at the same time you swim!).
Terrain also comes into play on making the decision. In most streams you can fish from the shore, or fish well by hopping rocks. In lakes you can certainly fish from the shore.
But, some streams seem to call for waders. In particular, I like to wear waders in three types of places:
Streams that have a lot of trees and brush on the shores but a relatively open canopy in the middle. In these waters, which I admit may be a lot of waters, wearing waders allows you to fish in the middle of the stream and casting mostly upstream. By being in the water you can more easily avoid getting caught on trees behind you.
Larger rivers that have fewer features (e.g. boulders). Wearing waders will allow you get a little closer to the parts of the river you think the fish will be. Of course, you can fish from the shore very effectively in many parts of these rivers. But, once in a while you’ll come across a bend on the river where the riverbed is very shallow close to you, but there is a great looking whirlpool or something on the other side. Wading closer may mean getting your pants and underwear wet, waders will keep that from happening.
Canyons. If I’m fishing a relatively steep canyon I may end up being in the water a lot. And, sometimes I’ll be forced to cross the stream many times as large obstacles keep me from staying the course. So, waders will be a good thing to wear.
Though, of course, if the canyons are steep enough I may just opt for a full wetsuit.