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THE LOST ART OF WADING

A wading trip on the Flint River produced this nice shoal bass. The Flint provides wonderful wading opportunities as do most small to mid-sized rivers and streams.

    When was the last time you turned on the television and saw Roland Martin, Bill Dance, or Jimmy Houston wading? My point is that the fishing public generally equates wading with trout fishing almost exclusively. Warm-water fishing is done from boats, preferably boats with glitter finishes and 200 horses in the back.     

    Successful anglers who prefer moving water realize that wading can be the most effective way to catch fish, particularly on small to mid-size rivers and streams. Wading offers numerous advantages, the first being the ability to work promising water thoroughly and from a variety of angles. Casting is also generally much easier when standing in a stream than from a moving boat, and during the dog days of summer, wading provides a welcome respite from the heat. The purpose of this article is to provide information on wading comfortably, safely, and effectively.

WADING TOOLS

    While boat fishermen get around via motor, oar, or paddle, waders  are foot-propelled. Other than a rod and reel, footwear should be the wader's primary consideration. Most of the time, an old pair of tennis shoes fits the bill nicely, as do the waterproof sandals made by companies like Teva. Some waters, particularly those above the fall line, contain large rocks and boulders that are often extremely slick, often resulting in mashed toes (for those wearing open-toed sandals) and other assorted river wounds. For these situations, felt or spike-soled wading boots or shoes work nicely, providing traction, toe protection, and good ankle support. Some anglers also swear by neoprene socks, which make wading boots fit better, particularly when wading wet (without waders).

 

    In Georgia, wet wading is the most comfortable way to fish during most of the best fishing months, but waders often come in handy during early spring, late fall, and those cool mornings when we aren't quite as macho as we will be by noon. Unless you absolutely have to wade in January, breathable waders are the logical choice for southern wade fishermen. Neoprene waders are just too hot most of the year. During the warmer months, convertible pants (the kind with zip-off legs) are great, and those made of nylon or similar materials dry off in a hurry.

Wading is a great way to beat the heat! Catching a four pound bass in the process doesn't hurt either.

    As for the rest of the outfit, most anglers prefer dark, natural-colored shirts, especially in clear water situations. A hat of some type helps reduce glare (and sunburn) as do polarized sunglasses. I like straw hats because they are cooler, keep the sun off my ears, and make me appear wiser than I am. Hats can also serve as a makeshift tackle box- just stick a couple lures underneath (and be careful). Some fishermen prefer to keep tackle in fishing vests or fanny packs- whatever works. I use an old, small worm binder (Tacklelogic I think) with a strap made of old rope. One indispensable wading tool is a pair of locking forceps that can be used to remove stubborn hooks and as scissors for cutting line. Simply lock them to your belt and now you're ready to catch some fish!

HOW TO WADE AND CATCH FISH

    Okay, so you're dressed comfortably and you've come upon a promising stretch of water. Now what? The basic rules of river fishing still apply (see "Fishing in Current" article for more details). Most fish are still going to face into the current, hide behind something that blocks the current, and either hold in or have access to relatively deep water. Creek mouths, bends, eddies, woods, weeds, and rocks are great places to catch fish whether your wading or sitting in a boat. Once you've found an area you think holds fish, here are some things to consider to help you catch fish.

    When wading, it is generally best to begin fishing the downstream area, then work upstream. There are a few reasons for this. First of all, most fish will be facing upstream waiting for food to be washed down to them. Casting upstream allows your lure or bait to arrive at the fish the same way most of their meals do, plus the fish are less likely to be aware of your presence if you sneak up behind them. Even the most careful wader kicks up a good bit of sand and mud, and this alerts the fish downstream of your presence. Situations often occur where it is necessary to wade through the best stretch of water in order to get in a position to fish upstream. In these instances, try to walk the bank downstream to the spot you plan to fish or pick the least fishy looking sections of the stream to wade through. Pick your path carefully and try not to wade through the best water. If the only path is through the best looking pool, then wade quickly through it and wait 10 or 15 minutes before you try to fish it.

    Most any lure that works well in a boat will work while on foot, but certain lures work better in specific situations. Lures that are bounced or crawled along the bottom, like worms or jigs, work best when fished directly upstream and are allowed to tumble downstream with the current while maintaining contact with the bottom. Most other lures, like crankbaits, topwaters, and spinners, are most effective when cast upstream and across the current. This allows the spinners to spin and the wobblers to wobble much better than if fished directly upstream. Try and place your casts where the lure or bait will pass through likely fish-holding areas. Subsurface lures are tough to keep deep when reeled against the stream's flow, and the current often forces crankbaits and diving lures too deep, leading to snags. In the event that you have to fish in the downstream direction, try and wade through the least productive water and fish upstream or across the current.

    Fish are easiest to catch when they don't know you're trying to catch them, so stealth is a crucial aspect of successful wading. The importance of fishing upstream has already been mentioned, which allows the angler to sneak up behind the fish. When approaching a good-looking spot, it is important to maintain a low profile and make as little noise and disturbance as possible. I would much rather fish from waist deep water than from atop a rock directly above the pool I am trying to work simply because I am far less visible to the fish. Keep an eye on where your shadow falls, too, particularly early and late in the day when shadows are longer. Longer casts can help also, especially in clear water. While accuracy can suffer a little, the odds of catching a fish are far better on an errant cast from afar than on a perfect cast to a spooked fish. 

    Perhaps the best advantage waders have over boat fishermen is the ability to cast repeatedly to the same spot with very little effort. On float trips, sometimes you can only make a couple casts to a spot before you've passed it. Good waders take advantage of their relative lack of mobility by fishing the water thoroughly. It is not unusual for me to make thirty or more casts to the same pool, often using two or three different lures. Sometimes the fish want their dinner presented at a slightly different angle, which can be accomplished by moving a few feet either direction. Wade-fishermen can't cover ten miles in a day, but they can cover every inch of prime water thoroughly, a lesson a lot of us have learned by trout fishing. One effective technique is to fish a quick-moving topwater, spinnerbait, or crankbait while wading downstream and use a worm or jig while working back upstream. This allows the angler to fish every hole twice using different techniques and hitting different levels of the water column. Some anglers like to fish for bream on the way down and bass fish on the way back up or vice versa. The key is to get the most out of the limited water that can be waded in a day.

WADING SAFETY

    No fish is worth dying for. If that good-looking pool requires a wade across cold, fast, water flowing over a slick bottom that may or may not top your waders, just fish somewhere else. While serious wading accidents are extremely rare, they do happen occasionally, and almost all can be avoided with a healthy dose of common sense. Simply avoid wading in places that can get you into trouble.

    It's always a good idea to take a partner whenever you're out in the woods or on the water, and wade-fishing is no exception. Having a companion along offers immediate help should trouble arise. Some fishermen (myself included) prefer wading alone, and there is nothing wrong with this as long as you let someone know exactly where you are and what time to expect you home. These are simply common sense precautions any outdoorsman should take.

    The key to a safe wading trip is staying warm and upright. We've already mentioned waders and footwear, but there are a few other rules to follow to make sure you return home in one piece. Obviously, avoiding deep, swift water is very important, but occasionally, quick water will have to be crossed. When wading in swift current, it is best to walk sideways to the current, thus reducing the area of your body that receives the full force of the current. Many anglers use commercial wading staffs or simply carry a stick to feel the bottom and use for extra support. When wading shoals, try and cross along the lip, which is often swift but also shallow. Try and use mossy rocks or sandy areas for footing- they are normally far less slippery than bare rocks. In some rivers, all the rocks seem slick, and the experience can be far more like surfing than fishing. In this situation, try to stay in water at least knee deep so as to minimize the height (and the damage) of the spills that will inevitably occur.

    In the event that you do get swept off your feet, the most important thing is not to panic. 99% of the time, you can simply stand up and resume fishing. If you get swept into deep, swift water just relax and try and lift your feet up and point them downstream so they won't get hung up on the bottom. Simply enjoy the ride until the current slows or until you reach shallow water. Most waders are neutrally buoyant, so even if they fill up with water, they won't pull you under unless you are fighting the current. If you are wearing waders and feel like you must get out of them or else wind up in the Gulf of Mexico, simply kick off your wading boots and pull the waders off. 

    Another good idea for wade-fishermen or anybody else that spends time outside is to carry a small first aid or snakebite kit. I usually keep one in the truck just in case. A company called Blakemore makes a rod floater, which is simply a tube that wraps around your fishing rod so it will float in case you happen to set it free. This should go without saying, but weak swimmers should always wear a life vest when anywhere near the water.

    Hopefully, all these safety precautions and self-rescue tips haven't scared you off from wading, because the odds of hurting youself seriously wading are about as good as winning the Big Game lotto. Wading is one of the best methods of fishing small and midsize streams and a very refreshing way to kill a hot day. When you wade, you can stay as long as you want or leave in an hour if the fish aren't cooperating. Just use some common sense, dress comfortably, and fish with intelligence and the fish will almost always reward you.

This is cheating! Tom Crum of Athens sent us this picture. Tom uses his dog Eyrie to caddy around his tackle, drinks, and snacks. I didn't ask Tom whether or not he rents Eyrie out! 

 

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