Waiting for Wading – Top Tips for Effective Wading

Waiting for Wading – Top Tips for Effective Wading

If you look at pretty much any fly fishing picture, portrait, painting, graphic, or book cover, some dude is standing in the middle of a river with a rod in one hand and perhaps a net in the other.  He’s wading and it goes along with fly fishing just like peanut butter goes with jelly.  If you’re fly fishing, you’re also probably wading.  Even with most of our guide trips at Minturn Anglers, we assume that our clients are going to wade.  Even many of our float clients will wade depending on the stretch of river.  It’s just part of the deal.


In this article, we’re going to discuss wading generally, wading products, and then some tips and tricks for wading that might help you feel more comfortable and secure on the river.


There are really two types of wading; wet wading and . . . well . . . just wading I suppose.  We’ll call the latter dry wading for a moment.  Wet wading is just that.  Maybe you’re wearing some Chacos, some old sneakers, or your wading boots with neoprene wading socks.  Either way, your feet are getting wet and this is usually reserved for summer months here in Colorado unless you’re Tom Herbert, one of our guides who seems to feel no pain or cold in his lower extremities.


This is also really common in the southeast and Midwest when water temps can easily get into the seventies.  Often, one will wear shorts or quick dry pants; my favorite pants are the Simms Superlight Pants because they offer great sun protection but dry insanely fast.


“Dry Wading” or just “wading” makes me think of my boys who are 7 and 9.  Every time we go fly fishing, they are always amazed that they are standing in the water in their Simms and Redington gear, and yet their legs and feet are not wet.  When we wade, we generally wear waders that attempt to keep us dry, or so we hope.  The theory is to keep the water out with your legs and feet remaining dry.  I know this is very rudimentary, but this may be a new concept to some and that’s totally ok.



You really don’t need anything to go wading.  You can go barefoot in jeans if you REALLY want to.  I once made my father-in-law wear his hiking boots; long story.  Either way, there are a few items or accessories to think about if you’re going to wade fish, especially in the Mountain West like Colorado.


  1. WADERS – Waders are going to be part of your fly fishing apparel for almost anyone. These are quite literally pants that you wear over regular pants or shorts that keep the water out.  There are a few things I’d really encourage you to think about here.  First is that you’ll probably want “bib” or “overall” waders as opposed to the waders that only go up to your waist.  You won’t be wading up to your chest often, but the waist-high waders limit where you can go in the river.  Plus, the bibs are better for year-round.  Second, make sure you get waders with neoprene booties instead of boots; I’ll talk about this more below.  Third, get high-quality waders that breathe and are from a good manufacturer like Simms, Orvis, or Patagonia.  Sure, you can skimp and get cheap waders from a big box store, but when you’re right leg is wet 3 minutes into your first fishing day with those waders, you’ll wish you had done something different.  Ask me how I know!
  2. BOOTS – Your boots are what allow you to have contact with the river bottom, so they’re pretty darn important. It’s often tempting to get waders with boots attached, but leave those for the duck hunters.  These wader-boot combos will not only rub your shins raw, but again ask me how I know, they will leak at the seams, allow you to slide around, and just feel heavier.  Plus, when the boot wears out, you’re tossing the waders too.  Get a good pair of boots from a quality manufacturer.  Simms, Orvis, Patagonia, and Korkers all make great boots.  I personally prefer Korkers because you can replace the soles when they wear and you can have different soles for different fishing tasks.  I wear studded soles most of the time but switch them to rubber when I’m in a drift boat.  I generally prefer studs (aluminum or carbide) when I’m wading as they really grip the river bottoms well.  Also, stay away from the old-school canvas wading boots; they offer no support whatsoever.
  3. WADING SOCKS – You’re going to need a good pair of warm socks for the winter. You can definitely use some ski socks, but I like the thicker wool socks from Simms.  They’re a bit tighter and offer more cushion so they don’t slide around and are more comfortable.  There are also wet-wading socks that are designed to be worn inside your wet-wading neoprene booties.  These will make it so you don’t get blisters and are 100% worth it.
  4. WADING LINERS AND PANTS – Sure, you can wear jeans under your waders, but that’s just silly. Wear shorts or pants that are quick dry and hug your legs better.  Otherwise, they tend to bunch up.  Simms and Orvis both make great liners.  If you’re really tall like me, you’re only option is jogging sweats or liners from Eddie Bauer.  As far as shorts, Simms are my favorite.  They dry very quickly whether I fell in the river or I got sweaty.  Both will happen to you.
  5. WADING STAFF – I’m putting this in the accessories, but it’s definitely not necessary. Regardless, I think they’re important to consider.  You can use a long-handled net, some old ski or hiking poles, or a wading staff by Fishpond or Simms that are designed just for wading.  Giving you a third contact point with the river bottom is never bad, especially for those who are heavier, have bad knees, poor balance, or are pushing the latter years of life.  No judgment on any of those.



I’ve spent countless hours on the river wading and have been fishing rivers since I was 3 years old.  Here are some tips, in no particular order, that I’ve learned over the years from my own experience or from good friends.

  1. BUY QUALITY – This really matters and I’ve now mentioned it twice. Being uncomfortable while you’re fishing can ruin the day.  If your waders are leaking, your boots are too stiff, your boots have no support, your waders are too hot, or your waders weren’t fit to you correctly.  Going low quality usually means lower cost, but you’ll regret them pretty quickly.  If you’re worried that you may not like fly fishing and therefore don’t want to fully commit, you’ll get more of your money back out of name-brand quality fishing products than you will those off-brand big box store brands when you go to sell them.
  2. WADERS THEN BOOTS – This is a simple one, but I get asked about this pretty much every time I take new anglers out. You put your sock-covered feet down into the waters and into the neoprene booties.  Then you put your wading boots on over the neoprene booties of the waders.  I can’t tell you how many people I’ve had tried to wear shoes inside their waders or even the wading boots inside the waders.  Yes, your wading boots will fill with water, but the waders will not; dry inside of wet.  Two other quick tips here.  One, do not walk around in your neoprene booties even for a few seconds while you’re putting on your wading boots.  They will pick up rocks, gravel, and sand that you will not only feel in your boot but will cause the booties to wear prematurely.  Two, make sure you pull your gravel guards (those extra pieces of fabric at the top of the neoprene bootie) down over the outside of your wading boots.  They do just that, they keep the gravel out.
  3. KNOW THE RIVER BOTTOM – My father-in-law often refers to wading as being civilized or uncivilized. This is a good description and is dependent mainly on the river bottom.  Jagged blast rock is very different than packed gravel.  Round rocks covered in slimy vegetation are very different than packed clay.  Every river bottom is different based on the rocks, flows, temperatures, and time of year.  If the bottom is slimy and hard to get through, use larger studs on your boots (again, this is why I like Korkers and their Triple Threat OmniTrax).  If the bottom is full of blast rock, you need to be careful not to step into a hole that will grab your boot.  Just be conscious of this and take more caution with the more unstable river bottoms.
  4. THE SHUFFLE – Even if you’re experienced at wading, but especially if you’re new, learn how to shuffle your feet and never lift one foot until the other is firmly planted. If you shuffle your feet and take small steps, this will make it less likely that you take a header.  It will also allow you to feel the river bottom which is especially important when the water is off-color and you cannot see the bottom clearly.  There’s one section where we guide on the South Platte near Deckers that goes from being completely flat and shallow to a 3′ drop in a matter of inches.  If the water is off-color or cloudy, you’d never see it.  I found that hole the hard way.
  5. EXITING THE RIVER AT 45 DEGREES – I learned this one from Levi Lambert, our head guide at Minturn Anglers out of our Lone Tree shop. When you’ve found yourself away from the bank and in some current, walk 45 degrees downstream to exit the river instead of walking upstream or even perpendicular to the current.  This will save your energy and you’re not fighting the water to get where you need to go.
  6. BANK WALKING – This is another Levi Lambert special. When you want to move upstream, or really even downstream, walk back to the bank and then move up and down along the bank.  Fighting what is often the strongest current in the middle of the stream, or even having it push you downstream, can make for a wet and even dangerous day.  The water by the bank is often the slowest and most shallow.
  7. NEVER TURN YOUR BACK – As a general rule, don’t turn your back on the river. Whether you are going to exit the stream, move, or whatever.  First, the river is more likely to push you over.  It’s easier to lean into the water as you face it.  Second, you won’t be able to see debris or those drunk tubers who will inevitably roll over your fish and maybe even you.  I’ve been hit by a kayak, a few rafts, and more drunk tubers than I can count.  If I wasn’t paying attention or had my back completely away from upstream, I easily could have been pushed over and under the water.  There was even a day when I was fishing the Arkansas when the flows increased suddenly and a huge waterlogged piece of wood came downstream right at me.  I barely had enough time to get out of the way of that one.  Watching for debris could be its own bullet point.
  8. NEVER WALK BACKWARDS – I do it and I see so many others do it, but we should never walk backward in a river. Too often we forget about that large rock or big hole behind us.  Or maybe we shifted upstream 3′ and now have no idea what’s behind us.  One of my worst falls ever was caused by me walking backward out of a river.  I tripped over a boulder the size of a cooler.  I couldn’t catch my balance and ended up coming down on my wrists and fly reel.  I felt that one for a week.  Just don’t do it.
  9. TRUST YOUR GUT – I didn’t do this a few weeks ago and I should have. You will inevitably find yourself wading out into or across a river and get to a point where you have to decide to go back the way you are or push forward.  If you’re gut is telling you to turn back, do it.  Don’t hesitate to go back the way you came.  A few weeks ago I was wading across a river that I know well.  The flows were twice as high as they normally are this time of year.  I got about 1/3 of the way across and the river was, of course, about twice as deep.  I got to the point that I was starting to float and I was not planted very well as I was being pushed by the faster current.  Instead of turning back and crossing 30’ farther upstream, I pushed forward.  I made it, but only after a bunch of scrambling that frankly wore me out.  I didn’t trust my gut to turn back and I should have.
  10. YOU WILL GET TIRED – Point 9 leads to this point; you’re going to get tired. When you wade, someone told me recently, that you burn 600 calories an hour.  You are not only burning calories, but you’re using small stabilizer muscles that you may not have used in a while.  You’re going to get tired.  Just be aware of this at the beginning of your fishing season and throughout the day.  Don’t be afraid to take breaks or call it quits early.  The fish will be there another day.  Stay hydrated as well.  We sweat more than we think in waders.  Always carry water and have extra in the car.
  11. KNOW THE FLOWS – Wading Deckers at 600 CFS is very different than 70 CFS. CFS stands for Cubic Feet Per Second.  One cubic foot of water weighs 62.41 lbs.  That’s more than people think.  At 70 CFS, you can wade across almost any section of the South Platte.  At 600 CFS, you probably aren’t wading more than a few feet from the bank.  You may not know what a fast or slow flow is by memory, but that’s why historical flow charts will give you a good idea.  The more time you spend on a certain section of river, the more you’ll know what’s reasonable.
  12. WATER TEMPS – This is probably the least important thing to know, but it’s still important for wading. You never have to know the exact temperature down to the degree, but if you’re wading in water that is 38 degrees, you probably don’t want to wet wade and you’ll probably even want to wear liners under your waders.  If the water is 70 degrees, you may not want to wear waders at all.
  13. EXTRA CLOTHES – If you’re new or you’re going to be far away from home or other amenities, bring some extra clothes. No matter how good of an angler you are and no matter how experienced you are at wading, you will fall in.  Even as a guide, I fall in at least once a year.  Sometimes it’s because I’m trying to net a fish before it goes over a fall or I didn’t see that hole in the river bank.  Either way, you will go in at some point.  If it’s warm, who cares, but if it’s cold and you’re wet, that can make for a very uncomfortable drive home.  I won’t name names, but I definitely have known people who have driven home solely in their underwear.
  14. THE RUN – When you’re wading, know where you are in the run and what is below you. Oftentimes, we like to wade across a river at the tail out because it’s shallower even though the water is often faster.  This is fine, but I’m always aware of what’s right below me.  There are a few runs on rivers that I fish regularly here in Colorado that I will not cross at the bottom of the run because if I slip and fall, I’m going immediately into a long set of rapids.  This can be life-threatening.
  15. WADING ALONE – You will wade alone at some point and that’s totally okay. In addition to telling someone where they can find your body (my wife hates when I say that), take some extra precautions.  If you have some health conditions or are prone to falling, maybe you don’t go alone.
  16. ENJOY – This is the last tip. Make sure you actually take a few moments each and every time you are lucky enough to find yourself with the current moving past you and your feet firmly planted on the ground to take it all in.  Deep breaths are a must.  Be grateful for your chance to be there.  One of my favorite places to be on this planet is in the middle of a river.



I’m sure there are many more tips and tricks out there; these were just those that came to mind as I sipped my morning coffee with the sunlight coming in through my front window.  You can probably see a few themes with these tips; comfort and safety.  Both will make for a successful day.  Again, I can’t stress this enough, make sure to find the joy in fly fishing.  For me, personally, there aren’t many better things on this planet.

Book a wading trip with Minturn Anglers to put these tips into practice for a perfect day of fly fishing.

It’s time to nail down your 2024 fly fishing trip with Minturn Anglers.

About the Author

Chris Opfer

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