Don't Cheat on Your Traction - An Essential Guide for Wading Safety & Casting Accuracy

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This lesson: "Don't Cheat on Your Traction." If there is something out there that gives you an advantage, get it, especially if it makes you safer.

In the sport of fly fishing, learning how to cast is an integral part of catching fish. Many places in the world, fly fishing is done from a boat. But, in the best steelhead and trout rivers in Oregon, fly fishing is done while wading. This allows fish to have sanctuary water that is harder to reach, and also keeps anglers more dispersed. As with everything that pertains to fishing, this approach is controversial to some fisher folks, but there are plenty of anglers who think it is a good idea. If you are going to wade, you might as well do it right.

To hit a target, the sniper must aim perfectly and not wiggle the gun while squeezing the trigger. Accuracy is always easier to achieve when shooting from a stable platform. Shooting and casting have many things in common, not the least of which is the launching of a projectile to a specific target. Bullets and fly lines are both projectiles. Nowhere else is this more apparent than when using shooting head lines with two-hand fly rods. How stable you are during the launch, has much to do with determining the trajectory of your cast and the shape of your loop. Snipers rely on rests, and Spey rodders rely on traction, physical fitness, and body mechanics. Only one of these three items is something you can buy, the other two you will have to earn.

For the past 15-years, I've had the privilege of being involved with the Sandy River Spey Clave. This has enabled me to study some of the world's greatest Spey Casters. After a while it became apparent that people who are wide seem to have an advantage over those who are narrow. This is because things that are wide tend to be more stable platforms than things that are narrow.

Stability can add a lot of speed to your cast, especially at the precise instant that your rod stops at the end of your acceleration during a cast. In every fly casting stroke, there is an acceleration to a stop. The acceleration stores energy in the rod. The stop transfers that energy to the fly line. The more precise the stop, the more the energy is applied to the fly line in a condensed burst, which translates to fly line speed. A perfect stop can only be accomplished if the caster is very stable.


There is no substitute for physical conditioning, and there is no substitute for good gear. Traction shoe-soles enables mature anglers to fish later in life. There are a wide variety of traction soles designed specifically for wading. Soles with tungsten carbide spikes stick to about everything they will encounter on a riverbed: algae covered basalt, ancient ocean-bed mud-stone, wet wood, mud, and sand. These traction soles are hard on boat floors, and will make Idaho/Montana/Wyoming fishing guides scream at you. In Oregon our boats are better prepared. A heavy carpeted, rubberized door mat solves every thing. Just keep your feet on the door mat and everyone will be safe and happy. Get the best wading gear you can afford, maintain it in excellent condition, and you will be a better, and more comfortable angler.

Most fly fishing for anadromous fish is done while wading over rough, slick terrain. Traction is of great importance to any wading angler. Every step involves traction (friction) against the river bottom. Your comfort, safety, and fishing success are totally dependent on your traction. Traction not only gives you the ability to stand up-right, but also gives you the ability to move around in a river confidently. Most anglers believe that traction is only important when they are moving. Traction may be even more important when the angler wants to stand still. Every fly-cast/Spey-cast should be executed when the angler is is standing perfectly stable. Every cast starts from the bottom of your feet.


Nick Rowell launches his Beulah Aero Head Spey Line across the slippery Clackamas River in a perfect trajectory to reach the other bank. (This photo has not been doctored. This cast is longer than it looks like. The red head on the line is 44-feet long. The shooting line is actually that straight). It takes tremendous line speed to not get sag in the line. This kind of precision can only be achieved with the best tackle, best traction, and a lot of practice.

Nick's rod is a Beulah Onyx 6131-4.

Many strategies have been employed to increase friction between the bottom of your feet and whatever they come in contact with. For years the best wading traction was provided by felt soles. Felt is still the quietest traction material when coming in contact with a river bottom. The fibers in the felt tend to scrub through stream bed slime and make solid contact with the river bottom. Felt is like a cat's paw when it flexes and conforms to the riverbed. Felt is still preferred by some waders. The felt sole guys and gals tend to be young and athletic anglers who have hard muscles and good balance. Felt soles wear out pretty quickly, especially when used for hiking long distanced to and from the water. Many anglers wanted soles that would give better traction than felt, so manufacturers started using tire studs protruding through the felt. Studded soles definitely increased traction, but when combined with felt, the soles didn't last very long.

Felt also gets a bad rap as being the perfect medium for transporting invasive species from one watershed to another. A couple of years ago Simms addressed the invasive species transportation problem by introducing a new Vibram® rubber wading shoe sole called StreamTread™. StreamTread™ wears much better than felt. However, StreamTread™ by itself it was judged as pretty worthless for traction on the bottom of slick rivers. But StreamTread™ is perfect for holding screw-in cleats and other traction devises. Simms markets a whole array of such traction devises to be added to their StreamTread™ soles, such as Hard Bite Studs, Hard Bite Star Cleats and AlumiBite Cleats. Hard Bite Studs and Star Cleats use Sharp pieces of tungsten carbide to cut into the stream bed like sandpaper cuts into wood. Alumibite Cleats work the opposite direction, the stream-bed rock cut into the aluminum cleats to provide friction. I have use many systems extensively. Tungsten Carbide work better for me than aluminum or felt.

Korkers, a Portland, Oregon based company has perfected changeable wading shoe soles, so that each set of shoes can be adapted to changing conditions.

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