An Aid to Wade Fast-Flowing Rivers
An Essential Guide for Wading Safety & Casting Accuracy
In all outdoor sports, acquiring skills and having good equipment makes playing more enjoyable.
In the sport of fly fishing, being able to cast well is an integral part of catching fish. In some places, such as lakes or the ocean, fly fishing is done from a boat. But in many other places like smaller streams, and even some larger rivers fishing from a boat is not practical or even legal. In Oregon some of the best steelhead and trout rivers are regulated that a boat may be used for transportation, but fishing may only be done while an angler is out of the boat. This allows fish to have sanctuary water that is harder to reach, and these regs also keep 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 safely and well.
To hit a target, a sniper must aim perfectly and not move 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 and speed 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 with conditioning.
Fly casting is about the generation of fly line speed. The faster the velocity of a fly line, the further it will go and the more accurately it will arrive at the target. 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. 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. A perfect stop can only be accomplished if the caster is very stable. That means that each cast starts from the bottom of an angler’s feet. Just like any other sport, traction is essential to fly fishing.
There is no substitute for physical conditioning, and there is no substitute for good gear. There are a wide variety of traction soles designed specifically for wading in rivers with treacherous terrain. Soles designed for wading need stick to everything they will encounter on a riverbed: algae covered basalt, ancient ocean-floor mud-stone, wet wood, mud, and sand.
Many strategies have been employed to increase friction between the bottom of your feet and whatever they come in contact with in a riverbed. For years, the best wading traction was provided by felt soles. Felt is still the quietest traction material when meeting a river bottom. The fibers in the felt tends 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 substrate. 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 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 increased traction, but when combined with felt, the soles didn't last very long.
Several years ago Simms introduced 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 good 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 used all these systems extensively. Tungsten Carbide works better for me than aluminum or felt.
For the last few years, I had been wading the lower Deschutes and other local rivers with StreamTread™ fitted with Hard Bite Studs and Star Cleats. That system worked fine through my late sixties. I rarely used a wading staff. Then two things happened. Simms changed the design of the StreamTread™ sole so that the cleats were less exposed, which decreased the traction they provided, then I turned seventy-five and lost some of my agility. Year before last, I lost my balance, did a face plant in knee deep water, and my favorite Sage X rod complete with sage Spey reel momentarily drifted off. Fortunately, the tandem fly setup at the end of my leader hung on the bottom not far from where I had taken the bath. The rod/reel setup was finally tracked to a small eddy where it hung in the current downstream. The cause of the problem was the slick edge of the Vibram sole glancing off an unseen slanted boulder taking me off-balance and my older, slower reflexes and weaker legs not recovering fast enough to remain standing. Lack of traction at the edges has always been a problem with rubber soles. This really became paramount on a trip to Hell’s Canyon last fall. The Snake River is a bigger, brawlier version of the Deschutes, and even slicker to wade. My Vibram soles took me clear out of my game. My casting really went to pot until my host Al Buhr was kind enough to loan me his extra pair of wading shoes, which were equipped with studded felt soles. They were also lighter in weight, and more flexible than my own shoes. It was like they took ten years off my age. In no time I was casting and fishing better.
On returning home I went on the hunt for the perfect pair of wading shoes. This wasn’t difficult since our store sells Simms. After trying several different models and walking around our store, I settled on a pair of felt sole Flyweight Wading Shoes and had Tony Barnes installed a set of Simms Hard Bite Studs. That was nine months ago. The Simms Flyweights with Studded Felt Soles are the best wading shoes I have ever worn for wading aggressively, and they are the most comfortable as well.
Wade safely my friends. M