Wading Safety Tips For Salmon Fishing

Wading Safely When Salmon Fishing
** Wading can be dangerous, therefore you must use common sense and take responsibility for your decisions.**

If you are fairly new to Salmon fishing, and still watch what others are doing and how they fish a pool, it seems different anglers follow very different routes down the water. One barely wets his knees, while others cover the same pool with water lapping at the top of their chest waders. In this article, we offer some tips on how to make sensible choices when wading.  We highlight the key questions you should be asking yourself and observations you must make so you can stay safe and enjoy your fishing.

Why do you wade in the first place? There are many reasons. The primary goal is to get your Salmon Fly in the best possible position so that it is fishing from the start of its swing. For example, if you want to fish a deep run near the far bank, you need to pay attention to the speed of the current and conditions underfoot. It is essential that you evaluate the risks and make safe decisions.

Simms G3 Guide Stockingfoot Chest Waders

Never wade unless you have prior knowledge or have someone like a ghillie to guide you to where it is safe to wade. You must ensure that you will be able to negotiate your way out of the water safely if things go wrong.  Always have a contingency and manage the risks appropriately.

All anglers should be cautious about water levels. If you are fishing near an estuary, you have to be aware of the tide times and be able to make sensible decisions about how far to wade and when to retreat when the tide is due back in. Some rivers have water levels artificially controlled and can rise significantly in a matter of minutes. For example, if water is released from a dam, it can increase the water level and the speed of the current. Water levels can also rise quickly due to natural flow variations as a result of heavy rain or snowmelt, so always be vigilant!

One way to keep an eye on the river level is to use a frame of reference. For example, you can keep an eye the water's edge and look for signs that the water level is rising. Look for a partially submerged tree or rock, or better still, a water level marker.

Parmaris Hi-Fit Deep Wade Life Jacket
Once you have evaluated the risks and are confident that it is safe to enter the water, the most important thing is to keep your balance and your footing. Should you be unfortunate enough to lose your nerve and "freeze" anytime while wading, relax and get your legs and body moving gently.  Take time and figure out the situation. Do not attempt to move while you are "stiff" or panicking. A good quality inflatable life jacket will be an enormous comfort at such times but keeping out of trouble in the first place is a prerequisite. Always ensure your life jacket is certified, in working order and securely fitted when worn. Ensure, as a matter of priority, that you know how to activate the life jacket and make sure you get it checked regularly for faults.

Always Wear a Life Jacket!

On wading itself, do not attempt to enter the water from a steep bank.  Your entry point should be safe and shallow and the current should be within your capabilities. It is safer to wade diagonally in an upstream direction, especially if the water is not too deep. Wading upstream will allow you to get back out of the water by retracing your steps. However, take advantage of the slower current when wading upstream and use current breaks. Wading downstream is safe if you know your limits.  When you have safely reached your casting position, and you are moving downstream, be mindful of your foot placement as you cast and move. Make sure you can see the conditions underfoot as you travel downstream and make sure there is an safe escape route along the line.

Hodgman Aesis H-Lock Wading Boots

Never underestimate the power of water to throw you off balance.

Key Points: 
  • Go slow.
  • Stand Firm
  • Be conscious of foot placement
  • Monitor the water level
  • Be mindful of the effect the water is having on your balance. 
Do not wade to the top of your waders or attempt to negotiate gravel beds underfoot where there are steep drop-offs. You should be able to see clearly what the conditions are like underfoot. If you do find the conditions underfoot sloping away to one side, you must retreat immediately to safer ground. The gravel can avalanche under your weight and throw you off balance.

Water clarity is a significant factor when wading. If you are fortunate enough to find yourself at the river's edge and you can see the conditions underfoot, this can help you make the right decisions. Better still, if you wear a pair of polarised fishing sunglasses, this will reduce the glare off the water and help you see with greater clarity. Sunglasses are also a must to protect your eyes from hooks and stray casts.  In contrast, if the water is peaty, dirty, or running heavy and brown with silt after heavy rain, this should be a red flag.

Costa Del Mar 400G Sunglasses
Using a wading staff or wading stick can make a big difference as it will help you to negotiate a problematic piece of water. Safety is of course critical! When you are in fast-moving water that is within your capabilities, a wading staff gives you extra confidence and reassurance. Just pass the loop over your wrist so that if you need to use that hand in a hurry, you are not going to lose your staff!

Flow Through Wading Staff
Wade slowly and never pull the wading staff up until both feet have been firmly planted. A wading staff gives you a third leg, and you should always ensure that two of those legs are solidly planted. Also, when possible, use a wading staff in the upstream hand so that it is between you and the current of the water. That way you are leaning on the wading staff, so if you slip, the current will tend to push you upright instead of forcing you down.

Hammerhead Wading Staff Retractor
Regarding waders and boots, some come in the bootfoot style where the boots are attached to the waders. You can also get stockingfoot waders where you need to wear a pair of wading boots on top of the attached neoprene sock. For wading, it's essential that your sole has the proper grip for the conditions you will be exposed to. Bootfoot waders and wading boots come in three different styles: cleated, felt, and studded. The rule of thumb is that if the conditions are soft or muddy underfoot, use a pair of cleated sole waders. Felt sole waders provide great grip on slippery rocks. Lastly, felt sole and rubber sole waders can come with studs which can add traction and grip on slippery rocks and riverbeds. For more wader advice, please read our blog on how to chose the right waders.

Orvis Ultralight Stockingfoot Waders
If are planning to fish conditions that require studs, but you don't have a pair of studded waders or wading boots, you can buy a pair of Simms Hard BiteStuds.  They are tailored for boot sole material, including rubber, felt or Vibram.  They are easy to fit and will last a lot longer than the average studs.

Simms Hard Bite Studs
Wading belts are highly recommended. Should you end up in the water, they help reduce the amount of water flooding the waders. Flooded waders will make you struggle to get back out of the river safely, therefore a wading belt can make a difference. They also offer lumber support, will prevent lapping water from soaking your clothes, and can provide comfort.
Hodgman Lumbar Wading Belt
Finally, if you do fall in despite every effort to manage the risks, there are some essential points to consider. Keep your wits about you and don't panic. Activate your life jacket immediately. Aim to swim on your back, and if you are being swept downstream, aim to travel feet first to prevent damage to your head. Get rid of you wading stick because it could get tangled or caught in an obstruction and you could get pulled under.  Kick with your feet to stay on the surface. Always have an escape route in mind so if you have to swim to shore, you are swimming towards a preplanned, safe, escape route that's in shallow water.

We hope this article has made you aware of the risks associated with wading when Salmon fishing. Ultimately, it is your responsibility to assess the risks and use common sense to make sensible decisions. However, If you are vigilant, have the proper equipment and the right wading boot or wader sole for the conditions underfoot, your day on the water will be safer and much more enjoyable.

If you would like more information about how to stay safe on or near water, don't forget the RNLI has plenty of information available and practical advice that could save your life.

Don't forget, we have everything you need to wade safely at Glasgow Angling Centre, or if you are through in the East, you can also find waders, wading staffs, wading belts, and life jackets at our Edinburgh store, Edinburgh Angling Centre.  For more information you can call us on 0141 212 8880.