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Mastering Wading – Launch Your Fly Fishing to the Next Level

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Wet Wading - Improve and Catch More Fish On Foot

By Quincy Milton III

Wading is a Crucial Tactic

As a spring sport athlete in college, my ability to get out on early season fish was hindered. This being my first year removed from the team and living in a new state away from my familiar spots, I jumped at the opportunity to fish as soon as it was warm enough to do so. At times I experienced utter failure. I caught three fish in about triple as many chances. Not a great way to start the year. Frustration was high, then I reminded myself that I have been at this for over a decade now, I was trying to figure out a new state completely on foot with no vessel, and not to mention early season fish can be inactive and tricky to catch. So I reset. I went back to the drawing board. Failure is not “failure”, it is simply information. I picked new spots, combed through aerial imagery, and I branched out. To no surprise, I started seeing serious production and I have enjoyed a wonderful spring and summer thus far.

Wading on foot for fish
Wading on foot is a key skill when fly fishing

Putting In the Time

I certainly put my time in. Without a vessel, getting boots on the ground constantly is tiring and creates for long days. You simply cannot cover the same amount of water by foot as you can with a vessel. You also cannot cover the same type of water as you can with a vessel. – Lose, Lose – I recently invested in an inflatable kayak to switch things up at times, but the need to have an ability to chase fish by foot is and will always be necessary for just about every angler. Here are my tips.

Four Tips for Wading

Tip #1

Understand what is accessible and what is not. There is a lot of good water that falls on private property or is in an area that excludes all but residents of a neighborhood. With a vessel you can simply circumvent this issue by staying on the water but on foot you have to be aware of where you are fishing. Start with spots a local fly shop might be able to direct you to and then from there figure out where you can walk. Some areas fall solely on state-owned land which is perfect, but other areas may cross onto farms or residences. Some states have high-water laws where a land owner can only own land up to the mean high water mark whereas other states have laws that allow a landowner to own the riverbed but not the water (another situation that a vessel can circumvent). The point is to be knowledgeable because you don’t want to end up in a backyard with a begrudged landowner.

Tip #2

Use aerial imaging maps like FlyFishFinder religiously. My professional job forces me to have an excellent understanding of how to identify features on an aerial map, and I have brought that to my fishing. I am an avid saltwater fisherman and one of my problems can be finding areas that are shallow enough for wading, especially in saltwater where landscapes can change seasonally. I use aerial imagery to identify such areas and that has brought me much success. The same goes for freshwater. Identifying where a river runs and the points at which to access it are imperative to fishing by foot and FlyFishFinder can help you with that immensely.

Tip #3

When it comes to wading, apply universal water reading techniques to multiple types of water. Just because water is primarily still versus moving does not mean that you have to read water dramatically different. Further, salt and freshwater bodies can work similarly to each other as well. One thing that you can count on if fishing by foot is that the fish you are targeting will likely chase structure. Structure provides refuge for your gamefish but it is also a place where their prey will congregate. Stillwater will have grasses, boulders, trees, and walls which provide structure. Sounds similar to a river huh? Understanding where that structure is and how to find it can be the difference between a wet and dry net. Structure is easier to see from the vantage point of a vessel but look hard by foot for any signs include current differences, eddies, or just the structure itself. Get adept at seeing small fish (baitfish) too because where there are small fish, big fish usually aren’t far behind.

Tip #4

Keep moving. I would use this technique even in a boat but it would be easier to fathom because you could simply move the boat. If you want to find good water where you can actually access it then you need to keep moving when wading, and find fish along the way. This is not to say take one cast and move, but sufficiently cover your run then find another. Many good runs can be inaccessible due to various reasons, some of which are covered above, but if you are willing to burn some tread on your boots then you will find fish. Besides, sometimes the best fish is the one you worked the hardest for.

My Personal Taking on Wading

I love fly fishing, and wading on foot only enhances my experiences. Even if I were to own a boat there will be days where I need to take a quick trip and not bother loading it and I will always need to stay sharp when fishing from shore. Lets face it, do it yourself fishing is difficult and most of us start off fly fishing from shore, but you can make it easier on yourself by following the above tips. Doing so will allow you to intimately learn your home water body and become the experienced type of angler that everyone wants advice from. Stay at it, and you will get it done.

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