Beginners Wading Gear


Stuff You’ll Want to Have

And Stuff You Can Leave At The Store

Now that you’ve decided to become a fly angler, you can choose between fly fishing from a boat, vs fly fishing by standing in a water body. Otherwise known as wading, wading is difficult to do in a lake, because they often get deep quickly. You can find a flat area in a lake or in the ocean, but you might have to take a boat to get there. Also, the first few feet in a lake or ocean may be wade-able.

Landing Net

You’ll learn in class that most fish need four things to survive. For example, trout and salmon need (1) cold, clean water where the current is strong enough to carry oxygen and food but not so much as to tire the fish out, a (2) good food source, (3) a place to swim, and(4) shelter from predators. As you can see, 1, 2 and 3 are related. In a river, fish normally stay close to the bottom, where rocks, trees, and other things give them shelter from above, and slow down quick currents. A place near where the current changes from strong to slower might be a good place, because current carries oxygen, and food such as  insects and small fishes are often picked up by the current. One of the first things a fly angler learns is how to read the water, or how to determine where the current changes in strength, where the oxygen in the water is going to be, where the food is and where the shelter is, because if you don’t know those things, you won’t know where to fish your fly.


I like wading when I fish – standing in the water, because I’m not rolling all over the place, and I don’t get easily turned around by the current. I’m in full control of my situation. In a boat, I might not have that.

So, lets assume that you want to wade like me, in a river. You live in the Northeast where there’s no limit of rivers with cold and fresh water, and rivers with clean water are some of the best places to find fish (besides fish markets, restaurants and oceans & lakes). Because the water is cold, you’ll need some sort of protection from the cold water, and because river bottoms aren’t flat like concrete or maybe your driveway, you need wading shoes or wading boots. Wet rocks in rivers may be slippery as well, so a rubber or felt bottom on your shoes might be needed.

different strokes for different folks

Wading Gear

There are three basic types of waders. These are chest waders, wading pants, and hippies. Chest waders come up to your chest and have attached suspenders. Chest waders may also have a zipper down the middle for easier on and off situations, as well as pockets for gear and hand-warming pockets. If you go with chest waders, make sure they come with at least one wading belt. Loops to keep the belt around the waist are very sensible. If you loose your balance and fall, a proper fitting wading belt can keep the water from rushing down and filling your waders.

Chest waders and wading pants are sub-divided further into two types. Boot-foot waders are commonly used by plumbers, firemen and maintenance workers. If you aren’t going into the water but will be staying on the rivers edge, they’re great because they’re cheap. Boot-foot waders don’t fit well though, so be careful what you buy. They cannot be converted into stocking-foot waders. Boot-foot waders have absolutely no traction on rocks, stones or in water, and you cannot add studs to boot-foot waders. Again, if you’ll be fly fishing in North America, make sure to get stocking foot waders. If you’re going to be fishing in England, Scotland, Wales, or Ireland, don’t pack your waders. Rent them from the local merchant.

Stocking-foot waders require an additional component – wading boots or shoes. The waders themselves end in loose fitting waterproof socks to help keep your feet warm. They’ll fit better around your feet, and with the right wading boots or shoes, you’ll be much less prone to falling, and as you wade, you’ll quickly get used to walking around on a surface you cannot see. An added advantage is that the water around the wading boot/shoe can go right through instead of around, because your feet are protected by the waterproof material. This results in less pressure from the current. Most of the rivers and streams in New England and eastern NY, are made up of rocks or limestone surfaces. When algae or vegetation grows on rocks the surface of the rock can become quite slippery, so you’ll want some sort of gripping material on the bottom of your feet. Ten years ago, most anglers had felt-bottom or felt with studs for this added traction, but with the addition of unwanted species of sea life such as zebra mussels (which can stay alive for several weeks out of the water but in damp felt), many states have outlawed felt, so most boots/shoes come with the option of different gripping materials.

Studded Felt Soles

Around the year 2000, breath-able waders became commonplace. These waders made it possible to go out fishing for extended periods without gaining lots of unwanted body heat during the warmer months. If you only intend to fish the artic countries in the dead of winter (Iceland, Greenland, Scandinavia, Russia, Alaska, Northern Canada), you can get away with neoprene waders, otherwise, purchase breathable waders. Wading pants are designed to come up to your waist, and have a belt and belt loops so they stay at least above your hips.

Chota Stockingfoot Hippies

Hippies resemble men’s socks from the 20’s and the garters men needed to keep the socks up. They can go as far as your thighs and connect to the belt that holds trousers up. Hippies are available in boot foot or stockingfoot. For North American fly fishing, choose stockingfoot and wear them with your wading boots.

The best time to purchase waders and wading boots is typically March to July in the US, because the market is flooded with all the new styles from the manufacturers and still great but older models may be discounted).

neoprene socks

When you purchase wading gear, it’s a VERY good idea to try them out and move around in them before making the purchase. You won’t want to go out and find that they’re too small, or too short, or too baggy. When buying wading shoes/boots, take along thick socks to go over your regular socks, and wear the neoprene socks they have in the store over your two pairs of socks, before trying on the boots/shoes. Always purchase waders a size larger than you actually wear, and wading shoes/boots 1 to 2 sizes larger than your actual foot or shoe size. This is to adjust for the regular socks and fishing socks, plus the neoprene booties on the bottom of your waders.

Additionally, make sure to trim those toenails before you go. The bottom line, is that with regular socks, fishing/thermal socks, and neoprene socks all in those wading boots/shoes, you want to make sure that your feet are quite comfortable and your toes are not hitting anything.

DYI studs.

Wading boots are available in many different styles and by many different manufacturers. If you purchase them with felt soles without studs, you can purchase a set of studs for about $40 at fly shops, however these are just overpriced bolts. Instead, visit your local hardware store and get some 3/8” long screws with a hexagon (six-sided) head. You should be able to get a container of about 100 for $7 That’s enough for you and four friends! Put 10 in each sole, evenly spaced, and allow the head of the bolt to stick out a  little so it and the felt make contact with the slippery surfaces.

Ladies Buckskin Sally’s and optional soles

Some manufacturers offer studs on their soles. Some (Korkers) have interchangeable soles. I highly recommend Korkers for all your wading needs. Korkers has three or four designs for Women, and many for men.

Just a few of the styles available and the soles they come with.

There are many brands of wading boots and have different features.  Orvis, Simms, Korkers, Reddington for example all make excellent products.  Some have rubber soles, some have felt, and metal studs can be added to some.  Felt have great traction on slippery rocks, BUT, can transport invasive species to different areas, so should only be used on the same local areas.  Rubber lugged soles allow easier hiking to access many areas for fishing.  Studs are extra grip on slippery rocks for rubber soles.

Big Y Fly Co on the left , $45, Walmart on the right, $40

Wading Staff(s)

You’ll want to have a wading staff, because it will help you find places you don’t want your feet to go while wading, like deep holes, mud, and hidden underwater objects like trees, limbs, old tires, hot water heaters (believe it or not, these are quite common in the Northeast. I live on the Housatonic River in Sharon, and can tell you where to find a circa 1930 automobile frame, with wheels intact. I caught a pretty good size rainbow right around where the engine would have been had it still been there. There’s a river down near Southbury with a VW Beetle in it. I’ve never seen it fully submerged, but I haven’t been down there when the water’s been very high. I believe it’s part of the Shepaug river watershed.

For my staff, I cut a 5’ section from a maple tree limb , removed the bark, added a foam handgrip (motorcycle handgrips work especially well), put a hole in the top for a cord to attach to my wading belt. You can also purchase a collapsible wading staff, which are comprised of some cheap aluminum tubes with paracord inside, which may come with a bag or a holster.   My staff has a 4’ long 3/8” paracord, tied through the hole at the top with an improved clinch-knot. At the end, I’ve got it tied to a #2 Carabiner, and that connects to my vest, up near the armpit. I use a rubber boot on the bottom end of my staff, it seems to keep it quieter than allowing the wood to strike the bottom. I got the boot for $1.50 at the handicapped store in Torrington, online, there are several other options like carbide and tungsten tips you can customize yours with. About 10 years ago, concerned with water temperatures, I sanded down a short portion on one of the sides near the bottom, got the epoxy out and attached a flat pool thermometer. One of my friends has an aluminum shaft and fastened the flat thermometer (it’s plastic, so it bends) with a couple of wire ties.

If you’re going with a wood staff, make your limb no less than 1″ thick, and cut it while it’s still growing. You may want to sand it and varnish it, that’s up to you.

some fishing vests

Fishing Vests, Packs, Slings, other options.

When you’re on a local river like the Farmington or the Housatonic, and fishing in May or June, the mixture of the cold water and warm air produces hatches of many aquatic insects of which fish feed on, so you’ll want to have all of these in the same sizes and colors the fish are eating. So, you put all of your flies into fly boxes and shove them into your pockets. You’ll also want to store a hook sharpener (file), a hemostats to remove hooks from fish, tippet spools, a bottle of drinking water or coffee mug, lunch, emergency raingear, 1st aid pouch, line floatant, nippers, etc. You’ll want your phone to take pictures of the fish you catch, a tube of Afterbite, pest repellent, and five or six sheets of biodegradable toilet paper. Since cell service can be spotty in or near rivers and wilderness, bring a little pocket compass, so you can figure out where you left the car. Put all that stuff in a waterproof bag and put that in a compartment or pocket in your fishing vest. A respectable fishing vest will have between eight and eight-hundred pockets, with lots of zippers, whistles and bells.

Breathable cool vest and fashionable vest. Keep to earth tones so you don’t scare away the fish.

Personally, I use an ultralight vest in an earthtone – loud colors will scare away the fish. Your fishing vest should have a small place that holds the bottom of your rod. If it doesn’t tie a small piece of paracord to the lowest zipper you can find. Set the bottom of your rod (below the reel) in there so you can fasten your rod to your vest while changing flies, tippet, removing a fish, etc. Add a lanyard for your net, and connect that to your vest someplace.

From left to right, top to bottom, some of my personal favorites when starting out. There’s a carabiner with a short stem holding multiple spools of tippet, and a rubber boot holding silicon grease (used to keep your tippet and fly floating. There are several brands of fly floatant out there. Put a little bit on a dry fly to keep it floating. Put some on the first couple of feet of tippet behind the fly to keep that line above the water, as well. On the far right, my little pocket compass – for areas where phones don’t work. Get yourself some headlights and a headband for fishing at dusk, and when you’re beginning or have too much time on your hands, make your own fly boxes out of Altoids tins.

Super expensive sunglasses (only if you’re Brad Pitt)

Protect Yourself from the Environment

While you’re out there fishing, it’s a good idea to protect yourself from the elements. Insect repellent, sunblock and polarized glasses are a good start. Polarized sunglasses also help you see through the water, down as many as four feet to the bottom, especially on a sunny day.

Insect repellent and sunblock should go on your ears, nose, cheeks, neck/throat, arms and any other exposed areas of your skin. Do not apply them to your forehead. (See the separate article on sunglasses)

Go to your local Walmart store. In the back, way back at the last row of the camping section, there will be some fishing stuff. Do not get waders, nets, flies or line there. You’re looking for sunglasses only. For under $10 they have polarized sunglasses. Now, go read the sun glass article.

There are some items that aren’t discussed here such as accessories to keep your net connected to your vest, multi-tippet spool holders, Ferrule Wax, etc. While these types of items aren’t absolutely essential, like polarized sunglasses, some of them are nice to have, but whether they’re essential to a fly angler – well, you can tell us the next time you leave a comment.