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When Wading, Just One Little Step too Far Can be Lethal

The moment I took the step I knew I was in trouble - big trouble.

There is that moment just before an accident when everything runs in slow motion. I guess it has something to do with the fact that all our senses concentrate on just that one impending event so everything is seen, felt, and heard in crystal-clear clarity.

My step into trouble started out innocently enough. I set out to cross the mouth of the Hinemaiaia River just South of Taupo, New Zealand, to reach the sandbank and lip of the rip (where the river enters the lake). I had made that crossing literally hundreds of times - but not since recent floods. The river was up slightly, but certainly not at levels that I had not crossed in before.

I was so confident that I marched out into the river and by the time the water was over my waist it was too late. I felt the bottom sloping away more steeply that usual but decided to take that last step. One step to far.

Just one more step into the soft silt-filled sand on the bottom and the water came up to mid-chest level, only a few centimetres from the top of my waders.

At this depth the buoyancy of the waders, and the air trapped in them, tends to take over and I was struggling to maintain contact with the bottom. Then the current swirled around me and I was floating-free, heading out into the lake at a good pace.

Worse, there was simply no-one about to raise the alarm. Fighting panic I tried to think my way out of my stupidity.

Fortunately I had put on a belt around my waist so water had not entered the legs of my waders and this was keeping me afloat – that end of me anyway. The head end of my body was a bit more problematic – it was a real struggle to keep my head up and above water.

Then I remembered that there was usually a tongue of shallow sand that hooked out into the river mouth from the other side. If I could reach that I would not drift out into the lake – if the sandbank was still there after the floods. So I began to one-arm sidestroke my way across the river.

I seemed to be an awfully long way out into the lake, and was beginning to plan how I could get back to shore, when by back-side bottomed out. Sodden, but nearly hysterically happy, I got to my feet - in less than knee-deep water.

I paid for my stupidity. I had to smash, hack and stumble through bracken, blackberry and bush, up the far side of the river, for over an hour, till I reached the road bridge. Then walk down the other side, and home to dry out.

The whole episode simply idiotic. Dangerously stupid.

But these days, danger mixed with stupidity seems to be a cocktail of choice amongst a demented few. They call it ‘extreme sports’. Putting life on the line for an ‘ adrenalin rush’. Not a chance of that in the gentle (and genteel?) sport of fly-fishing I thought.

Wrong! Dredging through the fishing newsgroups on the Internet I came across a bunch of weirdoes that are into ‘extreme power wading’.

Seems that unless you wade to the absolute limit of your ability to remain on your feet you are a big girl's blouse or worse.

These guys, and from the names, it was guys, believe it is some kind of rite of manhood, and proof of your devotion to fishing, to risk all to reach that pool that is out of reach of ordinary men. Seems to me these guys have lost the fishing plot – the objective of fishing is to catch fish.

Still I guess there are others in this sport of ours that misinterpret the basic aims of wetting a line. Those who believe that adding self-imposed handicaps, rituals, and dogma somehow ennoble the sport. Fanatics are those who having lost sight of their objectives redouble their efforts.

But dancing on the cusp of death to catch a fish - that is taking it just a tad too far.

There are a number of fishermen out there, myself included, that need a reminder now and then, that waders were invented to keep water out, not necessarily to increase the depth that waders could or should wade.

Wading deep in fast flowing water is silly and dangerous.

The deeper you wade the greater the buoyancy provided by the waders – both from the air between the waders and your body, and in the case of neoprene waders – from the neoprene itself. So the deeper you wade the less effect your body weight has to anchor you to the bottom.

Couple that with the fact that very often the strongest currents are where the water is deepest and maintaining balance and a foothold becomes even more tenuous. The distance between safety and disaster often becomes just one step – one step too far.

If you must wade deep, try these tips.

Wear a belt over your waders, it helps trap air in the legs. But walk into the water with the belt loose, and while it is still safe allow water pressure to expel some of that air, then tighten the belt. This will reduce buoyancy when wading, but not enough to endanger you if you tip up. Better still invest in one of those suspender type buoyancy aids, that expand when you pull on a rip-cord. They are not bulky when un-inflated.

Better still, just do not get yourself into a position of danger. I have yet to find a fish worth dying for.

Still on reflection it may be that extreme power wading may have one advantage. Some of today’s rivers are becoming more and more crowded. Extreme power wading could make a significant contribution to decreasing the crowds. For every swing there is  always a roundabout.

Viva wet fly

Article written by Tony Bishop

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Just another thought graphic

If you are wading in deep water, or any water with a fast current use a wading staff.

There is simply no way out of the fact and stark realisation that, as age increases, balance, agility, and strength begin to decline. Sadly that decline accelerates faster than age increases.

As that decline accelerates so does the need to use a wading staff. I know I resisted that need for too long out of some male ego BS, but once I started using one I really wished I had started earlier.

Your staff can be a plain old wooden one or a super-dooper one for too many dollars, but one thing the staff must be, is that it is long enough to be mid-chest high when held vertically.

For best effect, the staff, when planted, should angle away from you, upstream or downstream, not straight up and down.

And just a final thought a long staff can work as a depth finder to avoid that dangerous last too-deep step.

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