By Patrick Straub EBS Fishing Columnist
Halloween means costumes and frosty pumpkins. It also means the season of “wet-wading”—or fishing without waders—is over. Many of my longtime clients know I push the wet-wading envelope to the fullest, often sporting shorts and long johns well into October. But there’s a line that is crossed this time of year and waders have to be worn.
For the next several weeks, nearly all of our local fishing options are viable—and wise—places to wet a line. Waders now become an essential component to your angling repertoire, and will remain so for the next six to eight months of the angling calendar. But, with the many options on the market, from stocking foot to wading pants to boot foot to zippered waders, it’s easy to drown in the myriad of choices. Here’s some help from nearly a quarter-century of wearing waders.
Breathable versus non-breathable. This may be the simplest choice of all. Most anglers fish in a variety of weather throughout the year. Unless you only fish during the coldest months, purchase breathable waders instead of thicker neoprene waders. Breathable waders are made from a variety of fabrics, with each manufacturer touting their material is the best.
My advice: quality is often associated with price, and most higher price-point waders are of similar quality. Plus, with the more expensive waders you may also get better repair or replacement treatment.
Stocking foot waders. These are the most common waders purchased and most likely what you will end up using the most. They include a stocking foot made of neoprene or other material. Some manufactures like Patagonia incorporate a lined stocking foot in their high-end wader, which is nice for the colder months. With stocking foot waders, purchasing wading boots is essential.
Similar to waders, wading boots come in a variety of options. Because stocking foot waders do not incorporate a boot foot into the wader, you can have a few different pairs of wading boots, which is helpful if you plan to fish on a rocky stream or in a boat, or cover a lot of water walking the banks.
Boot foot waders. Boot foot waders incorporate a boot into the wader itself. Welded onto the legs of the wader are laceless boots. These are ideal for fishing situations in which sturdy wading shoes are not essential—like fishing from boat or a stream with a flat, non-slippery bottom. Since the latter rarely exists here in southwest Montana, only purchase boot foot waders if you plan to do most of your fishing from a boat.
Wading pants. These are breathable waders that do not incorporate a suspender system and are only waist-high. Because I spend more time on the water than most, I wear my boot foots in the boat in winter, my stocking foots when I’m covering some ground on a spring creek, and my waist-high wading pants in warmer weather when I known I will not be wading deep. And, therein lies the only drawback to wading pants—you are limited to how deep you can wade. I find wading pants ideal for early spring and late fall fishing and for anglers who know their wading limitations and wear wading pants to keep them from wading too deep.
Zipper waders. Relatively new to the wading scene, zippered waders have increased the comfort level for many anglers. By comfort level, I mean making it easy to relieve oneself when nature calls. I used to scoff at zippered waders citing their potential for leaking, but then I began wearing them this year, but only the top quality ones. And now a pair of zippered waders is my go-to stocking foot option.
In colder weather, the zipper is a godsend when I need to use the bathroom and in warmer weather, the un-zipped chest allows me to cool off if I get hot. Zippered waders are the most expensive choice but for this stuck-in-his-ways angler, I wish I’d made the right decision years ago.
Like a favorite rod in your gear arsenal, your waders should hold considerable prestige. If you plan to fish the next six months, choosing the right pair is essential to maximize comfort and your ability to get the most out of your fishing. Wading through the options may seem laborious, but do your homework and ace your fishing this winter.
Pat Straub is one of area’s most respected spring creek and walk-wade guides. He is the author of six books, including” The Frugal Fly Fisher,” “Montana On The Fly,” and “Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Fly Fishing.” He and his wife own Gallatin River Guides in Big Sky.