Though this March’s winterlike weather is doing a great job of concealing the fact, the calendar reminds us that the state’s mid-April trout opener is just over two weeks away. Many of us will soon be standing thigh-deep in water that promises to be icy cold, seeking that perfect position that allows us to work a bait, lure or fly in just the right manner.
Here are a few wading-related tips to consider for the upcoming trout season.
PRE-TEST YOUR WADERS: It’s not a pleasant feeling, but one many of us have experienced: that sensation of biting cold you get as you wade into deeper water. You tell yourself your waders aren’t leaking, that the water’s so cold it just feels like they are. But then the dreaded moisture starts to collect down by your feet, and you know you’re in for a disagreeable morning.
You can avoid such opening-day unpleasantness by simply checking out your boots in a local creek or lake beforehand, an especially wise task if they have some age on them, or they’ve been left in the heap since last spring.
Small holes and tears can be readily fixed with repair kits. And if the boots seem unsalvageable, finding out in advance gives you time to replace them.
SOLE SEARCHING: The first time I used boots with felt soles it was like having my feet glued to slimy rocks that previously were indeed a slippery slope. During the next 30-plus years — with the exception of summertime wet wading — I always used waders with felt soles. But as good as felt is on slippery, submerged rocks, it’s lousy for climbing up steep banks, particularly those muddy/sand soft banks of which we have many around here. And when you walk through wet snow in them it quickly builds up, providing you with a pair of impromptu (and unwelcome) platform shoes.
Felt soles have fallen out of favor for environmental reasons as well as functional ones. It’s believed invasive growth like didymo algae — a particularly nasty exotic weed that thrives in cold-water environments — is often transferred between waterways via anglers’ equipment, especially the porous felt soles of boots. Many companies have quit producing shoes/boots with felt soles; they are illegal in some states (Maryland being one example). The situation has fueled the development of better lugged boots.
So when the felt soles finally gave out on my old wading shoes a couple of weeks ago, I decided to replace them with a model featuring the latest generation of lugged sole, more specifically Bass Pro Shops’ Extreme Wading Shoe. I used the new shoes last weekend on a special regulations area and was very pleased. No slipping on subsurface rocks; plenty of grip to climb the banks; and no elevator shoes when traversing the wet snow.
HARNESS THOSE CUFFS: A common problem with fishing boots, particularly with chest waders, is the riding up of pant cuffs when the boots are being donned. This is especially common when wearing loose cuffed pants like jeans, in combination with a fairly tight/clingy wader material like neoprene. Personally, I like to wear fleece pants that have elastic cuffs along with breathable-material waders, a combination that resists bunching. My fishing partner Dave Keith sticks with his jeans, but uses a pant guard to cinch down those cuffs prior to donning his neoprene chest waders. The pant guard is simply a strap of neoprene with Velcro. Keith says the guards work great, the only problem being that the seam of the strap can sometimes cause discomfort, necessitating an adjustment.
KEEP YOUR HANDS FREE: Often we find ourselves midstream while unhooking a fish, changing up a rigging, or doing some other chore in which holding the fishing rod is a cumbersome obstacle. A multitude of anglers have found the Fish Hands Free device — made locally in Punxsutawney — to be the answer to this common dilemma. With this device your rod is suspended from two cleverly designed hooks that affix to your vest, liberating your hands to accomplish the task at hand.
CASE THOSE SENSITIVE ITEMS: To some degree most of us carry with us, during a day’s fishing, sensitive electronic gadgets that would not benefit from an untimely dunking in the creek or exposure to rainfall. Cellphones, point-and-shoot cameras, even the key fob that allows us entry back into our vehicle at day’s end, need to be protected from the elements.
One of the handiest means of doing this is with a zip-seal bag. While a flimsy sandwich-style bag is an option, a better one is a sturdier bag designed specifically for such use. The one I’ve been using for my Droid cellphone is called LokSak. All the phone’s functions can be used without taking it out of the bag, even the camera. This is a nice option when it’s rainy, or when taking pictures out in the middle of a creek, since cellphones don’t have neck straps like a traditional camera.