Wading Boots & Waders
by CHris Wilkes
The question is often asked, “Do you always need waders to fish?”
No, you don’t. During the summer months, the air and water is significantly warmer, and you can get away with quick dry pants or shorts, as long as you have a felt-soled boot or sandal to wear.
The rivers in Western North Carolina are heavily canopied. That’s a lot of natural debris that leads to algae-covered rocks in the riverbed. Without a felt sole or something that will gain traction on those rocks, it can feel like walking on greased bowling balls. That is why I always tell people on a budget to, if possible, buy their wading boots first, because you can use them independently of the waders.
This is the point where some people look at me funny, because they are imagining the waders and boots being one piece of equipment. It’s true some waders are built with the boots attached. But I compare this to buying a TV with a built-in DVD player. If the TV fails, you have to get a new DVD player too. I always suggest buying each product independently so that if you do need to replace either, you don’t have to replace both.
When shopping for a boot, you can certainly get top-of-the-line, but anything with a felt sole will work as long as it’s comfortable. Fitting slightly-big is better than slightly-tight, as these boots are mainly for wading and not hiking miles and miles. (Quick note: When fishing in the western US, Canada, and Alaska, felt-soled boots are frowned upon, and sometimes not allowed to prevent microbial contamination of their waters. They are also unnecessary since their river beds have little to no algae on the rocks. When preparing for a fishing trip to these places purchase a wading boot with a Vibram sole.)
When it comes to the waders, this is the piece of equipment that I do recommend spending some money on. Going cheap on the waders can lead to lots of micro-leaks, tears, and seam wear. You can certainly patch them, but I recommend going for a high quality pair that will last you a while. Waders come with a neoprene booty sewn onto the end that goes inside the wading boot, keeping your foot dry. You will want to try on the waders with a merino wool, or performance sock to make sure it fits with what you’ll be wearing. I usually suggest chest waders over hip waders as chest waders can be converted into hip waders, but not the other way around.
You’ll want to wear a quick-dry pant or performance base layer under your waders to keep warm in the cooler temperatures, but resist buying insulated waders as these will be quite warm in the spring and summer months.