A bridge over troubled waders.
Owning a pair of waders isn't all troubles, though. First, it is one of the best ways to help you learn a river or stream. When you're picking your way around rocks, tree branches, and submerged shopping carts, you become a quick study on where and where not to step. Also, you learn whether the dark spot on the river bottom over there is a patch of weeds, which may be a good place to catch fish, or a deep hole scoured out by the current, which may be a good place to practice your backstroke. Either way, you've learned something. Second, waders have many pockets, which give me room for a surprising amount of equipment. I can carry a small box of lures, a pocket knife, sunscreen, my fishing license, three apricots, a ball peen hammer, and a Shih-Tzu. I probably could carry more if I wore my fishing vest, but I've found that when battling both a fish and the river current, having one Shih-Tzu in my pants is plenty.
Waders not only allow me to fish areas I couldn't reach from shore, but make me feel more connected to nature. Sometimes, when I step into a river on a quiet morning and hear the rush of the water and feel the current gently tugging at my legs, I'll just stand there, enjoying the moment, and not make a cast for a while. Yes, waders come with troubles, but they can be overcome, and those troubles do not outweigh the advantages. If you're looking for a way to increase your reach as an angler, put on a pair, and go anywhere from your local stream to Old Man River. They may not do anything for your appearance or gracefulness, but they will enhance your fishing experience. *
I once read that to catch a fish, you have to think like a fish. The logic seemed sound, so I spent a few months trying to eat anything flashy or colorful that passed my way, looking for that perfect patch of gravel to call home, and developing an irresistible urge to swim upstream. Then it occurred to me that the writer of the advice might not have been suggesting it be taken literally, and that the best way to catch fish is to be where the fish are. The problem was they were in the middle of the river, while I did not own a boat and had to fish from shore. This realization led to one of the most troublesome decisions I've ever made: buying a pair of waders.
Once you have decided to buy waders, the real work begins. You must choose a type. Hip or chest? Breathable or non-breathable? Boots attached or boots separate? After a long period of research and consultation with fellow anglers, I chose a pair of breathable waders with separate boots. After a somewhat shorter period of research and consultation with catalog prices, my wife chose a cheap neoprene pair with boots attached. She let me choose the color, though. I went with brown because it matches my eyes. After you take the waders out of the box, you face the problem of putting them on for the first time. Writhing around as you pull them over your feet, up your body, and reach over your shoulders for the suspenders makes you look like a back-up dancer in a rap video.
The next trouble with waders is understanding that, although they prevent you from getting wet, they don't prevent you from getting stupid. So far, I have fallen only once. I slipped on a mossy rock and the waders filled up with water. I was lying facedown in the river, and in the brief moment it took me to get my bearings, the first thought that went through my mind was "What a dopey way to die." I imagined the headlines in the next day's papers: "Local man drowns in ankle-deep water. Grieving widow says: 'If only he'd stood up." A more common problem occurs when I bend over a little too far to release a fish or pick up something I dropped and water runs over the top. Then I have to go home and explain why I am soaking wet despite the fact that I was wearing chest waders. Perhaps what I need is a pair of shoulder waders. Or maybe even head waders.
By far, the most time-consuming problem you face with a pair of waders is caring for them. If you just ball them up wet and throw them into the trunk of your car, they may develop mold or fuse together and tear holes in the fabric the next time you try to put them on. Also, your car starts to smell like feet and trout. A fishing buddy told me to wash them in a three-percent solution of hypo-allergenic, biodegradable laundry soap, seltzer water, extra-virgin olive oil, and locally grown, gluten-free eye of newt, then hang them to dry with some pine needles in each boot for a lovely outdoor aroma. I thought, "Geez, I don't clean my children that thoroughly."
So, after my first use, I hung the waders from a tree branch and sprayed them with the garden hose. Just like my children. My friend was right, though. After a while, I noticed mold forming in places the hose didn't reach. Just like my children. On the up side, I now know of three stores in the area where I can buy eye of newt.
*John Wagner lives in suburban Chicago with his wife, Dee. They have two children, Joanna and Julie.