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Choosing the right pair of waders for YOU
By Dan Gray, Wolf Mountain Fly and Tackle, Colstrip, MT

Here you are, sitting alone on the river bank with your $400.00 rod and reel combo in hand wearing your $75.00 vest loaded with $250.00 worth of flies, leaders, tippets along with a whole sundry of other fly fishing related paraphernalia freezing your butt off because the seams in cheap waders are leaking. Let's see, the guy at the garage sale said they had only been worn twice failing to mention that was ten-years ago and they had been stored in the old utility shed out back every since. Or maybe you bought them because the salesmen at Wally World said his second cousin's brother-in-law had a pair just like them and he thought he was pleased with them, but he hadn't talked to him in over a year ever since he ran off with that waitress from the Waffle House. Maybe they don't leak at all maybe they just don't fit right and the boys are busy screaming in protest.

None of this really matters right now. What really matters is you are sitting on the bank like apiece of old dried out driftwood while your buddies are out mid-stream fishing to their hearts content. Why you ask? Well, since you asked, I will tell you why. You didn't do your homework when it came to picking out your waders. You spent three weeks try to figure out what type of drag you wanted on your reel; another two on the color of you fly line and one hour on the type and size of your waders. You knew neoprene was good, but didn't think that there was that much difference between 3mm and 5 mm. "What kind of measurement is mm anyways?" you remember thinking at the time. "What's wrong with inches, so a fella could figure this stuff out?" It kind of falls along the same lines has 7X and 2X my friend.

Well, let's let bygones be bygones and see what we can do to make sure that this is the last fishing trip ruined because of your wader selection.

Number One: What are you going to use the waders for?

Are you buying the waders just for fishing or do you plan to wear them when you hunt ducks and geese? Since most folks can only afford one good pair of waders, this is an important question. If you fish more than you hunt, then the type, thickness and color of the wader should be considered when compared against the type of fishing you normally do. The same is true if you hunt more days than you fish. What is the temperature of the water going to be the largest percentage of the time when you have waders on? It is a lot more bearable to be a little warm on a hot day than a whole lot of cold on a chilly one.

Number Two: What kind of material should I choose?

There are several different types of materials that you can select from when choosing your waders. This is the time that you really want to consider what you will be using the waders for and how often.

Neoprene is probably the most popular wader material and for many good reasons. One, it is very durable and can take a lot of abuse. Two, you can select which thickness, 3mm or 5mm that would suit your needs best. If the weather where you fish is mostly moderate with an exceptional cold day or if you have to walk a ways to get to your fishing spot or just walk a lot while you fish, then the 3mm would probably be your best choice. If you live or fish in a colder climate, or plan to use your waders for hunting, then you might want to consider a pair of 5mm.

Neoprene waders come in various colors from the more traditional dark brown to green, blue and even camouflaged. Other than getting a pair of dual purpose hunting fishing camouflaged, the color selection is strictly a personal choice.

Over the past ten years or so, breathable waders have grown in popularity and are slowly replacing the neoprene wader as the wader of choice. One of the main reasons for this shift in popularity is the material from which the breathable waders are made. Breathable waders are constructed from a permeable membrane such as Gore-Tex®, which allows moisture to escape through the wader even while in the water. The versatility of the breathable wader is another huge selling point. They can be worn in the hot summer months and sweat will not become an issue and they can be worn in the winter months with a set of sweat pants or fleece wader pants that will help keep moisture away from you and protect you from the cold water. The typical loose fit of breathable waders also make them a great choice for fishermen who have to walk a long ways to the secret fishing hole and they are extremely comfortable to use during a long day in a float tube or pontoon boat.

You can also go "old school" and check out canvas waders, but they are getting pretty hard to find anymore. They are cheaper than neoprene or breathable waders, but you are going to sacrifice a lot in flexibility, breathability and in overall weight of the waders. But, canvas waders are about as durable as the come and a great choice for somebody just starting out in the sport.

Nylon waders are also great choice for beginner fly fishermen. Nylon waders are a slight step up from the rubber waders that most beginners start out with. Nylon waders are lightweight and will keep you dry and warm. One disadvantage of nylon waders is that they can be hot, and because they are not breathable, it can cause a problem in the colder months when sweat builds up causing the fisherman's clothes to become damp or wet. Not only will this cause discomfort, it could lead to hypothermia if the angler should become too cold. The same is true even in the summer months when clothes become damp or wet and a fisherman is spending extended amounts of time in an ice cold mountain stream.

Rubber waders are another choice, but they are continually losing their popularity due to the drop in prices of the neoprene and breathable waders. While the price of rubber waders might be attractive to somebody on a tight budget, you should consider that you will be giving up flexibility, breathability and weight with rubber waders. Due to the construction of rubber waders, they also pose a bit more of a safety problem than other types of waders. ALWAYS make sure you wear a wading belt securely fastened around your waist when wading with all waders, but especially true with rubber waders.

Number Three: Wader Fitting

Now that you have selected the type of material your waders are going to be made from, let's talk about getting them to fit right. While keeping dry and warm might be our first priority for a comfortable day on the water, having a pair of waders that fits right is a close second. If your waders do not fit right not only will you be uncomfortable, but also you will find that you will tire much easier, which could lead to a potential wading mishap. Improper fitting waders can also restrict your range of motion while climbing over rocks or getting in and out of a boat, all of which could also contribute to a wading mishap or fall that could cause personal or equipment damage.

Often, anglers purchase waders that fit too tightly. After all, we want to look svelte in the pictures of us holding up that trophy fish. Well, let's put our vanity aside for a moment and consider a few things. Wouldn't it be nice to have a pair of waders that fit loose enough to allow us to put on an extra layer of clothing on those cold winter days when the steelhead are running? How nice will it feel to walk a mile down to Fisher's Hole without having to fight our waders all the way?

Nowadays, many of us order from the Internet and have to take our chances on how our waders and boots will fit. Email the owner of the site and give them your height, weight and shoe size and they should be able to fit you that way. If you purchase from a fly shop or sporting goods store, take the time to try them on. Do a couple of knee bends and walk around a little bit. See if you can put a foot up on a stool. Remember you may be climbing up and down stream banks. Look too at the length of the legs, too long will cause folds which can rub and wear causing leaks. Sure, a couple of the other shoppers might think you're a little loose up top, but you will find it to be time well spent.

Number Four: What type boots and boot soles to get?

Boot and boot sole selection is a lot like wader selection. Once again, what are you going to be using the waders for and under what types of conditions? Some waders have the boots connected to the wader in one piece. These are called boot foot waders. If you are going to spend most of your time in cold weather and water, they are by far the right choice. They provide the best cold-water protection and most of them come insulated. Another advantage to the boot foot wader is they are low maintenance and are very easy to put on and take off. Because rocks and sand can't slip into the boot, there is no need to put on gravel guards to protect your feet from getting rubbed raw. Built in boots have no laces, which is a bonus and you don't have to worry about arriving at the river with only one boot or with your wife's boots as I once did.

Stocking foot waders are probably the most popular type of waders on the market mostly because of their weight advantage. They have the same type of construction as boot foot waders; but do not have the attached rubber boot. Instead, stocking foot waders have a neoprene sock attached to the bottom of the waders, which means you will have to purchase of pair of wading boots. In some ways this is good, because it allows you to purchase different boots for different river bottoms. It also allows you to wear flippers when in a float tube. The big disadvantage is that sand or gravel can find it's way through your gravel guards and you will have to stop and clean out your wading boots. If not properly looked after, sand and gravel will eventually wear holes into the stocking foot, causing your waders to leak. Buy lugged sole boots if you are going to be fishing muddy-bottomed water and felt soles on rock or gravel-bottomed waters.

Make sure to follow the manufacturer's recommendations regarding the proper care and storage of your waders and boots especially if it's going to be a long time between uses. ~ DG

Have a question? Email me!

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