Every angler who fishes streams, whether wobbly or sure-footed, should use a wading staff when fly fishing—and not only to stay dry-side up. In addition to the safety benefits of wading staffs, these handy tools help you cover water more efficiently and give you confidence to get into that prime position for a perfect cast. Let’s look at a few more reasons why you should use a wading staff while fly fishing . . .
Why Use a Fly Fishing Wading Staff?
While fly fishing isn’t considered a particularly dangerous activity, the fact that it takes place in and around water means there are certain risks and cautions anglers face. Hypothermia is no joke.
Here are the top reasons why a fly fishing wading staff makes you a safer, more efficient angler:
- Increased balance and stability while wading. With a wading staff, you can maintain two points of contact with the streambed at all times. Without a staff, every time you take a step, your entire weight is supported on one leg, potentially compromising your balance.
- Conserve energy, fish longer. The additional stability that comes from using a wading staff means you don’t have to work as hard to maintain your balance and position in the current. With those energy savings, you’ll have less fatigue, more stamina, and longer days of fishing.
- Probe ahead to feel for obstacles, gauge water depth and speed. Use the added reach length of a wading staff to help you test the footing ahead of you and assess upcoming changes in the water.
- Navigate steep terrain. Wading staffs aren’t only useful in the water. Use a wading staff as a trekking pole on dry land when climbing up and down steep banks or other sketchy terrain.
- Use it as a weapon. Although this might sound silly, a wading staff could be a very useful item for personal defense, whether against wildlife like rattlesnakes, bears, or mischievous otters, or other anglers encroaching on your casting space.
What Type of Wading Staffs are Available?
Simms, Fishpond, and Orvis currently make some of the best wading staffs for fly fishing. Folstaff, proud creators of the original folding wading staff, are still alive and kicking offering a quality product. Hop over to Amazon and you’ll find a handful of other wading staffs that fall into the ultra-budget category.
Collapsible wading staffs are the most popular designs thanks to their light weight and packability. Under the umbrella of collapsible wading staffs, there are two distinct styles:
- Foldable/ripcord. Wading staffs like the Simms Pro and Orvis Sure Step collapse into four pieces connected by a bungee cord that springs the staff into place. Deploying a foldable wading staff can be done with a flick of the wrist.
- Telescopic. Easily mistaken for trekking poles, telescopic wading staffs are strong and sturdy but don’t extend automatically like foldable staffs. Of course, you can use a generic hiking trekking pole or you can go with a fly fishing-specific telescopic wading staff like the Fishpond Slippery Rock.
I highly Recommend the Fishpond SLIPPERY ROCK PRO (Link to Amazon to check price and reviews). The Slippery Rock is super strong, can be used for hiking and wading. It trades the collapseability feature for strength.(wading staffs that bungee together can easily pull apart)
Important Accessories for Fly Fishing Wading Staffs
On its own, there’s little difference between a wading staff and a trekking pole. To use this tool successfully for fly fishing, there are several key accessories you’ll need to acquire along with your new wading staff.
Here’s what you’ll need:
- Wrist strap. This is one accessory that’s included with most wading staffs. By sliding your wrist through the wrist strap before grasping the handle, the staff will stay more or less attached to your arm.
- Tether or retractor. Allows you to keep your wading staff attached to you, fully assembled, and within arms reach at all times. Basic nylon cords with a carabiner can be used as wading staff tethers but retractors—like zingers but with stronger springs—automatically reel in the slack cord, keeping the staff conveniently at your hip. Tethers that use a magnetic release and bungee cord combo also work well.
- Holster/pouch. When not in use, a foldable wading staff can be held in a holster attached to your wading belt. Then, when you need to use your staff, simply pull it from the holster and it’ll spring open automatically.
- Camera mount. If you carry a waterproof camera on the stream to snap cool underwater photos of your catch, look for a wading staff that has a built-in camera mount, like this one by Springbrook—the fly fisher’s answer to the selfie stick!
Techniques for Wading Safely
The act of carrying a wading staff alone doesn’t grant you superhuman wading powers automatically—you must remember to actually use it in conjunction with other safe wading practices.
In case you’re a bit rusty on how to wade safely, let’s look at the basics:
- Gear up with essential wading duds. Unless you’re wet wading in the heat of summer, you’ll need a pair of breathable waders, moisture wicking base layers, and wading boots with traction devices installed in the soles. In terms of safety, few items are more indispensable than a wading belt—cinch it tight (but not too tight) around your waist to prevent water from entering your waders if you do go for a swim.
- Keep your wading staff accessible whenever you’re actively wading. Your wading staff is of no use if it never leaves your pack. Instead, get a wading staff holster to keep it handy on your wading belt. Then, as soon as you enter the water, pull out the staff and keep it assembled so it’s ready when you need it.
- Let your wading staff hang in the current. Your wading staff should be tethered to you with a retractor (more on those later), so it can float in the water when not in use.
- Go slow. Before you take your first step into the stream for the day, stop, take a deep breath, and slow your roll. Evaluate the terrain and take your time setting your feet in place before shifting your weight. Use your wading staff to feel ahead for any trip-ups. With experience, your “slow” will gradually get faster.
- Assume an athletic body position and wide stance. Whether you’re crossing a boulder-hewn stretch of swift current or standing in place casting, keep your knees bent, core muscles engaged, and your wits about you. Be ready to react and stay nimble on your feet. For best balance, try to maintain a wide stance, at least shoulder-width distance.
- Focus on footwork. Never cross your feet when wading—you’ll lose your balance and even a light current can sweep you off your feet. Try to avoid taking steps backward and for greater stability in powerful currents, step sideways and shuffle your feet. With each step, make sure your footing will support you before shifting your body weight.
- Don’t fight the current. Start your wading route slightly upstream from your target location and allow the current to bump you downstream as you move. Every drop of energy you conserve adds up.
- Travel long distances on dry land. If you’re done fishing a run and are ready to move up or downstream to the next, see if it’s more efficient to exit the stream and walk down the bank. This can also keep you from spooking fish.
- Wear polarized sunglasses. When you combine the glare-reduction of polarized sunglasses with the reach of your wading staff, you’ll be able to detect underwater obstacles by sight and feel.
- Use your wading staff more! Think of your wading staff as a third leg there to make every step easier. When in doubt, use it and use it frequently.
In addition to these wading safety tips, inviting a buddy to join you fishing is always a good move. Keep an eye on each other, and if you come to a particularly powerful stretch of river, link arms and trudge through it as a team. If you’re both armed with wading staffs, you’ll have 6 limbs at your disposal for balance.
Again if your looking for a solid choice for a fly fishing wading staff the Fishpond Slippery Rock Pro (link so you can look at the great reviews).