Guest Blogger: Michael Vorhis, author of ARCHANGEL suspense thriller, OPEN DISTANCE adventure thriller & more to come

Part I of this article dealt with wading mishaps. Part II will discuss other risks.

Myself, if I ever actually took a swim while wading, I’d be thinking, “Now keep yer head. Avoid the primary catastrophe here. People have gotten wet before…no biggie. That fly box I just dropped can be replaced…I can ruin my electronic car keys and camera and phone…all replaceable…my waders can fill and drag me down and I can go unconscious and end up miles downstream with amnesia…I can even never come up at all and wind up a statistic in tomorrow’s newspaper…all that I can accept. What I can’t accept is if I break this fine hand-made fly rod.”

So keep the wand above your head, or toss it out in the water in front of you, or flip around and splash down nose-to-sky. Just don’t land on the rod.

Figure 2

Gear risks are common in gear-intensive sports, and the finer the gear the more nervous we get. Among the most common risks I’ve fallen prey to is hiking down riverside paths to a likely or favorite hole and finding myself being lightly caressed by briars. It’s not a big deal until I realize there’s now a leak in my prized waders. It’s worth carrying a stick to ensure a clear path, or failing that, to carefully “walk down” those wispy briar branches until there’s zero chance of getting grabbed by one. But then don’t make the mistake of thinking later that the path is clear on your return hike! Other anglers may have come by, and even if not, briar branches have a way of getting themselves back up across paths, like sinister spider webs intent on snaring a hapless fisherman.

Flies in fly boxes: Jostled fly boxes will have loose flies in them. Open the lid out there and lose several flies in the drink. Don’t jostle the fly vest or fly boxes, and don’t let your buddies do it either.

Flies in fly boxes on windy days: Loose flies, or bushy flies that aren’t even loose, are eager to take to the air. When the wind picks up, I tend to go back to shore where I can protect the fly box from the wind without simultaneously balancing on slippery bottom rocks. (If it picks up too much I won’t switch flies at all…but nor will I quit fishing….)

Gear Escape: Tether the wading staff and the net to your belt, even if you use one of those supermagnet net holders. A tethered cord is added insurance.

Phone: I carry my phone to use as a camera, and I snap it into one of those thin waterproof cases before putting it into the wader pocket. But that only helps a little, because the real risk is dropping the thing after taking it out to snap a shot. Typically I’m holding a fish in the net in one hand, the rod under the other armpit…you get the idea. I simplify as best I can by having the camera app already queued up, but it’s still a juggling act. I do keep a few aluminum mini-carabiners clipped to the net mesh and will sometimes clip the net closed with them so that I can drop it in the water without the fish escaping. I’ll get the phone out, then pull the fish back up and snap the shot. If there’s a rock nearby I’ll wade to it and set the rod down and such, to get my glory photo of that amazing five-inch whitefish or whatever it is I’ve caught.

Kayaks: Experienced kayak anglers, you know what you’re doing, so this is not for you. Neophytes, I’ve seen people unskilled at reading whitewater upturn in even relatively gentle riffles (always the “upstream lean” mistake) and lose their rod or other gear on the bottom. Kayak angling is still kayaking, and crossing eddy lines requires knowing what an eddy line is and how to lean and pivot properly when crossing it. Also, whitewater kayaks, which I greatly prefer as kayaks, do not lend themselves to fly fishing. They’re designed to sit inside with spray skirt attached and nimbly slalom through the current’s features. Legs and feet are working down there as much as the arms are above. Fly rods would have to be broken down (and in a tube) to be safe down there…and then they must be set up from scratch before fishing. If a particular gravel bar inaccessible by hiking is the day’s target, a whitewater kayak can be used to get you there, but hopping from likely fishing spot to likely fishing spot…I don’t think so.

Inner tubes: Don’t even ask this question. If you use one of these for fly fishing, you deserve to pop the thing.

There are risks that some gear poses to other. One good example is familiar to deep-water streamer fishermen, and it comes from the use of heavier streamer heads–particularly but not limited to the big tungsten cones. A heavy metal streamer head or large piece of lead or tin shot coupled with a lifetime of training oneself to make tight-loop casts…and maybe add a bit of a cross-wind…will all one day fly that metal thing directly into our favorite rod blank on a cast’s forward stroke. We may even think we’ve gotten away with it, but the compromise of several graphite fibers where the collision occurred can later cause that rod to snap under load–not only do we lose the beautiful rod, we lose whatever large fish was loading it at the time…and likely also our reputation as a person of dignity, courtesy of the stream of expletives that will invariably be loosed. Extreme care must be taken always, to protect the long graphite or boron or glass fibers that give a rod strength, and as premium rod blanks get lighter and more energy-efficient by the year, their walls get thinner and their brittleness goes up exponentially, as does this kind of risk. Laying a rod down VERY gently on midstream rocks, avoiding whacking it into tree branches, car roofs or other rods…it’s all important. Protect the fibers.

Another example was mentioned in Part I: Traction enhancers (cleats, spikes, metal crampon hardware) can very quickly rip through wader walls down near the ankles. Step bow-legged if you must, but keep from springing a leak.

Casting upstream is the classic guidance, on the belief that fish are facing that away and as a method of avoiding the thick floating line overfloating and spooking them. But at least twice in my life I miscalculated how directly upstream I was casting; it is nearly impossible to keep one’s line from tangling around one’s legs once the mistake is realized, in part due to the eddy that a wading angler makes, which “sucks” that line right in around you. And then figuring out where the leader and fly are is an exercise in being wrong. The fly will catch on the waders and the line will pull in the current. The socks will suddenly turn soggy and the joy will have left the day. Surf fishing includes remarkably similar risk, especially to those less familiar with how water moves along the beach. I’ve found that the best way for a mountain stream angler to tie his or her ankles together is to try fly fishing in the surf.

Risks to ears and neck: Crosswind, flying hook, vulnerable flesh, loud yell. Sometimes it wasn’t even you doing the casting. Fish protection be damned–I’ve always suspected that this risk is the secret true reason why barbless hooks have caught on so quickly. Like avid golfers and lightning, everybody has a story about getting bitten by a hook; we’re left only with trying to be stoic when our turn comes.

Risks to documents: Most jurisdictions require us to not only show a fishing license but to be able to prove that we’re its rightful owner. Photo ID cards are expected to be shown with the license. And yet I have no intention of risking my wallet while wading–not even my driver’s license for that matter. I don’t know if it’s technically valid, but what I do is keep my most recent previously expired driver’s license with my fishing license in my fishing vest. If anyone claims that ID card doesn’t prove I’m still a resident, I have three answers at the ready: (1) It may not be valid permission to drive a car, but it’s still an accurate photo ID; if my drowned body was found with that card on it, it would be considered positive identification; and (2) I have a photo of my recent (still valid) driver’s license in my phone; and (3) If I was now an out-of-state angler I sure as hell wouldn’t have come back just to fish this dinky little stream. (Not sure if that last one would win me any friends in the local Fish & Game dept though.)

Risk of gear theft from one’s vehicle: Sadly, it happens. Hide wallets, trousers and jackets, other items that might have come out of a pocket, so they can’t easily be seen. Some have tried putting a note on their car saying something like, “Picnic is on! We’re all here,” or, “Hey Charlie, give a holler, I’m in sight of where you’re standing, doing a little reading.” I saw a similar note on a car at a backpacking trail once, and the car owner later admitted that its purpose was not to claim proximity or to warn of a loud alarm or a dog or any other such deterrent, but simply to cause a passer-by to read the note and be distracted by it, and so not notice that the door lock had long since fallen off.

I hide my keys under some bit of natural something-or-other in a nearby ditch or field; I won’t lose them in the water and I won’t have to peel off the waders later to get into the car.

That’s as decent a run-down of risks as I can think of. There are others of course, but some of them are dodged by never saying at home, “Dear, the main thing that gives my life purpose is fishing.”

Just assume it’s understood.


  1. Hi Mike,
    Enjoyed your blogs. Anyone who wade fishes and says they never fall in is totally full of S#!T. To that end I have 2 pieces of advice. First, keep a whistle on a zinger. Especially if you fish without a buddy. Yelling for help is cool but blowing SOS is a lot easier. Second, keep a dry bag in your car. An old pair of sweats, socks, underwear, that old pair of sneakers you going to toss and a watch cap. All rolled up in an old beach towel and neatly tucked in a trash bag.
    Twice the high if you tied the fly! Dennis

    1. Yes, glad you mentioned that Dennis! Every trip to a river I have a bag of dry clothes handy just in case. In the last ten years (which excludes the first anecdote I’d shared in Part I about stepping into a deep stream), I’ve only ever done a partial fall and only arms, up to the elbows, which was enough to school me on slowing down. But still I bring the dry clothes to the site. I’ve probably shivered more from freezing winter drizzle than from wading mishaps, so those dry clothes help in that scenario too.

      Yes on the thrill of using self-tied flies!

      Whistles sound like a good idea. But it requires some open real estate on the front of the fishing vest, and that’s hard to find. : )

      – Mike

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