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What are Fishing Waders? When Do You Use Them?

A man casting his lure to the river.

As an avid flyfisherman, I am well acquainted with fishing waders. But, I can see how some people who have only experienced fishing from a boat or standing on the shore may not understand what these are, and what they are used for. So, first off – just what are fishing waders?

Fishing Waders Explained

Fishing waders allow a fisherman (or fisherwoman – my mom had a pair) to get out into the water without being on a boat. They allow you to wade out into the water. Now, depending on how far out you want to go or how deep the water is, there are different types of waders.

Ankle Waders

high cut boots for ankle waders.

If you just want to “get your feet wet” without actually getting them wet, then ankle waders are what you will want. Really, these are little more than glorified waterproof hiking boots. They will provide you with the necessary traction you will need when walking along slippery rocks and through mud, while keeping your feet dry.

These are good for fishing on a lake or small river when you just want to distance yourself a little from the shore.

Knee Waders

As the name implies, these waders reach up to your knee. If ankle waders are glorified hiking boots, knee waders can be thought of as glorified rainboots. They have more traction to help keep you from slipping on those rocks and will let you get a little further away from the shore than ankle waders.

Growing up, a pair of knee waders were actually just longer waders that had been cut off. Knee waders will probably have some sort of padding or insulation to keep your lower legs warm in cold water, or they may be made out of bodysuit material, similar to a dive suit for the same purpose.

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Standard Waders

A man fishing in shallow waters with nets.

The type of wader that most people may be familiar with is the kind that comes up to the thigh. I call these “standard” because they are just that – pretty standard. Again, they will have extra traction on the soles to help prevent slipping, and some kind of insulation to keep your legs warm.

I have seen these with just a rubber foot for traction and the bodysuit material up the leg, but the ones I have owned have all been completely rubber. Often, you will find that these waders have loops or clips at the top to cinch them down on your thigh (or even attach to a belt). This comes in handy when you step in deep mud and try to pull the wader off.

These waders are good for a variety of situations. Whether you use them along a riverbank while fly fishing (like I usually do) or to get out a little way on a lake, these waders are multipurpose for a variety of styles of fishing.

You may see them called hip waders, although they really do not come up to your hip. But by keeping most of your legs dry, they will let you get closer to the fish in the middle of the river or further from the shore on a lake.

Waist Waders

A man fishing on a shallow waters casting lure.

Using the “glorified something” theme – waist waders can be thought of as glorified footie pajama pants. They cover you from toe to waist, usually ending with suspender-type straps that go over your shoulders to keep them in place.

These waders will let you get a little bit closer than standard (hip) waders, but really the big difference is the straps that keep them up. You will not be worried about losing your waders with these because they are strapped to your shoulders.

Other Types

There are these fancy contraptions that can be considered waders that are best described as a personal boat. They have a ring of buoyant material at the waist and allow you to get out and float on the water. I have never actually tried this kind, but I have seen fishermen out in the middle of a (small) lake wearing them.

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It seems to me that it would be difficult to move around on the water once you started floating using just your legs (if you are holding your fishing tackle in your hands, being able to paddle with your hands would be difficult). But, like I said, I have never actually tried these, so I cannot say for sure.

Using Waders

Father and son casting their fishing rods on the river.

I tried to give an idea of when the various types of waders can be used, but really it comes down to the type of fishing you are trying to do. If all you want to do is keep your feet dry, then ankle waders are going to be fine (or a good pair of waterproof hiking boots). Having that extra traction will help you keep your footing as you step along a riverbank or shoreline.

If you are fishing along a river and want to get a little distance between you and the plants on the shore that will invariably grab your tackle as you try casting, then a good pair of knee or standard (hip) waders will be best. The difference between how much of your leg is covered will dictate just how far out on the water you are able to go.

As a kid, I thought it was pretty cool to use the cut-off version of knee waders to get out a little bit on the water. As an adult, having the longer waders is certainly helpful for getting into the middle of a river for fly fishing. I have used waders to get some distance from the shore of a lake, and been successful in catching something at the very last minute of a fishing trip.

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I would advise that you make sure that your waders are attached to you somehow – it is a very real problem to be stuck in the middle of a midfield with one wader on and one buried in the mud, trying to get unstuck.

If you are serious about wading into the water to be as close as possible to the deeper water without using a boat, waist waders (or even the boat-style waders) will be best. Waist waders are going to let you get into water that is three or four feet deep, which means you can venture out into deeper rivers or further from the shore of a lake. And the fact that the waders are firmly attached to you via the shoulder straps means that you do not need to worry about them getting stuck and pulled off.

All waders are going to have some additional traction on the bottom, which is very helpful as you make your way across slippery rocks. I will tell you that it takes some getting used to walking along in a moving body of water, however.Father showing his son direction where to fish.

You are not going to want to walk straight out into the middle of a river, regardless of how far up your waders go. Take your time as you move out deeper. Allow yourself to get accustomed to the depth and flow of the water as you make your way to your target fishing spot.

Waders are great for fishermen of all types who want to get some distance from the shore. Whether you use them for flyfishing (as I do) or just for spin casting a little further into the middle of a body of water, you are going to find that a good set of waders will be indispensable for helping you enjoy the fishing experience.