I have been instructing beginners in fly fishing for many years, and there is always a slight bit of trepidation the first time a student slips on a pair of waders and steps into the water. As with any water sport, there are precautions that should be taken to reduce the risk of accidents. Being aware of the dangers and following a few simple, common sense practices will keep you out of harm’s way.
These are my top 10 guides for safety that are certain to keep your head above water.
- Shuffle your feet. Try to avoid picking up your feet. Don’t place one foot in front of the other, especially if you are unfamiliar with or cannot see the bottom of the river. Shuffling your feet will keep you steady and will help to identify rocks and boulders before tripping over them.
- Cross fast water with a buddy. Don’t let pride stand in the way of getting to the other side and staying dry. When the water is moving fast, standing side by side with your arms across each other’s shoulders will give added support to both (or all) of you.
- Carry a wading staff. A wading staff can serve as a much needed support. It will allow you to check water depth, feel for rocks, and steady yourself in fast water when balance is critical. There are several options to choose from on the market today. A simple trekking pole or a fold up model that attaches to your wading belt for convenience will do the trick.
- Wear a belt. Keeping your wading belt cinched tightly around your waist will help to keep the water from rushing into your waders if you fall.
- Don’t panic. People drown due to panic, not because their waders are full of water and will pull them under. Each summer, I teach a safety class in a swimming pool. During the class, students wade into the pool, allowing their waders to fill with water. All are amazed to find that as they move into the deep end, they actually float. If you fall in, get on your back with your feet headed downstream. Just keep an eye out for an area where you can paddle yourself to shore and crawl out of the river.
- Consider a pfd (personal flotation device). This is especially advised if you fish alone. Fly fishing vests with built in pfds are available on the market today and are especially comfortable and stylish. And, of course, it’s all about looking good!
- Check the generation schedule and heed the warning that the schedule is subject to change. Most of the trout fishing in Middle Tennessee is in the tail waters of the Caney Fork, the Elk, or Duck Rivers. Each of the rivers are controlled by the Corp of Engineers and the Tennessee Valley Authority. The generation schedule is posted daily and can be accessed using the following link. http://www.tva.com/river/lakeinfo/ Keep in mind the schedule can change without warning. You should be aware of your surroundings, paying close attention to any change in current. I make a point of picking out a spot at the edge of the river and watching for any change in elevation.
- Wear quick dry garments. This is a suggestion for comfort as well as safety. I have heard the saying “cotton kills” numerous times from my good friend at Cumberland Transit, Lori Ridgeway. Quick dry material will keep you cooler in the summer months by wicking away moisture and, in the winter months, will help prevent hypothermia if you fall in the river.
- Walk with the current, angling downstream and across. Moving with the flow will help with balance and will keep your legs from tiring out quickly due to fighting the current.
- Take one step at a time. Why rush? Fishing isn’t a race! Take your time and move at a pace that will allow you to catch your balance if you stumble.
Each of these tips are basically a common sense approach to being in the water. If you can plan ahead, know your own personal strengths and limitations, and be aware of your surroundings, you should stay high and dry.