Embracing the Flow: A Guide to Wet Wading for Beginners

Leonard Schoenberger

There’s an undeniable thrill in feeling the cool water against your legs as you stand in a pristine river, fly rod in hand.

Wet wading’s a style of fly fishing where you skip wearing waders, adds a new dimension to the fly fishing experience in my eyes. I love this style of wading without wadesr in the hot summer months where the cool water around your ankles and legs refreshes your body and mind. In my eyes, this style of fishing also provides a more direct connection to the elements. In this guide, I’ll explore the ins and outs of this special approach and share tips on how to make the most of this liberating approach.

The Essentials of Wet Wading

Fly fisherman wet wading a river in Montana
Enjoying some barefoot wading during the summer in Montana. Photo: Shane Rickert

Footwear Selection

The choice of footwear is crucial, yet I know many fly fishermen with totally different preferences. Some opt for sturdy wading boots with proper traction to navigate slippery riverbeds. These are the same kind of wading boots you would wear with a pair of waders. You can go for a pair of specialized socks to replace the neopren booties that would normally go into your wading boots. Other fishermen I know go for wading sandals and yet some go completely freestyle and use flip flops. It really depends on the river and surroundings your fishing. If you have to get down a step bank to get to your fishing spot, I wouldn’t recommend flip flops or sandals but proper wading boots instead.

But if the river access is easy and straightforward you can go for a more lightweight option as did our author Scott Diel in the photo below to fish the Little Red River in Arkansas during the warmer summer months.

Fishing the Little Red River, Arkansas
Most manufacturers offer specialized wading shoes. Photo: Scott Diel

Apparel for Comfort

Wet wading simplifies your attire, but comfort is still key. Consider lightweight, quick-drying clothing to keep you cool in the water. Breathable materials like nylon and polyester are ideal choices. A good-quality fishing shirt with UPF protection will shield you from the sun, while convertible pants offer versatility as temperatures fluctuate.

Fly fisherman walking along a river
A lightweight shirt with good ventilation and sun protection capabilities is the way to go for fishing without waders. Photo: Shane Rickert.

Sun Protection

Spending hours in the water means prolonged sun exposure. I recommend prioritizing sun protection by wearing a wide-brimmed hat, sunglasses with UV protection, and applying a water-resistant sunscreen on exposed skin. Staying comfortable and safeguarded from the elements ensures a more enjoyable wading experience. I always put sunscreen, even on overcast days, since the water’s reflection often increases your exposure to the sun’s rays.

Fly Fishing Gear for Wet Wading

Fly fisherman wet wading a river with a waterproof hip bag and fly fishing net.
When wading withouth waders, I like sporting a waterproof hip bag. I also tugg my fly fishing net into the hip bag to always have it at hand when landing a fish. Photo: Shane Rickert.

Fly Rod and Reel

Choose a fly rod and reel combo suitable for the water conditions you’ll be facing. Lightweight gear is often preferred, as it enhances mobility and reduces fatigue. A 4 to 6 weight rod is versatile enough for most wet wading scenarios. You can also experience this style of fishing in saltwater, for example when roaming flats for cruising bonefish. Since the water is warmer in those regions, wading without waders is a cool way of experiencing these special surroundings. In that scenario however, I recommend wearing solid foot wear as shell can cut your feet. Also, sun protection is absolutely crucial in saltwater fishing.

Fly fisherman holding a bonefish
Wet wading for beginners in the saltwater can be an amazing experience. Photo: Travis Sands

Minimalist Approach to Tackle

Streamline your tackle box for hot weather excursions. Bring only the essentials, focusing on a selection of versatile flies, tippet, and leaders. A minimalist approach reduces bulk and allows you to move freely in the water without unnecessary weight.

Waterproof Accessories

Protect sensitive gear like your phone, car keys, and other valuables by stashing them in a waterproof bag or pouch. These accessories ensure that your essentials stay dry, even if you take an unexpected dip.

Fly fisherman walking along a river bank: wet wading for beginners guide
In wet wading, I enjoy a minimalist approach to tackle. Bring only what you really need. Photo: Shane Rickert

Safety Considerations

River Awareness

Understanding the river’s current, depth, and potential hazards is crucial for safe wading. Take the time to assess the water conditions, and exercise caution when navigating unfamiliar terrain. Always prioritize safety over exploration.

Wading Staff

Consider using a wading staff to enhance stability, especially in swift currents. A collapsible wading staff is easy to carry and can provide valuable support when wading through varying depths.


Fly fisherman wet wading in Montana.
Experiencing some great trout fishing during the summer in Montana. Photo: Shane Rickert

Wet wading opens up a world of immersive fly fishing experiences, allowing you to connect with nature in a unique way. By choosing the right footwear, dressing comfortably, selecting appropriate gear, and prioritizing safety, you can make this style of fishing an integral part of your fly fishing adventures. Embrace the flow, feel the water, and let the river become an extension of your angling journey.

FAQs: Wet Wading for Beginners

Can I wet wade in any type of river?

This style of fishing is suitable for various rivers, but it’s essential to assess each location’s conditions. Choose rivers with moderate currents and be cautious of potential hazards.

Are there specific socks for this type of fishing?

While specialized wet wade socks exist, some anglers prefer quick-drying, lightweight regular socks. The key is to prioritize comfort and moisture management.

Is wet wade fishing suitable for all seasons?

This stlye of fishing is most comfortable in warmer seasons, but anglers can adapt to colder conditions by layering with appropriate clothing and gear.

Do I need special wading boots for wet wading?

Wading boots designed for wet wading are recommended for optimal traction and comfort. Choose boots with felt or rubber soles based on the regulations of your fishing area.