Do You Need Waders to Fly Fish

When I began fly fishing several years ago it was very overwhelming.  There is so much to learn and a huge selection of gear.  I finally bought my first fly rod and a few flies.  As I was wading across a cold creek I began to wonder, do I need waders to fly fish?

You do not need waders to successfully fly fish.  However, waders make standing in water more comfortable and they facilitate easier casting and access to hard to reach fishing spots.

You may not be ready to fork over big bucks for a pair of waders and that’s okay. I fly fished for years without using waders until I finally purchased a set.  Even now, I still find that I would rather fly fish without waders but they do have their place.  Fly fishing without waders is possible so let’s take a look at how it can be done.  

How do you fly fish without waders

It is not always necessary to get wet while fishing.  Many times the perfect fishing hole is reachable from shore.  However, fly fishing sometimes presents a challenge when fishing from the bank.  The back and forth casting and a long rod makes getting your fly tangled in trees not only possible but inevitable.  

If you do not want to use waders, then mastering the role cast and side cast is essential to keeping your toes out of the water and your line out of the trees.  The side cast is intend for casting directly upstream or downstream while keeping your casting direction parallel to shore. 

If you need to reach across the water and you have trees behind you, try the roll cast.  The roll cast is trickier to learn and requires practice.  It will eliminate the back cast and keep you out of the trees.  There are plenty of good videos on YouTube that will show the exact technique but to put it simply, it involves lifting the tip of your rod and quickly flipping it forward to create a moving roll in the line in order to get your fly where it needs to go.

A pair of barn boots can also get you a few feet closer to where fish are holding.  Just be careful, it is easy to fill them up with water.  Hip boots will get you closer still, but again, are easy to get wet in.  

When the weather is warm, I just prefer wading with a pair of old tennis shoes and shorts. Wearing nylon pants instead of shorts gives a small layer of warmth and nylon pants will air dry quickly unlike jeans or cotton pants.  Sometimes my fishing hole is too far away to comfortably reach while wearing waders or boots and packing them around is a hindrance.

Become an expert shoreline angler by checking out our comprehensive guide on how to fly fish from shore.

Benefits of waders for fly fishing

There are many occasions where waders increase your odds of success.  Being able to cross streams or reach deeper water without hesitation or getting wet makes buying a pair of waders worth it.  Here is my quick list of benefits to having waders and why you might want to consider getting a pair yourself.

  • Allows you to get into the middle of the river/water for clear casting and better fly presentation with a fly rod.
  • Cross deeper water easier.
  • Keeps you warm and fishing longer.
  • Kneel in the water to release a fish without getting wet.
  • Take a break without needing a dry place to sit.
  • Stay drier while fishing in the rain.
  • Felt soled wader boots provide better traction for walking in water.
  • Pockets are designed to fit fishing tackle and gear.

The cons of using waders

Like most things in life, waders have issues too.  The good usually outweighs the bad, but here are a few things to keep in mind before deciding to splurge on waders. 

  • Waders can get hot.  The water may be frigid but the warm air of spring and summer can make wearing waders unbearable.  Neoprene waders are great for cold season fishing yet impossible to handle in the summer.  Light weight nylon waders are the preferred choice for warm weather.
  • They are heavy to pack and hard to walk in when fishing remote locations.
  • Eventually waders will get holes in them.  Few things are more frustrating than leaking waders.  
  • They can be dangerous if not used properly.

Do you need waders to use a float tube

A float tube is a totally different story.  Imagine sitting in a puddle of cold water for hours while you are trying to fish.  I highly recommend waders if you are going to use a float tube. 

They may not be necessary for the float tube to function but it is a requirement for comfort.  Not only do waders keep you warm while sitting in a float tube, they also keep you protected from aquatic life.  Many lakes have leaches!  Dangling exposed skin is just asking for trouble.  

Both stocking foot or boot foot waders will work with a float tube.  The swimming fins attach fine to either type of wader.  I find that stocking foot waders without the shoes are most comfortable while propelling around.  Boot foot waders are too stiff and cause painful chaffing after a full day of fishing.  

Do you need wading boots with waders

Stocking foot waders come with a soft waterproof liner for the foot and require the additional purchase of wading boots.  Boot foot waders come with rubber “barn” style boots attached.  

The extra expense of specialized boots adds another cost barrier to the entry of fly fishing for many new anglers.

The advantage of stocking foot waders is the comfort and versatility.  The ability to have properly fitting boots with better tread makes it appealing to many devoted fly anglers.  Boot foot waders tend to be clumsier and sizing is a challenge for those with uncommon shoe sizes.

If you want a set of waders but don’t like the idea of spending the money on boots, a pair of oversized tennis shoes will do the trick.  For the budget minded angler, spending around a $100 on a pair of lightweight stocking foot waders and a few bucks on some shoes from the thrift shop is doable.

Using old tennis shoes is my preferred way of using waders now.  Many states and Yellowstone National Park have restrictions against the felt soled boots that are commonly used for waders.  Soft rubber or foam soled tennis shoes are allowed.  They also have decent traction when wet.  

A few words on wader safety

If you think you are ready for a set of waders, please make sure to use proper safety measures.  A fall into water while wearing waders without a safety belt is life threatening.  Waders fill quickly with water and drag victims to the bottom.  

Use a wader belt at all times and wear a life jacket when using waders on a boat.

Final thoughts

Fly fishing does not need to be expensive.  If you are interested in getting started, I highly recommend learning to fly fish without the benefit of waders.  It will save you money and force you to master essential casting techniques, like the role cast or side cast, early on.

There is a lot to learn with fly fishing and an overwhelmingly large selection of gear to choose from.  Keep your setup simple at first and as you learn, consider how a pair of waders may help expand your fishing potential. 

For now, put on some shorts, find a pair of old shoes and go fly fishing this season! 

Want to learn more about what it takes to start fly fishing?  Check out our article discussing fly fishing on a budget