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Safety Tips While Fly Fishing

I take great interest in topics covered by the Trout Unlimited Community Forum, where I often find tips regarding everything from gear to destinations. Some recent posts regarding safety on the water had me pondering things I do (or should be doing) to ensure my safety while fly fishing for trout, especially in remote areas. Here are a few safety tips that have caught my attention that I have implemented into my own fly fishing adventures.

Wading Staff

man crossing a river
A wading staff is essential for safety while crossing heavy, fast current, but also comes in handy as a walking stick going to and from the stream. (Photo by Ralph Scherder)

I have come to rely on my wading staff more than any other accessory on the water. The added hindrance of my prescription progressive lenses, which can trick me into misjudging distances whilst looking down, makes the wading staff crucial in avoiding a potential tumble from a misstep. Also, as the waters I am fishing are often riddled with stream bed obstacles, the staff provides much-needed balance support.  I am still pretty fit at this stage in my life, but recognize that, as William Shakespeare wrote, “caution is preferable to rash bravery.”

Ideally, the wading staff should be sturdy, made from carbon fiber or aluminum so that it is also lightweight, and be attached to a retractable lanyard or strap, or collapsible to fit in your vest or backpack. These will ensure ease-of-use so that you’re not tempted to deem the staff as too cumbersome to carry with you.

Choose a staff that is adjustable in length so that it can be used comfortably in any situation, even while walking to and from the stream. It should also have a comfortable cork or foam handle that fits into the palm of your hand but doesn’t hurt your hand as you’re crossing heavy currents. Also, the be sure to check and replace the rubber foot or carbide tip once it starts to wear.

Replacement rubber tips are relatively cheap and can be purchased here. When selecting a retractor for the wading staff, make sure it’s of high quality and strong enough to support the weight of the staff. The Simms Wading Staff Retractor is a great option. And if you’re looking for a high-end wading staff that’s durable and will last a lifetime, consider the Orvis Wading Staff.

Felt-Bottom or Studded Wading Boots

The waters that I fish require quite a bit of wading and many of these have rocky riverbeds that are uneven or slick. Because I live in Northern Virginia, which has a milder climate – often referred to as a Goldilocks climate (not too hot nor too cold) – I am able to fish year-round. Having a good gripping wading boot is critical. 

Initially, I purchased a product called Yaktrax ICEtrekkers Diamond Grip cleats because I only had one pair of wading boots in the early days. These cleats are secured to a rubber harness that is easy to slip on or off the wading boot and the gripping ability of the rotating alloy cleats is phenomenal.

I now have two pairs of boots, a pair of Simms with studs embedded in the soles, and a pair of Korkers with several interchangeable soles, including the felt option, which is reliable on slick stream beds. But there are several jurisdictions where I fish that prohibit felt soles, so I can easily trade out the felt soles for a ‘sticky’ or ‘studded’ option. I also have found out the hard way that wearing felt-bottomed wading boots in winter can be counterproductive when frost, snow, or ice are present.

To read more about whether you should purchase studded or felt-bottomed wading boots, read this article, which also discusses which states have banned felt-bottomed boots and why. You can read a review of Korkers DarkHorse boots in the Summer 2024 issue of Dark Skies Fly Fishing Magazine.

Korkers DarkHorse Boots
A good pair of wading boots is invaluable. The Korkers DarkHorse are an exceptional pair of boots with interchangeable soles to match any situation. Read the review of these boots in the Summer 2024 issue of Dark Skies Fly Fishing Magazine.

Mobile Device Protection

Protecting your mobile device while on the water is important, too. In an emergency, it can save your life.

For my personal blog, I rely on my handheld mobile phone for much of my imagery (although I also use a GoPro for underwater videos). I initially kept the phone in a waterproof case, but this proved to be a nuisance. It was impractical to remove the device from the case each time I wanted to snap a picture. A few years ago, I discovered a device that grips the corners of the phone via a silicon bungee or tether. I find it very convenient to be able to take a quick picture knowing that the tether is safely secured to a carabiner hooked onto my waders or vest.

Spend enough time operating your mobile phone on streams and rivers and that phone will eventually make its way into the water. Some waterproof pouches also allow you to use your phone while in the pouch, and they’re relatively inexpensive, such as the Simms Waterproof Wader Pouch or the Orvis Waterproof Pocket.

man holding trout
Gregg Rockett with a nice trout caught on a recent fly fishing adventure. On trips like these, Gregg uses a waterproof case on a tether for protecting his mobile device.

Satellite Messaging Devices

I have agonized for a considerable time over the value of having yet another fishing gadget, but it was the one accessory my wife has badgered me to consider. I wasn’t sure that a satellite messaging device felt necessary because I rarely fish alone. However, I also realize that this is not the point. All it takes is one accident in remote and treacherous terrain to regret not having this device.

After researching three different options (Spot, Zoleo and Garmin), I landed on the Garmin inReach Mini despite my reluctance to add another Garmin device to my collection. This was because it was 1. cheaper in the long run (initial device cost plus annual subscription) and 2. reportedly had better support and reliable service. I have not a single complaint with this latter assessment. I now use the device on most of my fishing excursions, and as such, have opted for the basic monthly subscription service rather than the flexible option (which costs more) that allows me to enable or disable the subscription at will.



All it takes is one mishap for a good trip to be ruined, or worse, leave you stranded somewhere or facing a potentially life-threatening situation. It’s always better to err on the side of caution and be prepared. Following a few simple safety measures – using a wading staff, wearing the right boots, securing my phone, and carrying a satellite messaging device in remote areas – have helped me feel more confident on the water. I know they’ll help you, too.


 About the author: Gregg Rockett has been fly fishing for more than 30 years and blogs about fly fishing adventures around the world. He lives in the DC area, volunteers for his local chapter of Trout Unlimited and likes to fish for brook trout in Shenandoah National Park. Read more of his work at www.thetroutbandit.com.


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