Anyone who has spent much time fishing or hunting in waders probably has a few leaky wader stories. Heck, John Gierach even got a book title out of the subject, one which lets you know the joy of the experience.
For a long time I didn't really use waders. No waterfowling and fishing meant either a boat or wet-wading small streams. Once you get into the creek, your feet go numb and you can't really tell all the violence being done to your toes by bashing around the rocks in the stream bottom (old tennis shoes are the preferred footwear for this) and to your shins by sharp rocks and sticks. Older if not wiser, and also fishing some larger streams more often, I've now worked my way through a few pair of waders and hip boots.
Sometimes it is a little hard to determine whether you have a leak for the first bit of time. With older style rubber waders you might be too cold to tell for sure that you were getting wet, at least until you could feel the water sloshing around in one of the boots. Nowadays, neoprene waders breathe so little and allow so little air exchange that condensation is always a factor. If the weather is warm at all or if you do any work out of the water but in your waders, you'll be well dampened with sweat. Sometimes it's bad enough that you wonder whether you're getting any water-proofness at all from the waders or just insulation. Sniff a sock to determine whether you're dealing with sweat or river water.
The first pair of neoprenes I had, I ran a hole through the leg on one of the evil little willow pungi sticks beavers tend to leave stream side. The darned rodents tend to bite off pencil to fishing rod diameter willows in one or two cuts, on the bias, at six to fourteen inches off the ground. The flexible, sharpened stake that results is one of my least favorite things about beavers. The vertical holes they sometimes dig in riverbanks is another less favorite thing, but that's another subject. In any event, those neoprenes were a lot more fragile and I was pretty surprised when the stob slid right into them. Worse, I was winter fishing in the Rio Grande Gorge and got the hole on the far side of the river from my truck. Wading across twenty yards of icy river is a lot harder when you KNOW you're going to have a cold wet foot by the time you reach the far bank. In any event, once patched those waders gave good service and demonstrated to me the value of neoprene for winter fishing and hunting.
Hip boots seem less likely to spring leaks, but get you wet by inspiring untoward optimism. No matter how small the stream, I always seem to find a hole or crossing that is just an inch deeper than my hip boots are tall. A corollary is that ducks on stock ponds always fall dead just a little deeper than your hip boots. In an experience contrary to the latter observation, a few years ago I was visiting Texas for Christmas and hunting ducks in flooded brush. I borrowed a pair of hip boots from my dad ("No, really, son, I've got a spare and there's no need for you to lug all that down here") and we had a great time, apart from the fact that the rubber was disintegrating on the hippers I was wearing and, by the end of the day, they were mostly useful for holding water in as you tried to wade out. Fortunately, the water and air temps were fairly warm. Two days later, for Christmas, I got a new pair of hip boots. Dad figured letting me hunt wet was worth not spoiling the surprise.
This year marks the first season for a new pair of 5mm neoprene waders, just the thing for chilly duck hunting mornings and winter fishing. It's only recently that I've started to use them, as it hasn't been that cold most of this season. Despite being new, the first bit of deeper water I went across led to that creeping, chilly feeling.
I hate leaky waders:
it's going to be a bugger trying to patch that leak.
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