Friday, December 19, 2008

Leaky Waders

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.


Matt Mullenix said...

Funny last photo. :-) Some leaks are very hard to patch!

I also used to go with hiking boots or tennis shoes for hunting, on the theory I could run in them when necessary (almost always necessary in falconry) and they would dry out fast when soaked (hawking in Louisiana means hawking in/near water).

Here's how they usually end up:

But one of my older falconer friends has always worn calf-length rubber boots. After years of making fun of him for being old and evidently afraid of getting his feet wet, I got old and tired of getting MY feet wet.

So now I wear rubber boots also.

mdmnm said...

Wow, epic boot fail! I guess the stitching just didn't like that repeated soaking.

What are your favorite type of rubber boot?

Matt Mullenix said...

You may or may not be disappointed to know I buy mine from Wal-mart for about $18. Basic black. A pair lasts me about 2 seasons.

mdmnm said...

Not disappointed at all. $9/season is pretty good value, given how much you are out.

Anonymous said...

I always drew the line at four tubes of AquaSeal, then it was time for new waders. Plus there's the "new" stuff from Loon that goes on wet material and dries in minutes under UV (sunlight). It actually works. My four year old pair of Simms are still dry, only up to about two tubes of 'Seal. Nice boot blowout too! Taku

mdmnm said...


I've been a "Goop" fan for years and, without drawing a line at a particular amount of patch, do give up after the third or fourth bad spot on a seam. I like Loon products but haven't ever tried that UV stuff, though I've looked at it. Glad to hear it works!

Jon Roth said...

This was the line that put me on the floor laughing. "Sniff a sock to determine whether you're dealing with sweat or river water." That is so true out here in Nor Cal. Early duck season it is definitely sweat - later on, no guarantees!

Beverly said...

That photo begs the question:

Just which wader was leaking?


Langdon Cook said...

The newfangled Gore-Tex (TM) waders, while comfy, don't hold up like the old style. Been through a few pairs of Simms and when I sent the last pair back for repairs they informed me I had a total of 92 pinhole leaks. 92! No wonder they're so expensive: Simms pays staff to count leaks!!

Thanks for the post.

mdmnm said...

Beverly-Hah! Well put!

Finspot- I had what I thought was pretty good luck with Cabela's basic breathables; four trips to Alaska and quite a bit of NM fishing, with lots of brush busting. What finally got them (apart from some random holes that needed patching) was wear along the inside seams of the legs. 92 pinhole leaks must be some kind of a record. How fast did you boots fill?

Fred Summers said...

I've tried borrowing boots too and it almost never works for me. I'm a tall guy and I can't seem to fit into anything anyone offers me. I've had to squish my feet into shoes way to small and you feel everything that way. Hopefully you have more success than me in finding what works. neoprene waders