Although I wear my neoprenes most of the time ('because they're kinky') I don't happen to get them wet very often. Frankly unless I'm river fishing or float tubing or presented with some otherwise insurmountable stillwater challenge I like to keep them dry. This is because wading spooks fish.
However, I am not going to write about that, I have already done so in the past, what I am going to write about is the Killer Wader Myth. Actually Myths. Because there are two of them.
The first myth is that if you were to unexpectedly fall into a lake, your waders would fill up with water and drag you down to the bottom so as to drown you (because everyone knows that the water inside your waders is always heavier than the water outside) (!).
The second interestingly, takes on a completely different angle. This one states that if you were to unexpectedly fall into (assumedly) the same lake, your waders, instead of filling up with water, would actually fill up with air, and flip you upside-down and leave you suspended from the surface (like a very large suspender buzzer)!!!
Now I know that these two scenarios are both hilariously ludicrous, or at least they would be if they weren't taken so seriously. (You don't believe that anyone actually takes them seriously? Then tell me: why do most fisheries ban chest waders from being worn in boats? This is especially ridiculous when you consider that wearing chest waders would more likely save lives that lose them).
I for one would rather float around a cold lake wearing my waders. The neoprene helps you float, and any other sort just helps to keep you warm. Abandon sinking ship? Bung on a life jacket and waders.
Hang on a mo! There is the tragic story of two anglers drowning on a stream mouth on Lake Taupo. Waders were blamed. But what actually happened here was that they tried to swim against the current and the resistance of the water flowing into their waders caused them to look like they were being dragged down. They should have gone with the flow, and when they were clear of it, gently swum back to shore.
But this is all just theoretical stuff. The sort of thing that looks good in text books, but what use is it for you and I? We're practical people: mountain men, fly fishers; we who have the wind in our hair, dirt on our hands, steel in our hearts, strange far off looks in our eyes, eyes that have seen much - too much maybe. What is needed is hard-core proof! Throw away the text books. Let's put our waders on and jump in the pool. For this is the only way to discover life's sweet secret dreams.
And with this stuff spinning around my head I took it upon myself to attempt to recreate the Killer Wader Myth in a swimming pool. I have said it before and I'll say it again: The Paul Arden Fly Fishing Experience will take you places you never knew existed, because that's who I am and that's what I do.
The four tasks.
So I set myself four tasks: (1) to recreate KWM scenario where waders fill up with unreasonably heavy water and drag me frantically struggling (I assume) to the pool bottom, where I will be able to walk around for a little while and (2) to recreate KWM scenario where waders fill up with air and suspend my feet from the surface, which should hopefully give me a whole new perspective on existence and (3) to flip a float tube over so my girlfriend can get a good shot of my fins sticking up in the air and (4) to go for a long swim (in waders).
The float tube flip
I started with the float-tubing option. I decided to make this more authentic and bring my rod and hat along for good measure. Flipping float tubes is actually quite hard. I have done so before (also in a swimming pool) just to see if I could get out again, but I have never managed to flip one over unexpectedly. In order to invert yourself, you first have to lift yourself out of the tube and lean forwards until your nose is virtually touching the water. Then with a strong fin flick you can flip over.
Once flipped I found it impossible to flip back again. I was hoping to do some eskimo-roll float-tube thing. I was hoping that maybe with practice I could do this while guiding, 'Hey, watch this!'. But it doesn't work. I should point out that it's not particularly easy to get out of the tube; your fins tend to get caught in the seat and/or line tray. But it is quite easy to swim around and (importantly) breathe while this is going on. I could imagine quite happily swimming around with one foot stuck in the float tube pretty much indefinitely. So no worries there, mate.
Two points of interest came from the float-tubing misadventure: the first is that my hat sinks like a stone, the second is that my rod quite happily bobbed around the pool on it's own. So when push comes to shove I know which I'll be grabbing hold of next time.
My next test was heavy water. I figured that all the heavy water would be milling around the deep end pushing all that lighter feebler stuff away, so that's where I went to find it. Jumping in a most dramatic manner off the springboard I went right to the bottom of the pool. Thinking that I had achieved my task, I almost celebrated. But it was not to be; I bobbed right up to the surface again. Try as I might, I just couldn't find water heavy enough to drag me (frantically struggling) to the bottom of the pool. So I had to give up on this one.
'If I can't sink, then sod it, I'll just have to float... feet first'. So with this in mind I returned to the diving board (first emptying my waders by sticking my feet in the air - 'like a dead duck') whereupon I dived (full marks for style) head first into the pool. And it worked. Well, sort of. I mean my wader legs did fill up with air, not enough to flip me upside down and suspend me there in an amusing fashion, you understand, but there certainly was air inside those waders.
I could see it. I could feel it - it sort of helped me float around. Now I read some piece somewhere in a magazine a few years back, written by a guy who recommended carrying a sharp knife so as to stab the air out of the waders (presumably he imagined bobbing down river, suspended by his feet - as you do). Well, I found a much simpler (although admittedly not coloured by the same life-and-death struggle) solution where just by lightly kicking your legs straight the air pops out, and water flows down to take its place.
Don't get me wrong her, I'm not suggesting that you should kick the air out - I quite liked having it there, it was quite relaxing in a funny sort of way, but if you should want to get rid of it for some personal reason, then it's quite easy to do. In fact keeping the air there, without getting rid of it is a much trickier proposition. I guess you could put a wader belt on after diving head first into the water. So that's another point; why do those people wear wader belts? 'Cos it looks cool, man'.
So, OK those of you who know me, know that I learned to swim last year in Australia. Before that I was as close to a non-swimmer as you could get, without being strictly classified as a non-swimmer. I guess I was about two hundred yards away from being a non-swimmer. And then I decided it would be a good idea to become a tri-athlete. Learning to swim properly had always been something I had thought of as being a good, useful, worthwhile thing. For the triathlon it became a necessity. So I joined a swimming club and got lessons twice a week.
You can't learn to swim properly until someone teaches you. Is that like fly casting or what? Bet you didn't see that one coming... a surprise suggestion. Arden psychology.
So anyway, the point is that I was now in the position where I could determine whether wearing chest waders was a suitable substitute for swimming trunks. So I did a few lengths. It was not as I had expected. I had expected to find it hard, lots of resistance, heavy feet, that sort of thing. Not a bit of it; even wearing heavy boots, the buoyancy of the neoprene kept my legs high in the water, actually making swimming very easy. And although the waders I had used for this experiment were not the most streamlined, drag was not the major problem I had imagined. Indeed it was negligible.
Waders for warmth
Now although I am quite confident enough in my swimming ability, to be able to swim all that could be required on any lake distance-wise, often cold would be a problem factor. In early season water, if I was to end up in the middle of a large lake, say, I would hope to hell that I had my waders on. And I would hope that they were neoprene.
It would be negligent of me to end this article without mentioning the fact that non-swimmers should get lessons and become swimmers, that poor swimmers should always wear a life-jacket anywhere near water - especially on dams, in boats and possibly in the bath, and lastly float-tubers should wear manual inflatable life-jackets whenever they jump in a tube.
But look, I'm not your mother. I don't feel that it's my duty to tell you these things (even though I just have). It's your personal right to go out there and drown. And if that's what you want, then here's my advice: don't rely on the Killer Wader, it's just another myth. Now spontaneous human combustion - there's another story...
Since writing this some four years ago I've had a number of emails on the subject. A few people don't believe me and think I drowned or else made the whole thing up. Apparently in Germany you *do* drown if your waders fill up with water... so don't fish there then.
There was the excellent point made a couple of years back that wading belts - as well as looking cool - also helped prevent cold water from reaching your toes should you go for a swim. That may swing you next time you visit a tackle shop.
But I really want to talk about the float tube flip. I had a recent email stating that this actually happened to someone and the gentleman in question had great difficulties in breathing and had to rip himself out of the tube. I think it's very important that should you find yourself upside down with your feet trapped in the tube, that you swim. Extend your body and don't panic. Most drownings occur anyway as a direct result of panic (and water of course). It may feel a bit strange but you can swim with a float tube around your ankles and you should do this first before attempting to extract yourself.
Related Reading: Drop me in the water