Apart from a Stealth-Master, one thing that every good river section should have is a page on how to get across them and without a bridge. Not many flyfishing publications give you this sort of technical information, which is a bit odd really, and we here at Sexyloops have recognised this shortfall in knowledge and like always are going to help.
There are a couple of very important points worth bearing in mind at all times. The first is that under normal states of consciousness you can only walk on water when it's extremely cold. Lars is an expert in cold water (being a Viking) and he says that in general you can expect to be in the water rather than on it. The second important point is that when river fishing you are generally (although not always as it happens) likely to encounter water. Water is a slippery thing and therefore very dangerous stuff.
Being the hard-core adventure flyfisherman that I am, I have read the odd backpacker's manual. The best undoubtedly being Cameron McNeish's cleverly entitled “The Backpacker's Manual.” Written back in the old days of 1984 he describes river crossings as they were then. You know that backpacking dudes take their river crossings seriously when they say: “Don't risk a stream crossing if there is a bridge nearby”. Good advice, he continues: “A walk upstream, for an hour or so in search of a safer crossing, is far preferable to the risk of drowning.” Yet another excellent point.
The sort of rivers I'm really thinking about are the large rough and tumble ones and not the placid chalkstreams of Southern England say, where the most dangerous thing that is likely to happen is hooking yourself with a dog-nobbler.
The first thing that you should do before attempting a crossing is to really look. Wearing polaroids, scan the bottom looking for submerged branches, roots and awkward rocks: those you'll want to avoid. The safest place to cross any river is at the tail of the pool where the bottom is both shallow and shingly. You don't want to get entangled in branches. The force of the water will almost certainly keep your head under and you might lose your hat.
Look for a wide part of the river near the tail of the pool. If it's narrow and gorgy there is absolutely no way you are going to get across. If it's swift and dangerous looking, with the odd tree being washed down, if you can hear the rumbling sound of boulders rolling past (backpacking manuals always talk about boulders rolling... and bears) it's probably best that you fish on your side of the river today.
Apart from this, it's not a good idea to cross the river to an outside bend since the current will be greatest over there. Being a flyfisher you should know this anyway, since that is where the big fish are. It can be very difficult to get half way across and then turn around again. I have tried this a number of times and although I have been unusually lucky there was this one time about ten years ago when it became “this close” (I'm holding my fingers apart by a very small amount and squinting my face at the same time as giving you one of those knowing looks).
New Zealand water that will take me to chest depth, appears slightly blue-green in colour and this indicates the starting point for a downstream swimathon. Talking of which, I always look downstream to see where it's all going take me when I get it wrong. If it's really frightening (and sometimes it is) I'll look away again.
When crossing I like to “steer” myself across the river, walking upstream towards the main current, assessing the way forward as I do so. I figure that if I realise that it's impossible at this point, then I'll at least have a route back out and more importantly I'll know what to expect when I do hit the flow. If I think it's a go, I'll steer myself into the current and try to go directly across it. Naturally the flow takes me downstream. Sometimes quite quickly. It's an interesting experience to realise that you are not going to make it and one that merits some worthy discussion no doubt, but for now let us assume that you do reach the slower water on the other side, it is then that I turn into it. I've just drawn an S-shape. I think this is important. Or if it's not important, then it's cool.
Being flyfishers and occasional perverts we often wear waders. In the past there has been much nonsense talked about waders filling up with water, or even that other dangerous substance: air, and drowning you. This simply doesn't happen or at least it hasn't to my knowledge. Having dismissed wader belts when I exploded the Killer Wader Myth four years back, it should be pointed out that a belt helps to keep cold water from reaching your toes. Something that may swing you in the tackle shop.
Most of my heavy-duty river fishing involves that very exciting thing we call lovingly call “wet-wading”; dressed in colourful long-johns and Superman shorts you can fairly get some speed up. However this is not to be recommended. What you should do is “shuffle” your way across a river one foot at a time, don't cross your legs, keep your feet close to the bottom, make sure one foot is firmly down before shifting your weight over and like all good cowboys, keep your boots on.
If you are carrying a pack most backpackers recommend that you loosen the straps and prepare to jettison it when you take your nose-dive. The air in the pack will force your face forward and into the water, which is almost certainly a very uncomfortable experience and one that I have yet to try. If on your way down river you do decide to get out of your pack I'd recommend hanging on to it; this bit I have tried and very exciting it is too. Talking of which, another way of crossing a difficult river is to find its deepest point and intentionally swim across. This is quite unusual and therefore interesting.
This downward descent; basically there are two ways to go about it: one is to panic like hell and begin a new life somewhere else and the other is to tuck your knees up, keep your arms down and travel down-river feet first. If you have a whistle now would be a good time to blow it. You can use your feet to bounce off things like rocks and trees. Try steering yourself across the current. Sticking your arms in the air causes you to go under and so this is probably not such a good idea.
Hopefully and after not too long, you will discover yourself in some shallow water where you can climb out and, if it's really your lucky day, you will find yourself back on the same bank where you started out. Now is the time for you to pretend that you really enjoyed yourself (some people apparently do this for fun).
There are a couple of places where you won't want to end up and certainly after I've told you about them. One is a log jam: when fishing the xxxxx river in NZ a few years back I fell off one and came to the conclusion that this wasn't such a clever idea after all. You can take my word on this matter. The other place you don't want to visit is the bottom of a very large waterfall. Beneath all this tremendous activity there can be an enormous back current that will involve some technical, along the bottom, swimming.
In tramping situations when you are not solo, or if accompanied by a fishing buddy, you can always link arms and shuffle your way across the stream together. In fact I'd recommend this under all circumstances as a general precaution.
Wading staffs can help out with a third leg; I'm told that you should use them on the upstream side and naturally it goes without saying that you should always wear an inflatable lifejacket (Sean).