A Guide to Wet Wading: Wading Shoes, Fishing Socks, and MorePublished on 06/20/2023 · 9 min readLooking to wade fish this summer without the hassle of waders? No worries! Fly Fishing Expert Andrew Grandemange details the best clothing choices for wet wading.
Local Utah river during the summer. Photo by Andrew Grandemange
Raise your hand if you like to feel hot, sweaty, and sticky while fishing. I know I don’t. Anyone who has worn waders can attest that they are not the most comfortable or breathable piece of fishing gear, especially when it’s hot. That is why when it’s hot outside, I prefer to wet wade when fly fishing—that means to wade fish without wearing waders. So, during the summer months, instead of wearing waders, I wear lightweight, breathable clothing that dries fast, keeps me cool by wicking away moisture, and protects me from the sun. Going this route makes me more comfortable when wade fishing in the summer heat. Wet wading has become one of my favorite aspects of fishing during the hot summer months. Nothing beats the refreshing feeling of cool river water against your skin when the midday sun is beating down.
Not only can the benefits of wet wading be realized when it’s hot outside, but it’s also beneficial to wet wade if you have to hike to where you will be fishing. By wet wading, you don’t have to pack or wear your waders, which allows for more comfort and maneuverability while hiking.
Wet wading is also a great option for anglers just getting into the sport. If you have the right clothing, you don’t need to worry about spending additional money on gear for a sport you may not like or stick with long term. In this article, I’ll cover the type of fishing gear and clothing I recommend for wet wading, specifically, the proper footwear, socks, pants, shorts, and shirts I’ve found to keep me comfortable during those long days on the water.
The best shoe for wet wading is somewhat of a personal preference. Many anglers wear old sneakers or sandals from brands like Chaco, Teva, or Keen, especially when they first try wet wading. But in my opinion, those options have major drawbacks. The first is safety. Riverbeds can be slippery and old sneakers may not have the traction needed for gripping wet, slimy rocks. The second is debris, which can easily get stuck in your shoes or between your toes, making walking painful. This trait is the biggest drawback when using sandals. I don’t know about you, but I would rather be fishing than spending time removing rocks, dirt, and sand from my shoes every time I step out of the water. The third aspect is durability. Old sneakers are just that– old. So they will fall apart after constantly getting wet and drying.
I suggest investing in good footwear designed for the task at hand. The best footwear option for wet wading is a shoe that has support, a grippy sole, and water compatibility. One shoe type is a lightweight hiking shoe that is made to get wet. You can also consider a water shoe, but not the thin mesh ones worn by kids at pools and beaches. Rather, you should look into one specifically designed for rugged outdoor conditions.
However, my preferred option is to utilize a wading boot designed for fishing with a lightweight build and good traction. Many fly fishing companies make wading boots designed for wet wading. For example, Simms Flyweight Wet Wading Shoe has a Vibram rubber sole that is compatible with studs for even more traction for those super slick fishing conditions. The shoe is lightweight and developed to be worn next to the skin or with a thin sock. The Orvis Pro Approach Shoe is another excellent option made with a Michelin rubber sole and a built-in Ariaprene sock to keep debris out. Like the Simms, these fishing shoes are specifically constructed for wet wading with lightweight rubber outsoles that grip the slippery rocks on the riverbeds and uppers that drain water quickly.
Of course, if you don’t want to buy a pair of wet-wading boots, you can also use any wading boots you already own. This is the route I take when wet wading. Normal wading boots may be heavier than ones designed for wet wading, but they often provide the most ankle support. Plus, they have the versatility of being used year-round, so you only need to buy and store one pair of wading boots.
Unless the shoes you choose are designed to be worn without socks or have them built-in like the two wet-wading shoes previously mentioned, always wear socks when wet wading for extra comfort and protection for your feet. But wearing the right socks to complete that job is just as important as wearing socks themselves. You should avoid using socks made from cotton and other materials that retain moisture. Fast-drying socks are a must! The last thing you want is to walk in soggy, waterlogged socks all day long. The best option is a sock made with synthetic materials. I really like Simms Guide Wet Wading Socks. They dry quickly, resist odor, and support and cushion the feet.
Another important option, especially if you are using your normal wading boots, is a pair of gravel guard socks. These can be worn with or without socks, depending on preference. I usually wear socks with mine for added comfort. Guard socks are neoprene socks, the same material that the booties on stockingfoot waders are made out of. This is great if you are using normal wading boots since wading boots are usually sized up to allow space for the neoprene booties to fit inside comfortably. Therefore, using neoprene gravel guard socks when such built-in material is absent will fill the space in the wading boot that is usually filled by the booties when wearing waders. Gravel and other river material are further blocked off because guard socks are long enough to fold the neoprene over your wading boot. As a word of advice, guard socks tend to be tight-fitting, so always go a size or two up.
Lastly, one important fact to note is that your feet will still get wet when wet wading because water will flow into the wading boot and the guard sock. This isn’t the case when wearing waders because no water can get into the neoprene booty since it is attached to the legs of the waders. Luckily, guard socks are designed with perforations on the bottom to assist with water drainage after you step out of the river. This feature, along with quick-drying socks, will keep your feet comfortable for the entire time you fish.
Pants / Shorts
The next clothing items to logically consider are pants or shorts. As with socks, you don’t want to wear anything made with cotton or other materials that retain water. When I wet wade, I wear quick-drying pants. Many outdoor companies create similar pants made out of synthetic material that is very lightweight and breathable. You may see them marketed as tech pants, and many of them have extra pockets in which you can stash your fishing gear. I prefer pants over shorts because it protects my skin from the sun, from getting bit by bugs, and from getting cut up when bushwhacking it through thick brush. Since I am standing in water the majority of the day, I don’t feel any hotter wearing quick-dry pants compared to shorts. However, if you want to wear shorts, the same considerations come into play. You will think about lightweight, fast-drying shorts.
I also suggest light, fast-drying underwear like compression shorts to wear under your pants. Don’t make the mistake of wearing cotton underwear as it defeats the purpose as I’ve spoken about above. You don’t want to end up with a terrible case of swamp crotch and chaffing.
While the shirt you wear when wet wading may not get wet like the other clothing, having one that dries quickly is still important in case you wade deep and even more so to keep you cool. As with the other suggested items I touched on, you’ll want shirts with synthetic material for their thin weight, wicking away of moisture, and innate sun protection. Most outdoor clothing companies make a quick-dry sun shirt, but my favorite ones are designed by fly fishing companies that have added features that benefit anglers. For example, the Simms Solarflex shirts have elastic loops on the end of the sleeves that go over the thumb on each hand. Such a detail helps keep the sleeves in place when casting. Also, make sure the chosen shirt is long-sleeved so that your arms are protected from the sun and outdoor skin-abrasive items such as branches. I also prefer shirts that have hoods, like the Simms SolarFlex Hoodie, so I can additionally keep the sun off my neck and head as much as possible.
Even though the following items are not necessary for wet wading, they are essential for fishing in the summer.
Always utilize polarized sunglasses. Not only will they protect your eyes from the sun, but they will cut the glare from the water, allowing you to see below the water surface easier and shield your eyes from an improperly cast fly.
Another must-have is a good hat to protect your face and neck from the sun. If you are wearing a hooded sun shirt, a baseball hat will work great. But if you don’t have a hooded shirt, consider a wide-brimmed hat and/or a buff.
Also, don’t forget to use sunscreen on your exposed skin, and remember to reapply often. Skin cancer is no laughing matter. Look for sunscreen that is water-resistant, has an SPF of at least 30, and is a broad-spectrum (UVA and UVB) variety.
Finally, think about what pack you use to carry your fishing gear while on the water. If it’s hot, ensure the pack can carry enough water and has good ventilation to help stay cool and hydrated. And if you expect to wade deep, confirm that your pack can get wet so you don’t damage your gear, especially any electronics you might carry.
That's everything, folks. Summer fishing doesn’t have to equate to being uncomfortably hot and sweaty. By utilizing the suggested gear and clothing above, you will find wet wading to be the ideal option that keeps you cool, comfortable, and sun-safe while enjoying your time on the water when the thermometer is showing a lot of red or when you need to hike to your favorite fishing spot. If this wading style appeals to you, feel free to connect with a Fly Fishing Expert here on Curated who can guide you to the exact gear you need!