It’s a feeling I’ll never forget: that uneasy sensation of gradually losing my footing at the edge of a flowing channel well over my height. Now, I can swim just fine. But bulked up in winter clothing with a set of neoprene waders and sturdy wading boots? That was the recipe for disaster.

Anyone who wades in waters warranting chest waders has probably tip-toed across a trench with just enough depth to sneak a little trickle inside those waders. Chilly reminder, no doubt, but just imagine that protective layer filling up with water.

No place to sit down and calmly remove your boots and strip off the heavy outer wear. Not much time to hobble back to terra firma before succumbing to all that extra weight and the icy anaconda of hypothermia.

The truth is, I was pushing the situation. Tempting fate. Doing one of those things that earn me a lovingly stern reprimand from Mrs. Brown.

But even though I did catch the day’s biggest fish—a plump 27-inch red—I left with a seasonal lesson clearly etched on that internal notepad I often reference on subsequent outings.

So, a few things to note after my close shave. In short, make sure your feet are firmly planted when fishing anywhere near deep water. The sudden movements of fighting and capturing fish, the abrupt motion of a heaving cast—all can shift your weight just enough to slip, slide, and possibly tumble on the uneven bottom.

Add the concentrated flow of a channel, and you now have a dynamic well beyond your control. Remember that those sandy edges are constantly shifting and your weight can suddenly cause a mini landslide that’ll send you right where you don’t want to go.


An old commercial fisherman once told me that he always keeps a small knife at close reach inside his waders. If the unthinkable occurs, he can cut himself out of those waders and at least give himself a chance at survival.

Better to shiver for a few minutes, than to slowly sink to the bottom and fade to gray.

A few other winter wading tips:

-In soft bottom areas like my Tampa Bay home waters, stocking-foot waders with external boots are better than boot foot waders. The latter tend to get stuck in the soft bottom and when you take that next step, your foot slips out of place and you go tumbling–hopefully not into deep water.

-With the stocking foot option, select wading boots two sizes larger than your shoes to accommodate the extra bulk of waders.

-And when selecting wader material, neoprene offers the best value for cold water insulation. In my region, 3mm to 5mm neoprene is the common range, but I’ll go 5 every time. Remember, on a warm day, you can always roll down the top of your heavy waders to cool off. But when Old Man Winter tightens his grip, you can’t make thin waders any thicker.