My experience with waders is the exact opposite of all my other life experiences.  My life experience tells me: “You get what you pay for.”  My wader experience tells me “You get about two years, no matter how much you pay for them.”

My experience in life tells me that the longer you have something, the more you grow attached to it.  My experience with waders tells me the longer I have them, the sooner I’ll be detached from them.  My life experience tells me if you take care of something, it will take care of you.  My wader experience is that if I take care of them, they will still leak.

The first waders I used while fly fishing was a pair that was left over from the duck-hunting-obsession phase of my life: thick, camouflaged neoprene waders with heavy rubber boots welded on the bottoms. Perfect for duck hunting, so I didn’t see why they wouldn’t do for fly fishing.  Why should I buy those thin, flimsy waders with the ridiculous booties?  Felt-bottom boots?  Seemed like a lot of extra expense for no reason. I was going to show my independent-mindedness and break from the crowd and fly fish in my neoprenes.

Neoprene waders will keep you toasty in the winter and will broil you alive in the summer.

Then in the course of fishing Warwoman Creek in Georgia on a hot April day, I worked my way into a spot on the river where I couldn’t go forward, and the only way back to the trail was to go up the side of a fairly steep hill.  It was shaded with rhododendrons so it shouldn’t be too bad.

I have never been so hot in my life.  As soon as I reached the trail, I took my waders off before I died of heat stroke.  My clothes were soaking wet with sweat.  And stinking!  You know you stink pretty bad when you can smell your own stink. The guys I was fishing with made me sit in the back of the pickup bed on the way home.

A couple of months later, I was walking along a path beside the Toccoa River and a sharp stick jammed into the right rubber boot on my neoprene waders and sliced it open.  That was the same day I had an encounter with a rabid otter, but that’s a story for another day.  The point is, there was nothing to do except to put the neoprenes in the trash can.  I didn’t miss them a bit, at least not until I moved to New England and started fishing the Farmington River in February.

After the neoprenes bit the dust, my fly-fishing mentor, Dave, gave me an old pair of his flimsy, breathable waders and a pair of felt-bottomed wading boots that looked like they’d been in the bed of his truck for about two years.  I was a little hesitant about putting Dave’s hand-me-downs on.  You know, it’s like having to borrow a pair of your friend’s underwear.  You know they are clean, but just the thought of it gives you the heebie-jeebies.

But once I got them on, and got into the river, I thought I’d died and gone to Henry’s Fork.  They were so comfortable.  And somehow, those worn-out felt soles were better at gripping the river bottom than the deeply-treaded rubber boots of my neoprenes.  When it came to waders, I was woke.

However, this started a hapless, never-ending search for my forever pair of waders.  A set of $89 White River waders lasted for three years, though I was only fishing about once a month back then.  Then came Redingtons, Simms, Patagonias, Cabelas, Orvis, and various other lesser-known brands I picked up from Sierra Trading Post.

My nursing home for waders on their last legs.

They all promised to be faithful, but after a year or two of fishing, they were leaking like an un-named senior official in the White House.

I wear my waders probably 50 to 70 times a year. I don’t baby them, but I do hang them up when I’m finished and let them air out good. I have never bought the high-end, guide waders with zippers. Others have told me that they, too, only last a year or two. I’ve been known to buy discounted waders that don’t fit me just right, but I think I’m past that stage now.

When you think about it, there are so many things that can go wrong with waders.  My White River waders tore in the rear when I slid down a bank. After walking through some briars, the Simms leaked like I had been hit with machine gun fire. A bootie in the Patagonias gave way. The Cabelas pair got scrape holes in the knees, and the seams on the Simms simply surrendered.  In one pair, the buckle on the shoulder strap broke.  There seem to be endless ways for waders to fail.

And patching waders is like trying to keep squirrels out of your birdfeeder.  You can keep water out temporarily, but eventually it’s going to find a way in.  Once you have your first leak, you might as well start preparing your spouse as to why you’re going to need to spend another $200 on a pair of waders.

If the booties start to leak, there’s no fixing them. That’s as sure a thing as Chick-fil-A being closed on Sunday. Little pinhole leaks can be stopped temporarily with Aquaseal.  But somehow, once you have one pinhole leak, it gives birth to others and you can never really trust your waders to be dry again.  Patches can be put on scratches, but eventually the seal will peel.

Seams. Don’t get me started.  Okay, I’ll get started. On one pair, I sent the waders back to the company for repairing numerous seams that leaked.  They repaired the spots that I had circled with a magic marker, but not long after they were repaired, some other seams began to leak.

But I was determined to keep these waders another year and keep them dry. No more Mr. Nice Guy.  I went to CVS and bought a spray can of FlexiSeal that is advertised on late night TV. According to the claims in the TV ads, that stuff could seal a black hole in the universe.  The instructions suggested three coats, allowing 24 hours to dry between coats.  Ten days later, the seams in the crotch of these waders had 10 coats of FlexiSeal.  I wasn’t playing.

When I put the waders on, I noticed that they seemed heavier than I remembered.  But I guess that’s the price you pay for dry waders.  I also noticed that the upper legs didn’t really bend very easily.  I could still manage to walk; I just pretended that I was straddling a horse.  Nonetheless, the first time I got into waist-deep water, I felt that familiar cool dampness seeping slowly into the nether regions of my, er…nether region.  After fishing in wet clothes all day, I took my waders off and found that the 10 layers of FlexiSeal had peeled off my waders in on long piece like lint off a dryer vent.

My latest misadventure was with a pair of low-end Orvis waders.  I think they were my favorite pair of waders so far.  They weren’t fancy, but they were comfortable and fit my frame well. About a year after I bought them, I took them to Colorado for five days of intense fishing.  All was well until the last day when I noticed the bottom of my sock seemed wet.  Probably just sweat, I told myself.  The next time I wore them, at the end of the day, the bottoms of both socks were wet.  Sweat again?

A Korker insole designed to catch pebbles and ruin your waders.

I took my waders off and saw a terrifying sight – a small hole in the sole of each bootie.  It kinda depressed me to know that I was watching the demise of yet another pair of waders. But it made me curious too.  Was it a coincidence that I had identical little holes right at the balls of my feet in both booties of my waders?

That’s when I examined my Korker wading boots.  The insoles of my boots had little slits that were manufactured into the insoles.  I can only presume the reasoning for the slits was to help the insoles ventilate.   When I reached into my wading boot, I could feel a little pebble that was wedged into a slit in the insole of each boot. There was no telling how long the pebbles had been wedged in there, but it was obvious that they had been there long enough to rub a hole in my bootie.

The moral of that story is it’s not enough to shake my wading boots out to get the pebbles and debris out.  I need to always feel inside my wading boots to make sure the insoles are smooth. Failure to do so cost me a good set of waders.

Last week I called Orvis to explain what had happened, taking full responsibility for the problem, and asked if they could fix the booties. They had me mail them to a shop in Washington state that does their wader repairs.  I’m still waiting to hear back, but I’m not hopeful.

I’ve already been preparing my wife for why I’ll need $200 soon for another pair of waders.  I’m grateful that my wife has stuck with me longer than my waders, 42 years and counting.  With her, I got way more than I bargained for.

Got any wader stories?


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25 thoughts on “Waders

  1. Same here pretty much, and I like you don’t pay alot for waders..I can tell you this, if I ever spent more than 200 bucks for waders and they leaked in two years I would not be happy. I used to get issued waders at work every couple of years. Some better than others but 2 or 3 years at most using them 30-40 times per year. I’ve got 3 or 4 pairs here in various stages of leaking. Actually threw a pair of neoprenes away just last week.

    Rabid otter?

    1. Thanks for your affirmation of my observations about waders, Robert. I was kinda afraid that all the feedback would be along the lines of, “My waders have lasted 10 years without a leak.”

      I’ve been meaning to write up that experience with the rabid otter. But I think my next article will be about the rumors I’ve been hearing about a new (and secret) fly that trout can’t resist – reminds me of the hush, hush surrounding the mop fly when the news about it began circulating.

  2. Bill, ditto.. Simms freestones -399.. one year , went for the G4’s this time and again.. 1 year at 750… still work but full of aquaseal… now my first pair of the new design Patagonia guide series to actually go to Patagonia next Wednesday!! Yes dream trip and we will see how they hold up this season. So far I have to say the pats are a bit thicker and warmer than the G4’s so far winter fishing. I hope to get at least 2 seasons out of a pair but not looking that way just yet. I’ll keep you posted. Great story’s always.


    1. Steve, wow, a trip to Patagonia! I am so envious. You need to write that up for Blogflyfish. Here’s hoping that your waders hold up!

  3. Hey Bill. You made laugh, smile and very much enjoyed your “wader stories”. Well done! You brought a lift to my heavy heart.

  4. I too experienced the same end result with all my waders. The only difference is I haven’t spent the big bucks on any high end pair that ends up leaking just the same. I think I’d rather spend $100.00 on some pair purchased from sierra then $400.00 plus on a select brand name that still ends up leaking like the less expensive purchased. I actually keeo an eye open for what I’ll call any decent pair that are on sale and purchase as backups even if at the moment my present pair aren’t leaking or not leaking enough to run out and replace. I then purchase the less expensive sale branded and put them away until I decide that it’s time to make the switch. I have a pair from sierra I bought 2-3 years ago sitting in their original box that I waited untill my cabelas brand waders were leaking bad enough. Well last fall on my last excursion out was that day. I decided it was time to retire my cabela waders when it felt and looked like a had a bladder issue when I removed them and was drenched in the crotch and inside of both legs. Thats when I said, I will start this coming fly fishing season with that new pair from my shelf and make my switch, then start shopping for another backup pair. I guess we can all call these common waders experiences “The leaky wader brotherhood”

    1. By the power vested in me as Grand Potentate of the Bountiful Booties, I hereby induct thee, Sir Phil, as a knight in the Order of the Leaky Wader Brotherhood with all rights and privileges afforded thereof.

  5. I had a pair of flyweight LL Bean waders that ripped right up the seam during a day long trip well away from the road in Idaho. Talk about trying to walk around with one leg full of water. I contacted them and they promptly replaced them free no questions asked. This was when their return policies were better.
    I now have a pair of waist high breathables from Bean’s that are perfect as I never try to go deep now. (Looks like they don’t sell them anymore) They haven’t sprung a leak in over 4 years now. Of course that may be because I have only been able to get to the rivers twice in the last 2 seasons due to health issues. Hope spring eternal. I would love to get out there and try to get them to leak!

    1. It all depends on your perspective, doesn’t it Bob? I hope you are able to wear out several pairs of waders in the near future.

        1. Hmmm. That’s a mystery.

          Bob, I went back and read some of your articles in Blogflyfish. Really great stories! I’ve never fished in Vermont and would love it if we could rendezvous at one of your favorite rivers there sometime.

  6. I have a somewhat mixed experience with waders. I have been fly fishing for 6 years now. My first pair of Patagonia low end waders (that were on sale) didn’t last a full season before leaking. Then I had a pair of Redington Sonic-Pro (also on sale) those last 2.5 years until the bootie started to leak (I did fix that with AquaSeal (but then it was hard to slip on wading boots with the Aqua Seal gripping the inside of the boot) The next pair (also on sale) is Orvis Silver Sonics and those are still going with over 150 days of fishing on them. Most of my fishing is in the Swift River (so not too much sliding down banks and stuff but these ones have lasted. I have a friend with Silver Sonics before me and his still don’t leak either.

  7. A very good friend of mine first introduced me to fly fishing and supplied me with all the gear I needed. He’d patiently show me how to tie flies onto my line, how to spot deep pockets of trout filled water, and how to make a perfect drift. He also gave me leaky waders. The first time I felt the cool water of the East Branch trickling down my leg he simply told me, “It’s just the cold. They’re probably not leaking.” At the end of the day, my pants and socks told a different story. The next time we’d head out, I’d get the same pair. “I patched ’em up,” was always what I was told. Only, apparently, by the end of the day I would discover new holes and more wet clothes. Fortunately, we were fishing in the summer and the cool water never bothered me. This went on until I found my own pair of waders and I learned what it was like to fish all day and be dry at the end. But, the next time a group of us went out together, I saw my good friend handing the old pair to another newbie. “I just patched ’em up. You should be good to go,” he said. 😉

    1. Chris, I believe those leaky waders which you reference above are the ones hanging on the far right-side of the fence in the article’s photo. It’s possible, I regret to admit, that maybe you detected a minor vein of sadism in my makeup. But actually, I was only giving you the leaky waders with your best interests at heart. I knew that you would not truly appreciate the wonder of a dry wader until after you had experienced the treachery of a leaky one. One has to pay his dues in fly fishing just as in life. I dare say, you wouldn’t be the fisherman you are today if you had been handed dry waders on a silver platter. One day you will thank me for those leaky waders.

      1. Ah, yes. I do believe you’re right, Bill. I will “trust the system” because I trust the man who designed the system. Already more thankful than you know for those waders and the man who lended them to me!

  8. My Orvis Silver Sonics are still going strong after 4 years of hard use. I’ve gone through 3 different wading boots in the same time, including a pair of Rock Treads I broke the screws off during my second day of a back-country Colorado trip. Most fishing gear is not built for 6’7, 285 lb people who’ll walk 2 miles of river. The waders get a bit damp around the boot seams, but they’ve held up beautifully. Before that I had Simms guide waders and they leaked like a sieve… until I face planted while wading across an ADK beaver pond and filled the waders up to my chin with black mud. They mostly stopped leaking after that! Still not a recommended “fix.”

    1. Ha, I think we need some volunteers to check out this possible break-through in stopping leaks in waders. We need to go where the science leads us. Since my fishing buddies, Doover1 and Doover2, are scientists, I volunteer them to do the face planting in black mud. I’ll supply the leaky waders.

  9. Based on the comments it seems most of us can relate! I’ve been fly fishing 7 years so far and started with LL Bean Kennebec waders. Great for one season of heavy use but failed repeatedly in year 2. I took advantage of their guarantee and the next pair leaked 2/3 of the way into the first year. Used the warranty again but same result. My wife then bought me Simms G3 waders for Christmas (I am way too cheap to drop that kind of cash myself!) and so far I’ve made it through two seasons with no leaks. Fingers are crossed for this upcoming season.

    1. Dave Wester – if I’m following your comment correctly, that’s four pairs of waders in 7 years. That’s about my average too. Good luck this year with your G-3s!

  10. Your article brought back memories and laughs from recent years, I’ve been down the same road, buying the good and the cheap stuff and battling the leaks. A few years ago I bought shin guards which cover from the ankle to the knee and use them when my outing includes lots of wading. This seems to have helped in preventing leaks from sharp stones, spiky thorny bushes and the knees feel better if you fall.

  11. David, I can see how the shin guards could come in handy. Wearing thin, breathable waders, I have fallen forward directly on my shins and knees onto rocks in shallow water a couple of times. Oh my, that hurt so bad. I just had to sit there for a few minutes, waiting for the pain to dissipate and for the tears to quit falling from my eyes. Breathable waders, unless they have knee padding, offer surprisingly little cushion when falling on rocks.

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