I am not the guy that is going to tell you that you need a lifejacket to go fishing in a stream. You want to go on a boat and catch a marlin or something, yes—wear the lifejacket. But streams are a little different. Unless they are running high due to rains or ice thaw or you don’t know how to swim, I don’t think lifejackets are a necessity. However, if you DON’T know how to swim or you don’t know how deep the water is, then by all means, protect yourself from drowning. Basically—use common sense.
Here are a few things that I have been taught and/or learned over my years of fly fishing in streams:
- Although this should fall in the self-explanatory category, I’m not taking any chances. Don’t be in the water if there is a chance of lightning. That includes simply hearing thunder that sounds far away. Water conducts electricity, so if you want to stay alive, stay out of the water.
- Don’t go in past your knees unless you actually want to be swimming.
- Be mindful of water temperature. Some streams run very cold. You can get hypothermia on even a hot summer day if you aren’t wearing the right gear.
- Speaking of gear, wear waders that will provide you with good traction. And use the belt. It’ll keep them on your feet, help you stay you drier if you fall down, and help you float if you start getting pulled downstream.
- While they sell wading staffs to help you keep your balance, they won’t help when the water is traveling very quickly. Use your judgment. If the current looks strong, don’t fish there. Look for somewhere a little calmer. There will probably be more fish there anyway.
- More information on currents: don’t wade with the current at your back. Your knees will buckle at some point and you’ll end up going downstream. Wade parallel to the current.
- If you do fall down (or in), do not try to stand back up. Fight the urge. If there’s a current, it will just knock you over again or it could be too deep or slippery for you to get your footing. Instead, get into as close to a seated position as you can. This way, you can backstroke your way to calmer waters without worrying that you’re going to smack your head on anything and drown yourself.
- When you want to cross the stream, go cautiously. Remember that banks can crumble and pitch you into the water. Avoid crossing near logjams or ice shelves.
Like I said, this list is mostly common sense. I know some people don’t have enough of that, though, so I thought they’d appreciate a list. Other people tend to panic and then common sense goes out the window when they get into a potentially dangerous situation, and they might need to read this too. The best advice I ever heard was that no fish, no stream, is worth losing your life over. Be smart, be safe, and there’s always fishing another day and another place.