How To Safely Wade Rivers

Confident, more aggressive waders achieve better positioning to both cast and get better drifts from and because of this, catch more fish…fact. They’re able to move along those trickier banks, or get out to those islands and rarely fished gravel bars safely and quickly. Are you fit, strong and capable enough to move through that piece of water confidently? Always consider your emergency exit if the water gets too deep, or currents too strong and consider where you’ll end up if you head off unexpectedly downstream.

Linking Up To Cross A River


  1. Take tiny steps, shuffle your feet across the bottom of the river, as soon as you lift your leg the current will take hold of it and push it from under you. Once this happens you will lose your balance and begin stumbling, most likely going under. Look for gravelly sections of river bottom between the bigger boulders and stones. Slide your feet into position and work them in between the rocks and stones, rather than standing directly on top of them where they may roll causing you to tumble over. Always keep two points of contact on the riverbed at all times, i.e. one foot and your staff
  2. Place your staff down securely ahead of you, and walk to and past your staff. Plant both feet and repeat. Pick out your path in advance, so you know which rocks you’ll walk around and where you plan to head, and if you pick a destination then chances are you’ll make it to that point
  3. Linking arms with your fishing buddies or guide is another great method. Put the larger built person above so they act as an anchor. Again move slowly with the current letting it gently push you along
  4. Wear a wading belt at all times .Wading belts are not perfect at preventing water from filling up your waders if you go under, but they are far better than not having one. Make sure your waders fit and are comfortable and don't restrict movement
  5. Once you've decided the best place to cross, the general rule is to angle yourself downstream, allowing the current to gently push you along, but being careful it doesn’t take control of you. Move slowly don’t fight the current, take it on your side, or even face up stream but never, never turn your back to river. Allow the current to help you gradually make your way towards the other bank
  6. Always look and have a plan where you will go if things turn bad mid crossing, and avoid crossing immediately above treacherous water. Turn onto your back if you do manage to get knocked or swept over and try to get your feet facing downstream as quickly as possible. This will help prevent any collisions with your head and any obstacles that might be in the river. The water will most likely be fairly cold so you want to get to the bank as quickly as possible. Pick an exit point on the closest bank and carefully paddle towards it.

We've also worked with Garth from Tongariro River Rafting on a wading safety video that is essential viewing, as well as this informative piece on layering correctly for if and when you take that unexpected swim.

The Correct Way To Use A Wading Staff



The Simms wading staff is a must have, and offers support and stability on those trickier crossings. You will simply access more water with a wading staff safer, and with more confidence. It is compact, lightweight, quick to lock out and extend, and provides a solid, reliable aid for moving through the water, or along the bank. If wading particularly slippery rivers, consider a rubber tip for your staff.

Simms PRO Wading Staff

Always keep your wading staff upstream of you. This keeps your tipping point much higher than if you were leaning on it downstream, being pushed by a downstream current. It’s much easier to tip a large item over a low wall than a high wall right?



Consider a mixture of Simms Hardbite tungsten studs for longevity, and softer alumibite studs for superior grip on slippery rocks. A mixture of both, positioned appropriately around the sole will give you optimum traction wherever you wade.

Fly Fishing Stud

Aluminum cleats are best with harder rocks and they’re softer compound provide superior traction. Star cleats provide a larger surface area while maintaining plenty of rubber contact to give the ideal grip.

Simms Alumibite Star Cleat

Simms Hardbite cleats are better for use on softer streambed structure and for piercing algae growth.

Simms Hardbite Star Cleat


Correct fitting waders are essential both for providing unrestricted mobility and a full range of motion when moving around and over rocks and descending tricky banks. Waders that are more form fitting feature minimal excess material which can create drag in the water and offset your balance and momentum. And if the budget allows then Gore-Tex waders are hard to beat.


A good pair of wading boots are equally as important as the waders. Many of the newer styles have the sticky Vibram soles with studs attached these are great for river bottoms with algae covered stones, the Mataura river in Southland is one such river that these boots are definitely needed.

On a final note if you don't need to wade - DON'T! Always wade within your comfort zone. If you’re not sure or feeling unsafe simply don't do it, stay on the rivers edge or bank and fish from there.

Don't take unnecessary risks, is that fish really worth it?