Waders or wetsuit?

I’m planning to buy my first wading setup this spring ( yay! :grin:), and I’ve found myself wondering if I should get waders or a wetsuit. I’m curious what you use, where, and why.

Also, I’ve noticed on YouTube that some Japanese anglers use wetsuits in situations where I see wester anglers using waders. Why do you think that is?

For some context, I live in Western Washington, where its rarely far below freezing, and is (nearly) always rainy. I fish lakes streams and rivers with Tenkara rods.

Personally, I prefer to wet-wade (neoprene legging, neoprene socks, canyoneering boots…slimmer and lighter than almost all wading boots) if at all possible. I am in the UK and only fish the trout season (April - Sept), so don’t find temperature an issue and enjoy the “contact” with the water. Also makes the (often long) walk in and out comfortable without the faff of changing into/out of waders by the water.

HOWEVER, the times I will ALWAYS wear waders are:

  • urban rivers, or downstream of urban areas. On hygiene grounds
  • if I’m likely to be in the water over my waist for a good length of time so my core could risk getting cold (I don’t have a full wetsuit, seems excessive most of the time)
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I live in New England and fish the trout season in Vermont (April - October) almost exclusively, with the occasional trip into Massachusetts. I completely agree with @russfx. Whilst I do own waders, I really don’t like using them. I feel a sense of disconnection from the river and my environment overall. I have wet-waded for 36 years (in almost all weather conditions except snow) and bought my very first pair of waders last year. This was primarily so I can fish the very early and very late parts of the season when the water temperatures are in the high 30’s Fahrenheit (1.5 - 4 Celsius) to mid-40’s Fahrenheit (7 C).

I recently had a very similar conversation with a good friend of mine, who is also a tenkara fisherman and feels similarly. I almost exclusively fish alone and rarely wade deeper than my thighs just for safety reasons; though for some people that is waist deep as I’m 6’5" (195cm) tall.

I’m sure some will disagree with me on this next point and I’m okay with that. I also feel like waders give us a false sense of security whilst in the water, which comes from that disconnection caused by the barrier between us and the river. We are a part of the environment, we are not masters over it and I think it good to be reminded that even a relatively small stream has the power to overcome us when it is not respected. In a sense, to me it is a loss of respect for the river when we are disconnected from it. If I remember to respect it, I am in a much better position to return home to my family and come out for another day of fishing. But that’s just my opinion; you may feel differently.

Lastly, I greatly dislike hiking in waders and I am equally not keen on carrying them plus an extra pair of shoes. I often hike anywhere from 1/2 mile to 2 miles (0.8 - 3 km) to get to fishing spots and doing that in waders is tedious and hot. Don’t get me wrong, there are plenty of places where I park and walk 100 yards and I am fishing. Lest I forget, by wet wading I can have my kit on and ready to fish in a much shorter space of time, which is my goal. More time on the water is better to me.

I realize that’s not a direct answer to your question, but hope it helps.

I live in Northern California so I’m fishing very similar temperatures as you are. Here’s what I have finally settled on as optimal for me…
Midweight synthetic thermal bottoms
Synthetic pants from KUHL, made for climbing
A thin synthetic sock liner
Neoprene socks
Canyoneering boots (5/10 brand, discontinued)
When I reach the stream I’ll put on neoprene leggings (I use the Daiwa brand)

This combination is extremely comfortable for hikes, provides warmth in the water with unmatched wading and climbing traction and comfort amid the “you have got to be kidding me!” high gradient streams where nobody goes.

(I’m considering buying a climbing helmet to put in my daypack… that’s where I fish…)

Sometimes, in early spring when it’s still cold, I’ll wear wading pants when fishing in the meadows. But that’s the only time and place.

To be completely honest, this is not original thinking by me, I just copied what I the Japanese anglers who like the same type of places I do are using.

Hello Liam. I have been fly fishing in Western Washington for 45+ years. I live south of Puyallup and am fortunate to live 25 to 45 minutes from some good Puget Sound beaches (Sea Run Coastal Cutthroat, Resident Coho & Jack Chinook), and less than 1 hour equidistant from four different lowland & moderate to high gradient mountain river systems that all have resident native Coastal Cutthroat Trout.

I fish year-round; salt beaches and year-round trout streams in late fall to early spring. I have the CFS scoped out for the (year-round) rivers I like to fish and actually get USGS water data service emails when the level for each of the rivers begin to clear and drop to what I can safely wade. I never fish rivers without a telescoping & folding wading staff (trekking pole) that fits into a (tactical) belt pouch, with a retractable lanyard.

Our air temps usually don’t get that cold, but our marine humidity with water temps in the low 40s chill me to the bone. Late fall - mid-spring I wear “breathable” (?) stocking foot chest waders for warmth with wading boots and neoprene leggings for both warmth, and padding-abrasion resistance. When water levels drop during those week-long dry winter cold snaps into the teens-mid 20s I wear stocking foot guide weight neoprene waders. In early fall and late spring I wear pant waders and the leggings.

As the air & water temps warm I wet-wade with durable, abrasion-resistant, and surprisingly fast drying OCP trousers, midweight hiking socks, neoprene socks, wading boots with studded or bar cleat rubber soles, and neoprene leggings. If I am hiking in over 3/4 mile, I’ll use hiking soles on my (Korkers) boots and change to studded or bar cleat rubber soles when I begin wading. I bring extra pairs of wool and neoprene socks to change into if the hike out will also be long.

A form fitting wetsuit would be nice for the decreased drag in the current, but IMHO that’s about it. In the late spring, summer, and early fall it would be waaay overkill. In winter, getting in and out of it would be difficult, and cold.

I fish streams and rivers in the French alps from March-October, the coldest the water gets is 6-8°C and I too, wet wade exclusively : shorts, neoprene socks, mesh sneakers, neoprene gaiters I got from tenkara-ya that don’t cover the knees. I also prefer this setup because it is compact, lightweight, convenient for hiking in (sometimes long) and scrambling around (sometimes sketchy), and it preserves the contact with the river, which is something I very, very much enjoy.

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When I fish I have experience with all three. Wet wade, waders, and wetsuit.

I do not wetsuit fishing tenkara, but do use one when I fish the surf/ocean with spinning gear and this year with a flyrod. I suspect for japanese anglers, it is for the same reason. If the river is formed from snow melt the temps can be cold, and swift currents are dangerous. It is one thing to wet wade to your shins it is a whole other thing if you are crossing rivers, accessing rocks to stand on, or river canyoning.
Most footage I have seen of Japanese anglers wearing wetsuits has been when they are canyoning or crossing portions of rivers to reach a rock or island to then access a piece of prime fishing structure.

When I fish in the ocean, I swim to outer rocks on reefs to fish from and quite often will get knocked off of rocks by incoming waves or tide. Even wading waist deep the currents are often swift enough to knock me down or carry me a few yards. Waders are not safe for this type of fishing. A wetsuit provides both warmth, some padding from rock contact and a slight amount of buoyancy. Wet wading even thigh deep in ice cold water is going to shorten your day, even with waders and thermals there are days where I cannot feel my feet.

Waders I use for warmth and windblock more than staying dry. I will also use them when I fish before going to work. Really any days above 60 degrees waders can be uncomfortable hiking around in. Wetsuits are uncomfortable hiking in weather above 75 unless you have soaked down first.

Wet wading is good and embraces the element the same way wetsuits do. As noted by others, most classic tenkara water here in the states do not require much wading. I also feel that wading will definitely spook wild fish. Just approaching a brook can spook wild fish, never mind stomping through a brook.

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Wow, this is great information from everyone, and I’ve enjoyed reading through your responses. I’m now sure that a wet wading setup can give me the warmth I need to fish a longer trout season, but I no longer think I’ll be needing a wetsuit to do this. I look forward to feeling my toes for once!

It seems I greatly underestimated the options for wet wading, and I think I’ve been misinterpreting what other anglers where wearing on YouTube. What I’ve been interpreting as wet suits under a coat were probably just (the new to me) neoprene leggings.

I might like to add something I forgot…
Neoprene socks are pretty thick, great insulation to be sure, but I replaced mine with the longest length SealSkins socks. They come up to just under my knees, 100% waterproof, and are a comfy fit inside my canyoneering boots with just a thin synthetic liner sock underneath. Hence the neoprene gaiters for cold water.

It was opening day here in VT yesterday and I put on my pair of Orvis Clearwater waders for the first time since having snow. It was in the 50s so I thought I’d still be cold in the woods and streams. They were way too hot, so I had to go change into a pair of sandals and quick drying outdoor pants. The stream was frigid but I felt much better.

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Could you send me a link to the type of leggings you’re referring please. Sounds like a nice wet wading kit

I’m 71 and started out, in my twenties, wearing boot foot hip boots. My first pair of stocking foot waders were nylon made by Red Ball. They were light weight but did not breath. Consequently I would sweat my but off in warm weather. Breathable waders were game changers. I’m going on my 11th season with a pair of Simms Headwaters.

Within the past decade I have tended to wade less than I use to. I wet wade during warm weather providing that I don’t have to do allot of bushwacking. I also started wearing knee high rubber boots. But I just ordered a pair of Frogg Toggs stocking foot hip waders. For me, hip waders are a happy medium. They protect my legs and keep me dry. So I guess in some ways I have come full circle.

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It’s Daiwa NG-400 Neo Gator.
They are jdm sized! I’m 6’ 180# wearing a size 12 shoe and just fit the largest size LL.
A little padding at the kneecap :grin: and they stay put very nicely.

I use to wear waders a lot when I first started fishing but now I mainly wade wet from April to October. If I fish streams/rivers I always use heavy wading boots, neoprene socks, and gaiters to protect my feet and ankles. In the colder months I will use light waders but layer up underneath depending on the temp. The main thing, Guenther, is enjoy fishing and stay safe.

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Has anyone tried neoprene socks and then the korkers overshoe with gaiters? I was trying to come up with a set that I can use wet wading on the stream to about knee height and also can use while surf fishing

Brian

My post above sounds similar to what you describe except with neoprene knee - shin guards instead of gaiters. The guards are just awesome.
“As the air & water temps warm I wet-wade with durable, abrasion-resistant, and surprisingly fast drying OCP trousers, midweight hiking socks, neoprene socks, wading boots with studded or bar cleat rubber soles, and neoprene leggings. If I am hiking in over 3/4 mile, I’ll use hiking soles on my (Korkers) boots and change to studded or bar cleat rubber soles when I begin wading. I bring extra pairs of wool and neoprene socks to change into if the hike out will also be long.”

With the snowmelt tapering off I’ve finally been able to put my my new wet wading setup to the test. Results are good. I settled on some neoprene kayaking booties, long seal skin socks, and Fox River gators.

The booties give me the flexibility and grip to match my wading style. The seal skin socks are dry for about 30 seconds before I wade past my knees and fill them up like a balloons; this is okay though because the trapped layer of water still works to insulate. The gators give me a little more comfort on chilly days, but I don’t think they’ll make it into my backpack on longer hikes in.

Oh, and @Brian_Miller might be onto something talking about wading staffs. I keep finding myself grabbing at brush and branches for stability. It might be time to stop scouring the banks for walking sticks and start packing a trekking pole.

i may be the odd one. in my area, houston texas, i wet wade most of the year. occasionally it gets cold enough to wear waders. most of the time i wet wade barefoot. there is some danger in that but so far ive only had one incident and that was a stick sticking up in the sand. skin dries much faster than fabric. i will sometimes wear sandals if im going to be around riprap but then im constantly getting rocks in the sandal.