In saltwater environments, many anglers utilize wading because it offers excellent fishing opportunities without the hassles or cost of maintaining or renting a boat. However, there are some potential dangers involved with wading that an angler should be aware of in order to enhance their enjoyment of the fishing experience.
It is always best to wade with a partner, so if an angler gets in trouble there is someone else there to give them aid. Also, a whistle that hangs around the neck or is easily accessed from a pocket is helpful for signaling others that an angler is in need of help.
A rip tide is a narrow, jet-like stream of water that flows seaward for a period of time (it actually is a current and has nothing to do with the tide). Riptides can be quite strong, with velocities up to 2 knots per second, and even strong swimmers may not be able to swim against it. If caught in a riptide, an angler should not attempt to swim directly back to shore through the current but instead swim a short distance parallel to the beach, thus freeing themselves to head unhindered back to shore.
The danger of riptides illustrates a basic fact of wading in any marine environment: an angler should always be prepared for an unexpected dunking in water. Even a seemingly shallow flat can have sudden drop-offs, and while carrying a fishing rod and other equipment it is easy to be knocked off balance. Thus an angler may consider wearing some kind of personal flotation device, especially if they are a non-swimmer. Many of these devices, such as inflatable vests, come with handy pockets for carrying gear.
Another common danger when saltwater wading is stepping on a stinging aquatic animal or cutting your feet on sharp objects. Stinging animals that can ruin a promising day of fishing include jellyfish, stingrays and several types of fish, such as the stargazer. Stingrays commonly bury themselves in the sand, and when stepped on they sometimes implant a poisoned barb at the end of their tail into a person’s foot or leg. Sharp objects that are common in the shallow sea floor include broken glass, rocks, fishing hooks and oysters.
Experienced waders recommend shuffling the feet while walking, which will send animals such as stingrays skittering away. But the best strategy is to wear some form of shoe, such as specially made booty-style wading shoes with hard ridged soles. Another option is a product called “corkers,” specialized sandals for walking on slippery rocks. If the angler plans on getting in and out of a boat several times, shoes should be purchased that have bottom materials that will grip the slippery surfaces of the boat. Also, footwear that provides a tight ankle fit will keep out sand and gravel.
A mistake that a lot of first-time saltwater waders make is wading with a stringer of fish tied to their waist. This leaves them open to the possibility of attacks from sharks, barracuda, and other toothy predators like bluefish. To minimize the potential for attack (however slim), use floating bait buckets or inner tubes with baskets to hold the catch. These should be tied to long cords that allow the bucket or tube to float a safe distance from the angler. The cord should have a quick release mechanism where attached to the fisherman.
Not all wading occurs in warm, subtropical or tropical waters. There are dedicated surf fishermen in the Northeast and Pacific Northwest who use thick waders and wet suits to fish extremely cold waters. Additionally, thermal underwear or layered clothing worn underneath waders can enhance their insulating qualities and prevent the hazards associated with prolonged exposure to the cold. Special steps should be taken to ensure the durability of waders, such as washing them regularly and storing them unfolded so that weak creases do not occur.
In subtropical and tropical climates, or anywhere during summer, precautions should be taken to protect oneself from the damaging rays of the sun. Waterproof sunscreen should be applied liberally, even to the legs if waders are not used. Sunglasses should be polarized and wrap around the head. A hat with a wide brim will also protect the face, ears and part of the neck.
Severe weather is another thing to be aware of. Many times storms will move in from the land side, and anglers facing out to sea can be surprised by a storm if they are unaware of conditions behind them. Avoid being in or around the water when lightning is in the area, as fishing rods can act as lightening rods. In addition, even a mild storm can stir up the tide and currents that may affect wading safety.