A year ago, I bought a wading staff for use on the big rivers of the American West — particularly the Yellowstone and the Missouri. I had visions of strapping it to my side only for use in thigh-deep or even waist-deep water. But last week, I discovered that it’s worth wearing on small streams when I’m only wading ankle-deep water.
Dave, my podcast partner, and I were getting ready to fish Willow Creek south of Three Forks, Montana, with a good friend. I was mildly surprised to see our friend strap on his collapsible wading staff. But when he explained to me why he always wears it, I decided to take mine out of my duffel bag and give it a try.
Now I’m a believer. Here are the reasons why it makes sense to use a wading staff even when you’re on a small stream in shallow water.
This is one of the two reasons my friend cited. Even with state-of-the-art wading boots (we both wore Patagonia Foot Tractor boots that day), moss-covered rocks can be slick. I was pleased how my wading staff helped me stay upright when one of my boots slipped.
I’m in reasonably good shape at 54. But my legs are not as strong as they were at 44 or at 34. I found that a “third leg” gave me more stability when I walked on the rock banks as well as the boulders in shallow water.
I was also surprised how my “third leg” took pressure off of my two legs. We fished three miles up Willow Creek in a canyon which lacked any trails or gentle banks. Then we walked three miles down in and along the creek. My legs were not nearly as tired as I expected after the six-mile trek.
This is the second reason my friend always carries his wading staff. We were in rattlesnake country, and even though it was mid-October, some fishing buddies of his encountered a rattler a few days before on the stretch of creek we were fishing. I’m no advocate of killing snakes. But I like the idea of packing something that can ward off a rattler when a surprise encounter happens.
Again, I’m writing as a 54-year old. I found that my wading staff made it easier to scramble up steep banks and rocky inclines. Now I understand why another friend of mine raved about the walking staff he carried in the Swiss Alps a few months ago.
If you’re in the market for a wading staff, check out the ones made by Simms and Orvis. I tried them both, and I give the nod to the Orvis model because it snaps into place almost instantly. Both of these staffs are collapsible, although I kept mine assembled most of the day. It didn’t get in my way when I let it drag behind me (the staff was connected to its sheath via a retractor).
There are more affordable alternatives, too. I know fly fishers who use an old ski pole or even a mountaineer’s staff.
When King David composed the twenty-third psalm, he was not referring to a fly rod nor a wading staff when he wrote, “Thy rod and thy staff, they comfort me.” But still, I find comfort in taking both a rod and staff with me – even when I walk through quiet waters.