Many anglers, especially beginners, find themselves wondering the same question: Are waders absolutely necessary to fly fish effectively? Can you get by catching large trout without shelling out money on waders? I've asked myself the same question, and the answer I've come up with is, probably, but you won't get the full experience of fly fishing without them. You'll be limiting yourself on where you can fly fish and how deep you can wade into the water. One of the greatest parts about waders is that they give you the ability to create space for casting. Sometimes the best places to land trout are covered in thick brush and congested trees that will prevent you from casting from the banks. It's times like these where getting waist deep and casting into the current is crucial. Of course, the next question becomes: Can you get quality waders without having to break the bank? Absolutely. I have tested out several waders in every fly fishing situation imaginable and have found five waders that will meet all of your expectations without forcing you to take out a loan to purchase them.
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The Simms Tributary Wader is an incredible entry-level fishing wader that provides all the basics that even veteran fly fishers can appreciate. These waders have a breathable 3-layer upper and 4-layer bottom that allow for extreme mobility, and of course they are waterproof. For the money, it's hard to beat the comfort of these waders. The gravel guard and bottom hem combined with the neoprene stockingfoot is something you would expect on waders that are $500+. These waders come with Simms incredible 60-day leak warranty as well as their 12-month evaluation and repair warranty.
The Clearwater Wader by Orvis is their value-based wader that is ideal for every situation. One of the great features of these waders is the side release buckles that convert to waist high waders for those warmer days when breathability is key. These waders come with a chest pocket to hold your fly boxes as well as a kangaroo style pouch that is great for keeping your hands warm on chilly days. The Clearwater Waders are backed by a fantastic warranty and with a price point at less than $300, they're hard to beat.
The Redington Sonic-Pro Waders are amazing for the avid angler that spends countless hours out on streams and needs something that's durable and comfortable. These waders feature a 4-layer technology with SonicWeld seams that provide extreme protection from any leaks, that in my opinion is unmatched by most other waders. The adjustable belt and suspenders are great features when you need to get a little further out into the water. The zippered chest pocket with a flip out accessory bag is a great add on for the angler that appreciates a large variety or storage in their setup. The fleece-lined hand pockets were a lifesaver on my trip to the Elk River a few months ago. These waders are a little more on the expensive side, however their durability and functionality makes the price tag hurt a little bit less. Redington's warranty isn't as great as some of the other manufacturers, but it is still solid.
Patagonia has been known to make incredible fly fishing waders, although it's hard to find any under $500. When they designed the Middle Fork Packable Waders, I knew I had to get my hands on them. These are fantastic waders for the angler that is always on the move, traveling from one stream to the next. They are the lightest and most compact waders that Patagonia has made, and feature a seamless bootie which is awesome. Nearly 70% of these waders are made from recycled fabric which fits well with the Patagonia brand. While there are certainly more durable waders on the market, these pack down into an 8-inch by 13-inch stuff sack and weigh in at only 26 ounces, making these a great backcountry wader. They are extremely breathable and have a DWR finish.
For someone who is just getting into fly fishing and wants a solid set of waders that will perform all of the basic needs, the Hellbender II Waders are perfect. The 4-layer nylon upper and the double reinforced knees exceeded my expectations from a durability standpoint. The oversized chest pocket and the double-zippered hand pockets were a nice touch for waders at this price point. The 4mm neoprene booties were surprisingly warm and featured integrated lace hooks for keeping debris out of my boots. I keep these waders in my truck at all times as a backup set.
Which Waders Are Best for You?
Is there a clear winner? I think it's tough to point out which waders are the best. All of these waders are great options and have a universal quality. I feel I can be comfortable taking any of them on a fishing trip and enjoy my time without having to worry about leaks or mobility issues.
As you dive deeper into the great lifestyle of fly fishing, you may feel the need to upgrade to more advanced waders that serve specific purposes. However, these waders fill all of the basic needs that any angler could ask for.
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