Anything Fly Fishing

The Inglorious Wading Staff

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To many, the wading staff is a non-essential piece of equipment. It is perceived as an unnecessary addition to a lengthy list of essentials. Depending on the terrain, water depth, stream bottom make-up and current swiftness, it makes good sense to learn the advantages of having a good wading staff.

One of the advantages of age (ahem) is that we are more likely to take advantage of the things that make our pursuits easier, safer and more enjoyable. One such piece of equipment is the use of a wading staff. In my earlier years, I disdained the use of wading staffs as unnecessary, but later, I found them to be an essential piece of equipment.

Effects of Stream Conditions

When fishing slow, clear and shallow streams, it may seem unnecessary to bother with a wading staff. But when conditions merit the use, it may be the means of avoiding a dunking or could mean the difference in life of death.

When currents are swift and the bottom make-up is irregular due to uneven rock surfaces, a wading staff is a comforting item to have. It is akin to having a third leg and can make a precarious situation more acceptable. I vividly recall a trip to British Columbia where the stream that a friend and I were fishing was so swift in spots that thigh deep water threatened to overpower us. We actually ended up bracing forearms to ford the stream and breathed a sigh of relief when we reached the opposite shore.

Rapidly changing depths can also be a hazard. The wading staff can be used to probe ahead of the angler to detect and avoid these drop-offs. Without a staff, it is easy to get into a precarious situation and extracting oneself can be quite tricky.

I have found that when using a wading staff, it is convenient to have it on a length of Paracord or similar cordage. Rather than let it drift on the water when stationary to fish, I secure the cordage to my vest and flip it over my shoulder. That keeps it from tangling as it drifts in front of me.

Creating a staff provides a great opportunity for woodburning art.

Related Uses for Wading/Hiking Staffs

As noted in the title above, staffs serve dual duty for hiking applications. A rugged staff is a useful addition on a hike, especially in steep and rugged conditions. It is useful in maintaining balance on uneven terrain and well worth the small amount of additional weight. When using a wading staff of wooden construction, it can be used to dispatch a snake or as self-defense if a surly dog is encountered.

Construction of a Good Wading/Hiking Staff

I prefer staffs made from second growth sourwood. They are usually straight and you can often find one with a significant distance between branches. I select one between 1” to 1 1/4” in diameter. A good length is 50” to 52” for me, but should be comfortable, based on the angler’s height.

Once selected, shave the bark from the staff and let it cure. The cambium is a dark tan and attractive, or you can shave it down to the white inner wood. A good spot for curing is in the attic of your house or workshop.

Once the staff is properly cured, I drill a hole for the cord in the grip and use a wood rasp or file to create a checkering pattern to improve grip. In addition, if one feels artistic, wood staffs offer a ready palette for expressing your talent.

One last refinement is to include hash marks on the staff that allow you to measure your catch. How optimistic you are is your choice, but I usually stop at 24”, for most of my catch easily falls within that parameter.

Metal, plastic, rubber or your choice of tips can be used on the terminal end of the staff, but I choose to leave mine natural and replace when necessary. I have one that stays in the back of my truck that is cracked and dinged and all of the cambium has worn away, but it has travelled many miles with me.


If you travel by air to your fishing destination, there are folding wading staffs available that pack nicely. They are not as sturdy, but they serve the purpose and as mentioned earlier, they could prevent a dunking or worse!

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