In February 2012, a fisherman from Oakland drowned in the surf on Rio Del Mar Beach. He had a wife
and two teen aged children. What a tragedy! It appears that he was in a strong rip current area, his
waders filled up, dragged him down and out. His fishing buddy could not save him.
So this issue, we think it is appropriate to discuss safety; surf safety in particular, but much of this
applies to any wading.
Waders are wonderful, but they can be dangerous. Frankly I cannot understand why any reputable
company would make waders without built-in belt loops and a wading belt, but some still do. We have
all gone on a fishing trip and forgotten something. The wading belt may be that item and yet it is
number one for safety with waders. You will not find me buying waders without belt loops so a belt is
always with my waders and never forgotten. And when worn, my wading belt is always TIGHT.
Think you are safe in still water?
At Pyramid Lake one of our members slipped on an area with a clay bottom. His waders did not fill up,
but he went upside down, because the air in the wader legs kept pulling his feet up so his head went
down. Fortunately his fishing buddies were there to assist, but it sure shook him up and he quit for the
day, cold and shaking with the aftermath of fear. If you are “top heavy”, be even more careful, because
your risk is even greater.
Streams and rivers: How many times have I crossed a river with my heart in my mouth wondering what
the heck would I do if my legs were swept out from under me and I went tumbling down the river,
unable to regain my footing? Well I NEVER cross a river without a wading stick of some sort and prefer
to cross with a buddy, holding each other when it is a serious current.
Boots: I totally prefer felt soled boots, but they are being banned in more and more places. In a
discussion with a Montana guide, who has one of the very latest, expensive rubber soled boots that
were supposed to be premium sticky, he said “Now I have to have a wading stick all the time. The
rubber soled boots just don’t hold like felt does.” I do not know what to recommend, other than adding
cleats, and I just wish I did not have to make that purchase decision for my Alaska trip this year, but I
You do not need felt or any sticky soled boots in the surf. I wear boot foot rubber soled waders in the
The surf is moving water, but totally different than a river. If you are even marginally aggressive, it is
not a matter of “if”; it is a matter of “when” you will be knocked down. So do your best to avoid a knock
down, but prepare yourself and you will laugh at yourself when it happens.
I have been knocked down to my knees several times and to my butt once or twice. I have slid off the
edge of a sand berm into a rip current and swam on my back for awhile to finally get to the side of the
channel and get stabilized again. But I never was worried because I had prepared. I have never lost my
hat or my gear. Yes, I am an aggressive surf fisherman, but I have seen more conservative club
members get knocked down too. In every case we have been safe because we had prepared in
Waders again, in the surf. Start with a belt of course, but also wear a jacket of some type over the
top, NOT tucked inside, so when a wave hits you, the water goes outside, not inside. A windbreaker or
other jacket cannot shed water if it is tucked in, yet I see that on the beach all the time. Many of us
wear kayak style jackets now, tightly fastened around the neck. And many wear a PFD – Personal
Flotation Device: You can buy different styles of these lightweight devices. Pull a lanyard in an
emergency and it inflates. You have to wear some type of lifejacket on the O’Neil Forebay and other
places, so might as well get a good PFD and wear it for surf fishing too.
If you are down and water is coming in, keep your head about you. Don’t panic and remember almost
nobody drowns. In fact the first story in this article represents the only person I have ever heard of who
actually drowned and it is possible he panicked and/or could not swim. You prepared yourself; you
know what to do, so pick yourself up calmly get out of there and go dry off.
Let’s go fishing: The rip currents represent the most likely place to catch any type fish in the surf,
because that current is pulling crabs, worms and lots of other fish food right through it. The fish hang
out there for chow, so I will not tell you to not go near them, but I will advise you not to actually get IN
one. Properly prepared for the surf, you will have a great time and only rarely have to quit early
because you got water inside your waders!
I’ll see you out there, with the other daughters and sons of the beaches.
Posted on May 28th, 2023