- Read water well: Seeing a route through the current gives you a path to your destination. For a crossing, aim high. Pick a marker on the opposite shore line so you can gauge your drift and decide whether to continue or bail.
- Pace yourself: Don't rush the process. With heavy current, placing one foot solidly before removing your other foot can keep you stable. It's much like ice climbing with crampons. We view each step with our feet or wading staff as our belay.
- Tighten up: Before a wading in heavy current, tighten up the laces of your boots for better feel. It's a rock climbing technique that transfers well on the river.
- Wading staff: Having one and using it properly can add a bigger safety margin. Having a wrist loop that allows a non death grip will save energy. A lanyard that stretches for a further reach adds more function than a static cord. Place your staff firmly but not so far away that your center of gravity is compromised.
- Wading belt: Always. Sometimes for a deeper crossing we use two. One at the waist and another just below the top of the waders. Cheap insurance.
- Eyes up and down: If you're wading in a dropping water scenario or early season melting shore ice conditions play heads up ball. Keep an eye upstream for floating debris and be aware of anything downstream. Dead falls and sweepers are great fishy spots. They are also some of the most dangerous structures on any river.
- Entrapment: Never jam your boot between rocks for better purchase. Foot entrapment is a potential deadly situation. Avoid it.
- Pack it: For a tricky or difficult wade we will carry our rod in it's tube attached to our pack. Having all our gear in a pack works for us. We unbuckle the waist belt if we need to jettison the pack during a swim. If we are not using a pack we stuff our rod down our waders, below the waist belt, in the back. It helps keep our hands free to maintain balance or help clients.
- Self preservation: As a former whitewater river guide I've swam enough class 4 and 5 water to last a lifetime. One thing we always told clients is that if they do find themselves out of the boat was to maintain a feet downstream position while floating on their back. This is good advise for a rafting client. As a guide that go with the flow mentality doesn't fly. I'd swim hard to avoid rapids, hydraulics and sweepers. Worrying about your gear and you will loose time. The clock is ticking when the dunking happens. Be proactive and try to focus at the task at hand.
Practice wading fast, hard flows when water temps are warm. Go for a intentional swim while wearing waders in summer to get a feel for what you can and can't do. Wading well is skill that can get you into some great fishing. Be conservative. There are old waders. There are bold waders. There are very few old and bold waders.