Fly Fishing for Women – Beginner’s Guide to Wading

I’ve met several women who tell me they would like to fly fish, but they’re afraid to wade in the water.

But fly fishing doesn’t have to involve slogging against the river current. In fact, that’s not the norm despite what you might see in promotional images – men standing waist-deep!  

It’s a myth that fly fishing anglers need to stand waist-deep in fast-flowing water to catch trout.

It may get into a better position, but there is a lot more to fly fishing than battling the river elements.

Do you need to wade to fish for trout?

Trout live in big rivers, small streams and lakes, which means there is lots of choice of where to fish.

Trout needs security and a food source. They get this by laying in quieter pockets of water near food sources such as aquatic insects floating downstream in the current, while not moving too far so they save energy.

This means that you can fish for trout in a wide range of water conditions. Many of which do not involve deep wading.

While you may get your feet wet, you usually don’t need to do much more than that to catch fish.

Fun Fact:
In New Zealand, the Fish & Game Council provides a map detailing the "Park & Cast" locations. This makes fly fishing easily accessible for less mobile and for families.

Is fly fishing safe?

Fly fishing is safe if you spend a little time learning a few basics about water safety and have the right gear, which doesn’t have to be expensive.

At the same time, anglers can get into trouble if they fall or when wading in fast currents. Like any water sport, it pays to respect the power of the water.

As a beginner, fly fishing can be overwhelming to start because there is so much to learn. That’s true, but it’s also what keeps people in the sport. 

To start, you can fish where you don’t need to wade, then later add some knowledge about fishing in deeper, faster waters and wading. 

As an experienced hiker and swimmer, you may already know much of the information needed for safe wading. 

But when you start out, there are many ways you can get the extra knowledge needed.

Learn from others

Join your local fly fishing club, or an online community like United Women on The Fly

Clubs and communities offer introductory courses on fly fishing, including what you need and the techniques for beginners.

Hire a professional guide

Many professional guides are accredited.  

They will teach you where to fish, so you don’t need to wade waist-deep as well as how to wade safely.


Some excellent videos put out by fishing tackle suppliers – motivated to keep their customers alive! 

Here’s one by Manic Tackle on the infamous Tongariro River here in New Zealand.

How to Wade Safely

Here’s a series of six safety videos from Simms

Simms Wading Safety

Here’s the Orvis version

Safe Wading Tips with Tom Rosenbauer

Do I need a wading staff for fly fishing?

Carrying and using a wading staff is the best practice for all fly fishers. You never know when you might need support to manage in deeper water and faster currents.

As a woman in my 60s, I use a hiking pole at all times. Extra support is handy for walking the trails on river banks, as well as wading.  

Using a hiking pole gives me the confidence to go to places I wouldn’t go without it. 

But mostly, anglers carry a wading pole in a holster and only get it out when they think the river conditions demand it.

This means you assess the situation each time you wade. 

The difficulty is with this situation is that you may already be in a tricky situation and then need to get it out quickly and easily.  Luckily many wading staffs are designed for easy deployment.

Having my hiking pole attached to my wading belt with a retractable cord means it is always available to use, but I can drop it whenever I need to use both hands. 

I’ve found that having access to my wading pole is my best option. It make a difference when fishing in more challenging locations, both in and near the water.

Me with back to camera wading

If like me, you suffer from osteoarthritis in your knee joints, the regular use of a hiking pole or wading staff will increase your confidence. Try it!

Here’s a great read on how to choose between a Wading Staff or Trekking Pole.

How to move safely in the water

These are the tips I’ve learned from experience.

Before your wade

Visually assess the river conditions and water conditions carefully for the following:-  

  • How strong is the current?
  • What’s the water depth?
  • Are the rocks covered in algae, making them slippery?
  • Are your boots in good condition?
  • Is your wading staff secured to you?
  • Take extra care in fast water.

Don’t wade alone!

Do this while wading

  • Plan your wade.
  • Slow down.
  • Enter the water carefully and test the slipperiness of the riverbed.
  • Check the water visibility to make sure you can see your next step.
  • Use your wading staff as a third leg.
  • Place each foot down in a secure position – before lifting the other foot.
  • At all times, have two points of contact with the river bed.
  • Walking sideways to reduce the drag of the water on your body.
  • Turn around in an upstream direction.

Don’t do this while wading.

  • Never cross your legs. Maintaining a wide leg stance will help your balance.
  • Don’t walk directly upstream. Take an angled direction across the river, facing upstreams so you can recover your steps if you need to return. 
  • Don’t stand on the rocks. Look for the gaps between or behind the boulders.
Fun fact:
I've just spent a week fly fishing on a fantastic New Zealand river filled with boulders of varied sizes. During this time, I focused a lot of effort on thinking about how I was wading through the water.  Practice helps.

How to walk safely on the riverbank and when wading

I noticed a big difference between how I needed to approach walking on the riverbank and in the water. 

When walking in the dry rocks, I can trust my balance.

If I don’t have a sound footing, I can usually rely on my next step to get myself back upright.  

When wading, I can’t rely on that next step to bring me back to a stable situation.  

That’s because there is no guarantee that the next step will result in a firm footing

Without a firm footing, the pressure of the water current means the imminent danger of losing my balance. The result is a possibly dangerous dip in the river.

Don’t commit to your next step until you have a firm stance on your grounded foot.

(This happened to me once on my trip last week. Fortunately, I was able to make a quick recovery. But, only after getting wet up to my neck as I plunged in further to prevent my fly rod from floating away downstream.)

Don’t be overwhelmed thinking you need to wade to fly fish.

It’s just another thing to learn on your way to becoming a successful fly fishing angler. And try to have fun doing it.