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Wading Safely in the Duck Marsh

Updated: Feb 12, 2023

There are many articles discussing how to wade safely while fly fishing in swift water. There are warnings about wearing waders in a boat. And everyone should know about the importance of a “wading belt” (one comes with about every pair of waders).

But there are some unique hazards you may encounter when wading a duck marsh. After dealing with them for about 50 years of wading, I think they are worth talking about.

The hazards are: stumps, holes, mud, and vegetation. They may not be as deadly as falling out of a boat in waders miles from shore or being carried downstream by a swift mountain river, but they can make a trip uncomfortable if not dangerous.

The risk of the underwater stump or hole are pretty obvious. The risk of mud is that it may be deeper or stickier than you expect and walking through it can be exhausting. The risk of vegetation is that it can also be exhausting to walk through, and it can become so thick and entangling that movement is barely possible.

So how do you address these hazards?

1. Know what to expect

The obvious issue with wading a duck marsh is that you cannot see exactly what is underneath the water. But you can get a general idea of what to expect by knowing the area you’re wading or observing the surrounding area. If at all possible, talk with someone who has extensively waded the area about what to expect. Learn the history of the area – formerly forested bottom ground that has been diked and flooded will almost certainly have stumps. Vegetation would usually be visible above the surface of the water. And it would be the exception to not encounter mud or holes.

2. Assume you’re going to have to cover some ground

You may start out expecting that you’re just going to wade 20 or 30 yards to place a few decoys and pick up downed ducks. But things happen that require a longer wade. Decoys may break loose and drift away with the wind. A wounded duck might go down far from the decoys. A nice group of ducks land in a hole a few hundred yards away, and after a slow day everyone decides they are worth the walk. So you should be prepared to encounter these hazards not a few yards from shore, but hundreds of yards from shore.

3. Carry a stick

A stick lets you probe for holes and stumps. Those uses alone make them work carrying, especially in an unfamiliar area. If you lose your balance a stick may not do a lot of good as it sinks into the mud but It can help. As an aside, we’re working on a wading stick that will provide more stability in the mail, but its not available yet.

4. Take a boat

We’re not talking about getting in the boat and motoring or rowing to your destination. We understand that wading is one of the satisfying parts of being in the duck marsh. We’re just saying pull, push and tow the boat with you. Ideally use a small eight or 10 foot jonboat. It’s easy to drag or push and can be used to carry things. It provides stability if you encounter any hazards and, at worst, there’s a place to climb out and sit to rest. If there happens to be a little bit of ice in front of you, a boat to push through it in front of you is wonderful! Other boat options are worth considering include canoes, kayaks, and even inflatable boats (all properly concealed of course).

5. Have a way to warm up

Wading always involves the risk of getting wet, and hunting conditions are often bitterly cold and windy. In many cases you can stay out even if your waders take on water. But in some conditions being wet and cold can be life threatening. Be sure you have a plan for what to do if you get wet.

Wading is one of the best parts of wildfowl hunting (and wade fishing). Wading has some risks, but these simple suggestions can make it safer.


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