An Ode to My Waders

Waders might not actually be magical, but when used properly, they can be empowered to ward off bad days. 

Would that I could wear you everywhere, always

by Teresa Mull

It being more than a year since I moved into my new house, I figured the hectic week before Christmas was the appropriate time to finish unpacking my boxes and bins. The process is actually something I enjoy; it’s cathartic to organize things and put them in their proper place, but I rarely ever do it as expeditiously as the Marie Kondos of the world—who encourage us to consider briefly whether items “spark joy” before tossing them in the giveaway pile—would have me do it. Nearly everything I own “sparks joy,” and the distraction of enjoying things as I’m organizing them is the reason my home is still not put together after 15 months. 

Something that sparked particular joy during this recent winter cleaning exercise were my waders. They had been rolled up and placed lovingly atop a bin of outdoorsy things—shooting and fishing shirts and vests, a blaze-orange beanie, and the like. Rediscovering my waders after putting them in storage several months before was like bringing out the Christmas ornaments from my childhood—so many powerful memories already associated with this relatively young gear.

There was the first time I tested them out, some excess material bunched up in places and a little higher than it was meant to be on my shorter-than-average frame. I tiptoed gingerly into my friend’s backyard pond, wondering if the icy compression of the “advanced, leak-stopping Super Seam stitchless technology” fabric against my legs could be a leak? A few seasons of annual springtime fly fishing have seen me repeating this ritual, conscious to appear nonchalant—or at least to do so while nobody’s looking.

There was a fishing trip with my brothers to northern Tennessee and southern Virginia that saw me wearing waders in a public place for the first time.  Our guide, who seemed to have nothing but waders in his wardrobe, kept his on during lunch in a café, so we did, too.  And the time I wore my waders to navigate the frigid consequences of a burst pipe in the basement of my hunting camp (now completely winterized!).

Waders can protect you from a lot of things but, unfortunately, rushing the backcast is not one of them. 

I love the way the boots flop when I drape my waders over my arm and then toss them forward onto the floor, and how snug they feel when I slide my feet inside them. There’s a decisiveness about pulling them up over my shoulders and cinching them in and strapping them down; I feel ready for battle—against a big brookie, at least. Noisy and prone to attack when walking through the woods to the stream, sure, but also invincible (this is armor, right?).

I love how the first donning of my waders in the early morning feels awkward and clownish, like Ralphie in A Christmas Story coming downstairs in his bunny costume to be ridiculed by his family. But throughout the day, they become a sort of security blanket, simulating an anxiety-reducing weighted blanket when the river rushes against them and pressures my nervous system in “rest” mode. I love getting to the point of being one with my waders, when they’re as natural and a part of me as a second skin, and then I feel floaty and vulnerable when I finally take them off. 

In short: I love my waders. Should I pull them on and walk around the house? Tempting, but no. Much of what I love about my waders is their association with adventure. To put them on and not wade into some water would be like dressing up a little child in a Hallowe’en costume and then not take her trick-or-treating. Too cruel. 

So, I’ll hang my waders up in a prominent place where they’ll spark fond memories (and joy) often and help me make it through the winter doldrums to spring.  

Teresa Mull hopes to make much more time to fish in the new year and thereby warrant replacing her current waders with a pair that fits — though she’ll keep the original ones for display purposes.