November 24, 2010


Humans live through their myths and only endure their realities.
Robert Anton Wilson

Sometimes you have to look reality in the eye, and deny it.
Garrison Keillor

Reality is a quart of icy water in your waders. Deny that.

It was inevitable. Now, or...

Early one morning in a string of blazing hot days late last summer the decision was finally made. My aging waders, my beloved Simms Guides, were leaking. In both feet. In both legs and both feet (type 'both' often enough and it ceases to look like a word).

Not just leaking. It's more than 'just a leak' when I realize that I'm wet wading, in my waders, after ten minutes in the water. And I'm realizing this over, and over again.

Truth. And, looking back, I have to laugh. It was really becoming an arduous task to make the simplest wades; the extra weight of the river water that seemed to be (very quickly) insinuating itself into my once impervious waders was playing havoc with my already age-challenged balance, and the weight I carried back to the car, or as far as I could go before stopping to pull them off and dump them out, was more and more of a hassle for my increasingly age-challenged legs to haul around. Not to mention the pile of wet socks (that I could not for the life of me remember to grab) accumulating, stinking, in the back seat of my car.

So, after convincing myself that (in the long run) it was okay to miss a couple of days of fishing, I took a deep breath and stayed home, setting about the time consuming task of first drying, then finding, and finally patching (after proper assessment) a few 'minor' leaks I'd been 'enduring' through the previous month (or so) of fishing. Said leaks were not, at that point in time (the weather being what it was) anything I considered serious; yes, but all of a sudden it seemed there were more than a few. The cooler temperatures of autumn were silently stealing closer. A few days prior I'd 'come to' and realized that my policy of 'putting it off' was very soon to be in question. But, being the 'selectively' obsessive compulsive that I am, well, I somehow managed. I fished, and fished, and got wet, but kept fishing.

I'm not sure what the rest of the fly fishing fraternity considers the best and most 'proper' method of fixing leaky waders to be. That more than one of my 'fraternity brothers' would likely volunteer that my beloved, beholed waders should really find their way to the wader graveyard (a hanger in the basement), and I should 'move on' to a new pair is not lost on me, but, sorry guys, I'm not throwing in the towel without first attempting to save them.They mean that much to me. And these are the same guys, by the way, who show up every year with a brand new pair, mostly, I think, because they think it looks really cool (my take on that).

Maybe there's another, more efficient way of locating those pesky pinhole-sized holes, but for now I'm content with my process, thinking that I'm getting pretty damned good using my own time-tested technique. It's based less than loosely on the 'flying by the seat of your pants' theory.

First thing I did, on the morning of Day One was to actually get the waders out of my car and hang them up to dry; to actually get them totally dry. I hung them over a lawn chair on the patio in the shade, wondering how long it had been since they were last (1) out of the car, and (2) when they were last 'totally dry'. That's probably why it took so long for them to get totally dry (on the outside), even with afternoon temperatures reaching well into the nineties. Then, I turned them inside out and was shocked at the quantity of sand and tiny pebbles that had somehow collected in the feet (oh, that can't be good), and repeated the process.

By mid-morning of Day Two, I was busy (even worked up a pretty good sweat) with the whisk broom, making sure that any of the surfaces I might need to address were clean. It took a little longer than I thought it would. Upon turning them inside out I couldn't help but be more than a little surprised by how much sand kept falling out as I whisked. Amazing how far into the fabric those tiny grains of sand can get. When I took into account how long it had been since I'd done this, my initial surprise was replaced by a growing concern that procrastination may have irreparably damaged my beloved waders. The idea that I'd been walking around (for how long?) grinding those tiny pebbles and grains of sand into the bottoms of the feet made me cringe, and that shot adrenalin into my cleaning efforts. I thought of the princess, tossing fitfully, tormented by the peas under her mattress, with some chagrin, wondering why I hadn't been blessed with a comparable sensitivity, or, in this case, some common sense. But, after all, the fact of the matter, the overriding reason I expedited such a procrastinary move, as it always is for all things and not just the repair of waders, was because of the fishing, which very simply had been so good that I wasn't about to take a day or two much less three to fix anything unless the failure to do so had a direct ability to prevent me from being on, or in, the river.

But the piper now demanded compensation.

It is still Day Two. Noonish. High eighties already. My waders hang from a hastily-designed and constructed pair of wooden L-shaped stands, connected and supported by a piece of ash handrail. All the materials were easily available (thanks again, dad). I stand, poised with the garden hose; Sharpie and White Out pens ready in my back pocket. The plan is to gradually fill each leg with water, stopping often to search for any telltale signs of a leak. I italicize gradually for a reason. The first time I attempted a repair job it went badly. Ignorantly, I filled a leg, without stopping, right up to the knee. The droplets of water that did appear ran, acting on the request of gravity, quickly down, blending in with the ooze from other leaks closer to the foot. As a result, albeit getting the upper holes marked, I missed most of the more serious pinholes in the black foam of the bootie that were masked by the tiny rivulets from above, especially in the area of the heel; a sobering discovery made, of course, only after so confidently wading into the river.

It took quite awhile. I don't think I had more than a couple of inches of water in the right bootie when, and not surprisingly, I began to see dark areas appear, and there were several, some bleeding profusely. I marked them with the White Out, and proceeded upward, repeating the process. I worked my way up past the bootie onto the fabric of the leg, switching to the Sharpie, and didn't stop until I'd nearly reached the apex. Then the whole process was repeated on the left leg. It was close to four, and over ninety degrees when I finished this part.

Well, it was no wonder why I got wet so quickly. I couldn't help but wonder how I could have put so many holes in them. It was like I'd been hit by the shrapnel from an explosion. There were more than twenty tiny black and white circles when I finally satisfied myself that I had finished.

How utterly disconcerting!

Good thing I'd used some of my employee discount at the shop (before we shut down) on repair implements like tubes of goop and patch material. I actually do look down the road once in a while; just enough to keep me from wondering too often what it is that does run through my head most of the time.

There were several holes in the fabric just above the bootie that required some special care. They were rather large. I was going to have to actually apply a patch, and that entailed some dexterity as far as making doubly sure that there were no wrinkles or folds left in the patch as it dried.

One of the 'gushers' was the result of a slip during a descent to the river through a dense thicket bordered on the downhill side by an old barbed-wire fence. I'd navigated my way successfully through the thornberry bushes and then stepped clumsily over a decaying cottonwood log right into that fence. I knew it was a good sized puncture as soon as I entered the water. Damn.

Some of the others were wind-related. Casting in a crosswind with a heavily-weighted number two marabou leech can be risky, even when you think you know what you're doing. I was at my favorite spring creek early last spring casting down and across into a strong, freaky cross wind. I'd try to time my casts with the gusts, and of course got a little cocky. Next thing I knew I was staring down at my leech as it dangled in the wind from my left leg. I remember thinking that it would be wise to mark that spot immediately because I'd probably forget about it. That was sage advice. I forgot anyway, until my repair project came up, although my memory was jogged each and every time I went fishing until then.

The others were easily attended to by simply working a copious layer of Seam Grip into the area affected. I worked fast. I had to. The goop was almost drying on contact with the material because of the high afternoon temperatures, which dictated a flawless and rapid application and distribution of product.

By about seven o'clock that evening I was satisfied, and therefore done. The thermometer read eighty-nine. I adjusted the waders on my rack to keep the legs from coming into contact with each other. The patches would need at least twelve hours, preferably a full day, to completely set up and dry. Until then all I had to do was to for my sake be patient, which was going to be tough because I was eager to see how successful my mission was. I was hoping for nothing less than perfection. After all, winter is coming faster than I will still admit, and while I will be on the river then, it will be an even better experience if I'm dry.

I was heroic. The very model of discretion. I did not pull my waders off the rack until the afternoon of Day Three. After gingerly testing the patches with a finger, I turned my 'new' waders right side out and threw them in the now sockless car.

Test time. I remember the anticipation as I turned into the parking lot. For the very first time I can remember, fish were the secondary reason for this trip.
As I suited up, I decided to fish a spot where I had pretty easy access, not wanting to risk doing any further damage, at least not until I knew if I'd been effective in stopping all those leaks. Plus, it was perfectly calm, and I was rigged with a soft hackle. A small, lightly weighted soft hackle. Perfect.

The trail here is wide, pretty flat, and leaves me only a hundred feet or so of obstacle-free descent to the river. I'm careful as I go anyway.

It was a warm, clear evening. I stood on a round granite boulder and sized up the area. Directly in front of me was a fifteen foot wade into waist deep water that would take me out to a set of three rocks. Directly downstream is a shallow where the deflecting currents have deposited a ridge of sand and smaller rocks. This is my testing ground.

The shadows creep down the side of the hill across the river now. My watch tells me it's close to nine. Amazing how time flies right by when you're fishing.

And you're dry.

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