For most fishing in Montana and almost all fishing in Yellowstone Park, some form of wading gear is extremely important. Here are our suggestions on wading gear for Montana.

When is Wading Gear Unnecessary?

First off, when don’t you need wading gear for Montana? Most June through early September boat trips do not require it, as long as you’ve got a good sturdy pair of sandals or old sneakers you don’t mind getting wet. On most boat trips with Yellowstone Country Fly Fishing or anyone else, you’ll get your feet wet getting in and out of the boat at the beginning and end of the day, at lunch, and for bathroom breaks, but not much otherwise.

There are some exceptions to this rule, of course. Here’s an example. On the Boulder River we often get out to wade-fish even in July, and this river has a bottom composed of slick rocks like cannonballs. While we seldom wear waders on this river, we always wear wading boots to wet-wade for the traction and ankle support they provide. Another possibility is when the weather gets cold and ugly as it does a few times each “summer” from mid-June through late August. Cold, wet weather argues for full waders just to stay dry and warm, even if you hardly get out of the boat.

Suggested Wading Boots

During the summer, we seldom wear waders. Instead, we wear our wading boots along with either a couple pairs of thick socks (okay) or neoprene booties that double as gravel guards (much better). Leaving the waders behind frees up room in the pack and makes for much more comfortable hiking and walking along streambanks when it’s hot out. SIMMS and many other companies make neoprene booties. I suggest picking up a pair if you’re fishing Montana from June through early September and expect to do any wade-fishing.

Wading boots for Montana may be felt-soled or rubber-soled. I generally don’t suggest studded soles unless you have Korkers or other boots with interchangeable soles or from which studs can be easily removed. Why? Two reasons:

  • Most cleats, studs, or spikes are made from tungsten carbide, a very hard metal. Most rocks in the region are also very hard. This means that neither studs nor rocks deform at the point of contact. The overall effect is like when a dog with nails that are too long tries to run on ice or your hardwood floor. There’s a whole lot of slip-sliding and not much traction.
  • No metal spikes/studs/bars of any kind can be used in boats. It should be obvious that “sharp metal vs rubber raft” is a bad combination, but most drift boats are fiberglass and metal plus fiberglass is also a bad combination. Even our aluminum jet boats are usually carpeted and/or painted, and sharp studs make good carpet shears and paint scrapers.

If you do opt to bring metal-soled boots, soft aluminum bars or cleats like those now found on many Patagonia boots are far better than tungsten carbide studs. Aluminum is soft enough to deform a bit on our our rocks and therefore bite a bit.

I personally wear rubber-soled boots exclusively. Any rubber sole is great for hiking, wading gravel, or traversing snow or mud. Rubbers soles are not created equal when it comes to grip on larger rocks or boulders. Look for a sole with a bit of stickiness or give to it. I find that most SIMMS soles are good, but I personally wear Redington wading boots except while hiking (not least because they have a wide toe box that fits my fat feet). These boots have crushed walnut shells in the sole that seem to add a lot of additional traction on slimy boulders.

Looking for another reason to wear rubber-soled boots? Felt-soled boots are not allowed in Yellowstone Park. In other words, if your trip is taking you to Yellowstone, you must wear rubber-soled boots. These may have metal spikes/studs/bars if you prefer. As noted above, aluminum traction aids are best.

Suggested Wet-Wading Gear for Montana

If you’ll be doing a lot of hike-in fishing or just a little wade-fishing on float trips, you might consider lightweight wading shoes of some kind, rather than the heavy-duty boots most people wear with waders and for wet-wading near the road. I actually have two pairs of dedicated wet-wading shoes I wear for different purposes. Either or both styles of shoes might make sense for you:

  • For Wet-Wading on Hike-in Waters and on “Run and Gun” Float Trips, I wear SIMMS Intruder wet wading shoes. These resemble high-top sneakers with a flexible rubber sole and built-in gravel guards, and only weigh something like 2lbs per pair, so they’re comfortable to strap to a D-ring on my backpack when I want to hike in wearing boots (usually hikes of 1.5+ miles each way). Unfortunately, these shoes are no longer made. SIMMS and other companies do make other ultralight wading boots or wet-wading shoes that fulfill a similar role, however.
  • For Light Wet-Wading on Boat Trips: I wear some form of dedicated wading sandal. Right now I’m in Keens, but SIMMS, Orvis, and other companies have made equivalent quality sandals in the past. Sandals only make sense for light, occasional use, however, since they do not offer good ankle support and sometimes do not offer the traction of shoes or boots.

While a variety of companies make water/river shoes/sandals, take care when purchasing such things. You should avoid “aqua socks,” “beach shoes,” or similar shoes not explicitly designed for use on rivers. Most of the time these types of cheap and light footwear have thin and floppy soles that offer no protection against sharp rocks or thorns and little in the way of traction. Old sneakers are usually better.

Just say no to flip-flops except as something to slip on when you get back to the car at the end of the day. I find about twenty lost flip-flops a season and they don’t provide any traction, anyway.

Suggested Waders for Montana

There’s only one way to go when it comes to waders for Montana: breathable stocking-foot chest waders. End of story.

Breathable waders are far more comfortable when you’re exerting yourself than older neoprene or rubber-canvas waders, regardless of weather. In warm weather, just wear wading pants underneath. If you need to stay warmer, layer up underneath. This is a lot easier with breathables than the former cold-weather standard neoprenes, which tend to fit like a casing fits a sausage.

Stocking-foot models are far better than boot-foot models because they allow you to customize your shoe fit by purchasing the make/model shoe that actually fits your foot, rather than the rough average of a boot-foot model. If you’re wet-wading, you’ll need a pair of boots, anyway.

Chest-high waders are better than waist-highs or hip waders for the obvious reason: if you’re wearing hip boots, you’ll undoubtedly need to wade over their tops. In addition, anytime waist-high or hip-high waders are comfortable and sensible, you can probably get away wet-wading.