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This Podcast May Save Your Life, with Ralph Cutter

Description: Ralph Cutter [36:53] is an extremely perceptive, pragmatic angler with a lifetime of experience in white water, both fishing and in watercraft and water rescues. He feels that what we’ve been taught to do if we fall in wearing waders is all wrong, and he has a number of tips for getting to shore safely that most of us don’t know about. He also recommends a second wader belt for wading in very tricky waters. He’s proven this through countless experiments on the water.
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Podcast Transcript:

Tom: Hi, and welcome to the "Orvis Fly Fishing" podcast. This is your host, Tom Rosenbauer, and my guest this week is Ralph Cutter. Ralph is one of the most perceptive and innovative anglers out there. And a number of years ago, he published [00:00:30.117] article in "Fly Fisherman Magazine" about wading safety. And I put a link in the podcast write-up for you to check that out. But Ralph has some suggestions that, this is possibly not hyperbole, could actually save your life when wading because a lot of the things that we have been taught about what to do if you fall in with waders on or if you fall out of [00:01:00.210] a boat are wrong.
And I've been guilty of perpetuating some of these inaccuracies, as well. So, I think if you do any wading at all or if you spend any time on the water, I think it's well worth your time to listen to the podcast with Ralph because he's got some really proven ideas about how to stay a lot safer if you do fall in the water when you're wading.
And this is a topic that, you know, [00:01:30.458] really resonates with you listeners. Every time I do something on wading safety, I get a lot of email about the topic. And we're gonna continue this next week as well. We're gonna talk about how to test your balance before you get into the water and then drills that you can do to actually quickly improve your balance. So, we're kind of on a wading safety trend here. I know you all [00:02:00.559] wanna hear about how to catch more fish and where to go and what kind of rigs to use. But if you know more about wading safety and your balance is better, you're gonna have a lot more fun while you're out there fishing, and you're gonna feel a lot more comfortable.
So, I hope you learn something from it. And before we do the Fly Box, just a couple announcements. One is that Jackson Quick-Dry Pants are now in stock, [00:02:30.868], and these are revised design of the Jackson Quick-Dry Pants. They're a great pant to wear under waders in in warmer weather because they dry so quickly if you do get some condensation. But they're the best wet-wading pants I know of. So, you know, coming up at whether you're saltwater fishing in tropical regions or whether you're wading a hot day on a trout stream or a bass river or wading the shoreline for carp or bass, [00:03:00.390] these pants are just great to wear. They protect you from things like ticks and poison ivy and bugs because they're long, and they're also now, and this is the big improvement, they're now SPF50 sun protection.
So, the new pants are a different cut. If you've tried them in the past, I think they were kind of floppy on the bottom. And, you know, there's nothing [00:03:30.231] worse, in my opinion, wet wading than having big floppy pants around your ankles. And these are cut a lot better. They're a lot better for wet wading. They're slightly stretchy, very comfortable, and good-looking. So anyway, Jackson Quick-Dry Pants were out of stock for a while. They're back in stock. And if you do any wet wading at all, I think you'll love wearing a pair of them.
And another very [00:04:00.584] important announcement, and that is the Helios Test Cast Sweepstakes. So, it's live now, and all you need to do is go into either your Orvis-owned retail store or an independently-owned fly shop that's an Orvis dealer and cast one of the new Helios Rods. Just try it out. See how it feels. After you do the test cast, [00:04:30.482] you can then enter a sweepstakes using your phone on a QR code. And the grand prize for the Sweepstakes is worth over $8,000, and it includes the following, an all-expense paid trip for two to Manchester, Vermont, in September of 2024, a one-day fishing school, $3,000 Orvis gift card, two [00:05:00.555] personalized Orvis Helios rods, and a tour of the Orvis rod shop. And then, this is really the booby prize, a day of fishing local rivers with me and with one of our local Orvis-endorsed guides.
So this is a package for two, and it's a pretty cool prize package except for that last thing, the fishing with me. Again, that's the booby prize. Anyway, just go to your [00:05:30.471] local Orvis dealer or Orvis store, and the Test Cast Sweepstakes is available from now through July 31, 2024.
All right. Now let's move to the Fly Box. If you have a question for the Fly Box or a comment or a tip you'd like to share, you can send it to me at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. [00:06:00.378] Either attach a voice file or just put your question right in your email. I read them all. I don't answer them all, but I do read them all. And the first question this week is from Michael, "Greetings from Northwest Oregon. You often mention on the podcast studies and research papers that you've read. Are these sorts of things accessible by the public? [00:06:30.373] Now, my plea, I have tied several types of flies over the past couple of years that use CDC like the smoke jumper. From what I have read, these are very effective flies. CDC has great reputation. I use good quality CDC and follow the recipes closely.
My smoke jumpers sink like little rocks. I have tied a couple of other dries and emergers that use CDC as their wings, and they're all sinking like little rocks. Any suggestions as to why this is happening? I listen [00:07:00.299] to your podcast regularly and learn a bunch each time. There's so much to learn that it can be overwhelming sometimes. This time of year, every fly I tie is a killer, but soon the season will open, and the fish will show me otherwise. It's fun stuff." Well, thank you, Michael. You know, these research studies are sometimes available. You can find them in a Google search, and you can find them in the, I think they call it the scholarly or academic [00:07:30.285] tab on a Google search, but they're often hidden behind a paywall where you have to pay for access to them.
So it depends on, you know... You can usually read the abstract and decide if it's worth paying for. But unless you're used to reading scientific papers, it may be a little bit overwhelming. But they are mostly available, at least in the abstract form. [00:08:00.889]
Regarding CDC, you know, CDC is a great material, but its main value, in my opinion, is the fact that it moves and breathes, and all those little fibers, every little wisp of air or current, moves them around and gives the impression of life. It is not a panacea for floating a fly. That it does [00:08:30.363] float, but it doesn't float for long. And, you know, I'm not a big fan of CDC as other anglers and tires. So, some of the things, as you're tying, you have to remember. One is that usually, one CDC feather isn't enough unless you're tying a real tiny fly. You may have to stack two or even three or even four of them to get enough CDC to hold that fly in the surface film.
And the reason [00:09:00.865] CDC floats well is that it traps air and it pinions a fly in the surface film. It is not really naturally water-repellent. I mean, CDC, as it comes off the preen gland of a duct, is a little bit oily, but most of the CDC that you get is gonna already have been cleaned and possibly died. So it's not gonna have that oil in it. So it's not gonna float great. The big problem with CDC is [00:09:30.601] you can't put gel or paste fly floating on it. If you do that, it will sink like a rock. And I suspect maybe that's what you're doing. The CDC has to be fluffy to float a fly.
So you need to use either a white silicone powder, desiccant powder, or the dust-type fly floatant. Some liquid floatants will dry enough to allow [00:10:00.900] the CDC to float properly. But generally, it's best to put that dust on it or don't use any floating at all. And then, once it starts sinking, then put some sort of desiccant powder on it. But don't put gel on it. And I think that's probably the reason for your problem with it.
Charlie: Hi, Tom. This is Charlie, from Maple Plain, Minnesota. Thanks for all the tips provided by you and BJ Gerhart in your interview with him the other [00:10:30.211] day. I was out yesterday, and the water temperature was in the low 40s, and the air was maybe in the 40s. And I was in the Driftless region, and I caught a number of trout in a slow-moving pool, tightline nymphing, and I saw a good deal of a lot of mayflies, maybe hundreds over the course of an hour drifting right through the main flow of that pool, but I didn't see any trout rise for them. Do you have any idea why that might be? [00:11:00.551] I'm just curious. Thank you. Bye-bye.
Tom: Charlie, this is a typical problem early in the season. Sometimes when the water is really cold, it's a lot easier for the fish to feed subsurface because they've got nymphs right in their face, and they don't have to rise to the surface every time to grab a floating mayfly. You know, it's a little bit more work to rise to the surface to get [00:11:30.585] those floating mayflies. So, early in the season, it's often the case that the fish don't respond to them. And sometimes, if it's the first of a hatch, sometimes the fish haven't quite gotten the message that surface feeding is gonna be easy and effective. You know, they just haven't responded to it yet. So, this is common in the early season. As the water warms, when you see mayflies in the water, you should see a lot more fish [00:12:00.438] rising to them. But this time of year, yeah, it's gonna happen.
Here's an email from Chris from New York, "I caught my first fish on a fly-fishing setup this weekend. They were all stock fish, but this has reignited my appetite for fishing and spending time outdoors. My first question, the majority of fish I caught were when I had a very visible fly, orange mop fly, eggs, squiggly worm, and could set the hook after the take because I couldn't feel strikes very well at all. [00:12:30.391] I tried ensuring that I was reducing slack in the line, but I still rarely felt a strike in time to set the hook. Are there some improvements I could make to my technique to help me feel more fish?
Second question, I also keep getting my loop-to-loop connection stuck in eyelet. Could one just use a single long leader if I'm never really casting? Bonus question, I'm planning on taking an Orvis 101 class in the future. And while I'm in the store, I'd like to get another rod to join the cheap [00:13:00.324] 8.5-foot, 4-weight rod reel combo that I got for Christmas. My hope is to mainly fish trout fish around New York and Pennsylvania for now and someday get into other fish. Would a longer rod make sense here? Maybe it helped nymphing. I'm continually impressed by the scope of projects you're involved with and the outreach you and Orvis do.
Well, thank you, Chris. First of all, you're not gonna feel many strikes, whether you're nymph fishing or drive live fishing [00:13:30.300]. You will feel a strike when you're streamer fishing because you're actively pulling on the line, and the fish will pull back, and you've got a tight line. Or if you're swinging a wet fly in the current and the line is tight, you'll feel the strike. But if you're just dead drifting a nymph or a mop fly or an egg fly, you are not gonna feel the strike. You're gonna have to use something like a strike indicator that will twitch or bob [00:14:00.638] under when the fish take the fly, or you're gonna have to watch where your leader enters the water for any sign of twitches or tightening or the end of your fly line.
But if you're dead drifting a fly, you're not gonna feel the strikes, or very, very rarely, if a fish really slams a fly, sometimes you'll feel it. But most of the time, detecting a strike is a visual thing. So again, unless you're fishing on a tight line, and swinging in the current, [00:14:30.467] you're not gonna feel the fish. So don't worry about not feeling the strike. Pay attention to what your line and your leader or your strike indicator are doing.
Your second question, you could use just a single long leader if you're not really casting. It's not gonna go very far, but people do this a lot, and they call it euro nymphing or tight line nymphing. But [00:15:00.571] yeah, if your fly line's inside the guides, you can use a long leader. It's a little bit different casting technique. It's a little bit more of a flip of the wrist, but it will work for you. And if you're getting your loop-to-loop connection stuck in your guides, usually, they go through there pretty well. But if they're not, make sure that the perfection loop that's on your leader is trimmed cleanly right up to the knot. [00:15:30.351] I've noticed, lately, a lot of the premade leaders that we buy, when they make the perfection loop, they leave a little tag end on it, and that's not gonna help you at all. The knot's tied properly leaving a long tag end isn't gonna help one bit. And that may be catching in your guide. So check and make sure that that tag end is trimmed very cleanly.
Regarding rod, yeah, I would say, for what you're gonna do, either a 9-foot 5 weight or a [00:16:00.373] 9-foot 6 weight, is going to be a better tool all around. You could fish that longer rod in some pretty small streams. If you're mainly gonna be fishing for trout, I'd go with a 5. If you're planning on fishing for other species like smallmouth bass or panfish, maybe a 6-weight might be a little bit better. But yeah, I think a longer rod is gonna help. And it'll definitely help you when you're nymphing because you'll be able to keep more line off the water. [00:16:30.215] In fact, if you're gonna be doing mostly nymphing, you might even consider a 10-foot 5-weight.
Here's an email from Mark from Northern California, "Why aren't knotless tapered leaders marked perhaps with a small segment of color so that the butt transition and tippet sections are clearly demarcated? It would sure make adding tippet easier if there were visible demarcation line showing where the tippet begins." That's an interesting [00:17:00.394] question, Mark, and it would be a good idea. Unfortunately, I think that probably pragmatically in the manufacturing process, it would be very difficult to make a color change because those leaders are made by one long extrusion process, and parts of it are stretched and cooled and heated to get the taper. And I don't know... I mean, there may be some way of adding color to [00:17:30.742] those sections, but it would make leaders really expensive. And I don't think any of us would wanna pay for that.
One of the things that you might wanna do, I tried it myself and it sort of works, is to just feel down the leader with your fingers. Or if you have a micrometer, even better, or a feeler gauge or something, and find out where the butt section ends and where the transition starts and where [00:18:00.384] the tippet section begins, and mark that with, like, a red permanent marker. It won't stay on forever, but it might stay on a little bit. But generally, you can tell where these transitions are in the leader just by feeling it, and by eyeballing it. So, try that first, and then try the permanent marker and see if that works.
The other thing you could do is, on those transition [00:18:30.528] sections where you wanna see where the tippet begins, you could add a little bit of this, there's a wax or a waterproof paint that people use to make siders on their leader. And that may stay on a little bit longer than the permanent marker.
Here's an email from Frank, "Thanks for all that you do and the great information you provide. This morning, I was listening to the November 2023 podcast about fly fishing literature. [00:19:00.805] In the Fly Box section, a listener asked about Appalachian Brook Trout morphology. In your response, you said you didn't believe that Northern strain fish had been stocked in Southern Appalachian Waters. Nick Karas wrote a comprehensive book on brook trout that contains a fascinating chapter dedicated to these southern brookies. In fact, northern-strain trout were stocked in Southern Appalachian Waters due to the difficulty in raising native Appalachian Trout in local hatcheries.
There are also [00:19:30.320] phenotypic differences in appearance between southern strained brookies and their northern relatives. Karas's chapter covers these variations, as well as how specific strains of brook trout were distributed and genetically isolated after the retreat of the last ice age. I'm a native Adirondacker and Adirondack fishing guide, pretty well obsessed with brook trout fishing, especially the larger fish found in remote wilderness ponds. I'd highly recommend Karas's book to anyone with a similar interest. [00:20:00.292] Thanks again for all you do. Your podcast is one of my favorites.
Well, thank you, Frank. I had forgotten. I've read Nick Karas's book, but it was a long time ago. And I need to go back and reread it. And thank you for the information, and thanks for setting the record straight on those southern strain Appalachian brook trout. And by the way, if you are looking for Nick Karas's book, it's spelled [00:20:30.421] K-A-R-A-S, not C-A-R-A-S. So if you're looking for that book, that'll help you find it.
Here's an email from Braden, "Thanks for taking the time to answer questions. My question is related to euro nymphing and depth. If I'm fishing a large western river with some very deep holes, how do you go about getting deep enough with your euro rig? Do you have a very long tippet section below your sighter? Do you just avoid fishing these areas euro style? Seems like it may be hard [00:21:00.249] to cast the euro rig with an 8 to 10-foot tippet length required to get near the bottom. This question is related to those who use a 2-fly rig with a point fly and a dropper tag while fishing. If your dropper tag breaks off at the knot while fishing, which is often the case, how do you go about repairing your tippet setup? I could just do a surgeon's knot again, but then the old knot is still in line creating drag and potential weak point in [00:21:30.528] the line. I could do a clinch knot, but this would slide up and down over my line. How do I address this problem without wasting my entire tippet and starting all over?
So, Braden, regarding your first question, yeah, if you're gonna fish 8 to 10 feet deep with a euro rig, you really need an 8 to 10-foot tippet. And that's gonna be difficult and clunky. However, I don't think you're gonna be missing much by not fishing [00:22:00.374] those 8 to 10-foot depths. Trout prefer to feed in water that's between two and four feet deep, and they'll use the deeper water for protection and for resting. But they're not gonna be actively feeding. Not that you couldn't get one to eat in water that deep, but there probably aren't gonna be many feeding trout in water that deep.
So what I would do is I would fish the edges of those deeper pools. I would fish places where it starts to shallow [00:22:30.320] out and gets to be about half that depth or less. And I think you're gonna find more fish feeding there. But yeah, you're gonna need a long tippet if you're gonna nymph that deep.
Regarding your second question, what most people do, is they do a clinch knot above the tippet knot. If you have a dropper that breaks off or gets too short, for that matter, that surgeon's knot is gonna be pretty strong if you tied it properly. [00:23:00.926] And what you wanna do is just tie a clinch knot around your leader above that knot. It'll slide down against the knot. It's not gonna slide up and down very much. And when you're casting, it's gonna slide down towards the knot and stay there. So, that's a perfectly good way of doing it. In fact, that's the way George Daniel often does it. So, what's good enough for George is good enough for me. [00:23:30.356]
Here's an email from Jonathan from Erie, Pennsylvania, "I appreciate you answering all our questions and offering such a cool resource for us. Been loving the past few podcasts with how much detail some of these guides go into. Got me thinking about something I do when I fish, whether it's dries, nymphs, or streamers. On most days, I will usually cast upstream with a floating line and allow the drift to come back to me and through, [00:24:00.308] usually with a New Zealand indicator or no indicator on the line at all. Almost always, I find myself throwing an upstream mend once or twice through the drift. I feel I do it more than I need to. Maybe because I'm so used to doing it, we've heard so long to just throw a mend. I know it can be useful and I know there are different methods and schools of thought on presentation on whether to mend upstream or downstream or not mend, whether it spooks trout where you cast or whether it helps you get more [00:24:30.337] time in their lane.
Curious to hear what you and other veteran fly anglers think. Are mends always needed? Do they hurt presentation? Should you even mend at all and just collect the line as the nymph or dry comes to you? I've been fly fishing for probably 15 years or so, and presentation is the one topic that always interests me the most. I also believe it is the one area that isn't talked about enough in general. You always hear people say, presentation matters, change split shot, adjust your retrieves, etc. [00:25:00.598] But rarely do guides, podcasts, fly shops really dive deep into what it means in each situation. I have learned that there are so many nuances with it, which I have accrued over the many years of failing."
Well, Jonathan, first of all, mends and when to use mends is entirely situational, and you have to analyze each spot in a river to [00:25:30.312] decide where to mend and how to mend. Sometimes, you mend downstream. And this would be when your fly falls in faster water than the line between you and the fly. So the fly is moving faster than the water right in front of you. You wanna amend downstream. Generally, you wanna mend your line so that it doesn't pull on the fly. Sometimes that means an upstream mend. [00:26:00.556] Sometimes that means a downstream mend.
Now, I don't like mends very much. I use them because you have to sometimes. But if I can avoid mends, I do it. And that means using a reach cast. A reach cast is really just a mend in the air before your line hits the water. I like looking at a situation, analyzing it, and setting up my mend before the fly lands. [00:26:30.218] So, in other words, a reach cast, either an upstream reach cast or a downstream reach cast. Then, throughout the drift, you might have to mend toward the end. I find, and I've tried to keep track of this, particularly when nymph fishing. I find, invariably when I mend, I don't get as many strikes as when I try to set it up previously with a reach cast or something. And I think if you don't mend carefully enough, it [00:27:00.568] often rises the fly up in the water column and it gets too shallow or it moves the fly and it moves the fly too much. So, I'm not a big fan of mends. We need them often, but I try not to when I can.
Now, when you're fishing directly upstream, you don't want to or need to mend. When you're standing in the same current lane as your fly, all you need to do is gather the line as it comes down to you to help a fly [00:27:30.503] sink or to maybe get a little bit more drag reduction. Sometimes you throw a little slack into the presentation by either underpowering or overpowering your cast a little bit so that you get a little slack in your tippet or use a really long tippet. But you don't wanna... I wouldn't mend at all when you're fishing straight upstream. People may disagree with me here, but that would be my advice, and that's the way I would do it.
Here's an email from Andrew, "First off, [00:28:00.481] much appreciated for answering my question back in February about Great Lakes Steelhead and Holdover Trout. I feel much better after hearing your feedback. Also, going back and watching the George Daniel euro nymphing videos, paying special attention to the casting motion helped a lot. So thank you. I'm back again with a couple of questions that I've struggled with." And by the way, the George Daniel instruction that he's referring to on euro nymphing it can be found in the Orvis [00:28:30.500] Learning Center,
"First, after getting hung up on the bottom on a rocker log, I've been able to pull my fly free only to find my hook bent out of shape. I'm able to use my hands or forceps to get it back to normal but wonder about whether the factory strength of the hook is actually restored. Should I retire that fly after bending it or can I trust that it will hold shape when fighting a fish? [00:29:00.372]
Second, after watching the Orvis indicators and dry droppers video for the 100th time, I was wondering if you had any tips for tying onto the bend for a dropper fly. I get the premise, but always struggle with tying tippet onto the bend of the hook without losing tension and pressure before cinching the knot down. Full disclosure, but I've only ever done this on the river. So I'm guessing you'll suggest I practice while sitting on the couch, so I can get comfortable with it before doing it under pressure. [00:29:30.337] Thanks, as always, Tom. Weather is turning here in Toronto, and I'm saving up for a new Helios. I'm looking forward to the next three-man tie-off with Tim and Cheech."
And the next three-man tie-off is, if you're listening to the podcast today, it is being published April 15th, 2024. The next three-way tie-off is today at 3:00 p.m. Eastern Time. [00:30:00.255] Regarding your questions, you know, the hook bending is a good question that I've often struggled with. If you're mainly fishing for smaller fish, smaller than, say, 18, 20 inches, or that size or smaller, and it's a fairly good size hook, you know, bigger than probably a size 16, I wouldn't worry too much [00:30:30.496] about it. But, you know, bending a hook back and forth will weaken it, definitely. And, you know, having it bent out of shape once and then bending it back into position, you're probably gonna retain most of the strength of the hook.
But if I were fishing for really large fish, and I bent a hook out in a snag, I wouldn't take the chance. I'd probably replace it. But, you know, I don't have [00:31:00.850] any definitive answer for you, but I imagine that it's gonna weaken the hook slightly. Maybe not enough to matter, but it's gonna weaken the hook slightly. Regarding tying your dropper to the bend of the hook, yeah, I think you just need to practice. I don't find it a problem at all. Some people twist the fly around. You know, they put the [00:31:30.768] tip it around the bend, and then they twist the fly around, but that twists your leader a little bit. But I just hold the hook in my hand and tie a normal clinch knot. Maybe hold your fly in a pair of forceps, that might help somewhat. But yeah, I think you just need to practice at home. It's not hard, and you shouldn't really have more trouble tying it around the bend than you do tying it through the eye.
The other option is if you still don't like that, is to [00:32:00.847] tie your dropper to the eye of the first fly. A lot of people do it that way. Little bit less likely to tangle, and it's a pretty good connection. So you may try doing that as well. But, you know, just practice tying around the bend. You'll get it.
Jim: Hey, Tom. It's Jim from Buffalo, New York. Just wanna let you know that I am a proud Rosenbro, and I'm definitely looking forward to coming out to Caledonia [00:32:30.171] in June to see you speak for the Caledonia Fly Festival coming up. My question involves choosing the proper rod weight. I had heard you say that choosing your rod weight has more to do with what you're throwing than what you're fishing for. So I was hoping that you could expand upon that a little bit. If I'm out in the summertime fishing for largemouth, even though I might be throwing something [00:33:00.633] small, the thought of using a 3-weight on something like that kinda scares me because even though the fight would be great, you wanna land them quickly. And I'd be afraid of a decent size largemouth ripping apart my 3-weight, but at the same time, I don't wanna use an 8-weight for bluegills. So, you know, any insight that you could give on, you know, properly choosing a rod weight for your application would be most helpful. [00:33:30.330] Again, as always, thank you for what you and Orvis have done over the years, you know, really helped to bring my hobby along. So thanks a lot, and I hope you answer this on the show.
Tom: Well, Jim, thank you, and I look forward to seeing you at the Caledonia Fly Festival. This is, June 1st, 2024. I'm gonna be doing a couple of presentations in Caledonia, New York, which is near where I grew up. So I'm looking forward [00:34:00.120] to being in that area and seeing people. Regarding choosing a fly rod, it's still mainly the size fly that you're gonna be casting. You know, it's mostly about fly size and air resistance. But you can air on a size of too light of a rod if the fish will be bigger. And you also need to consider the wind and the distance you need to throw.
You know, fishing for bluegills, [00:34:30.506] there's always a chance for a bass. In that case, you might wanna throw a 6-weight or even your 8-weight, which will handle a bass, but will still be fun with a bluegill. I mean, a bluegill will still bend an 8-weight rod. You know, it's more fun fishing them with a lighter rod. But you probably don't wanna tangle with a bass with your 3-weight. And, you know, the 8-weight rod will handle those smaller bass flies okay. I mean, it's generally the maximum [00:35:00.523] fly size that you wanna worry about. And at the other end of the scale, when you fish a smaller fly on a heavier rod, you're gonna sacrifice delicacy. That's mainly what you're gonna sacrifice. And largemouth bass, you don't need to worry about delicacy.
So when you fish a smaller bass fly, just stick with that heavier rod [00:35:30.381] and not worry about it. You know, for an example, I can handle any striped bass that I'm gonna catch wading on a 7 or an 8-weight rod. But I generally use a 9 or a 10-weight because the flies are larger, more air-resistant, and I generally need longer casts. And, you know, the wind picks up. So, I use a 9 or 10-weight, even though I could land those fish on a 7 or 8-weight. [00:36:00.463] You know, sometimes, you're gonna be over gun. Sometimes, you're gonna be under gun. You just need to deal with it. It's all still fishing and all still fun. I've landed fish with it. I've landed largemouth bass with a 3-weight, and I've caught bluegills with an 8-weight, and they're both still fun. You know, not everyone can own a whole bunch of rods. So we just can't afford it.
So you're gonna need to adapt and just pick the [00:36:30.322] fly rod based on the fly size, the distance, the wind, and somewhat on the size of the fish you're gonna encounter. And then you gotta deal with the outliers.
All right. That is the Fly Box for this week. Let's go get some very important information on wading from Ralph Cutter. Well, my guest today is Ralph Cutter, and when I see a Ralph Cutter article in a magazine or a book, [00:37:00.397] I always read it because, Ralph, you tend to poke holes in a lot of the myths that we've been led to believe over the years and people have parroted over and over again. And you do it with research. You do it with real experimentation. And I really admire that, and I always learn a lot from reading your stuff. So wanted to get you on [00:37:30.727] today. You are located in California, right?
Ralph: Yeah. We're about an hour north of Truckee River.
Tom: And you and your wife run fly fishing schools? You still do it?
Ralph: We retired.
Tom: You retired from doing that?
Ralph: Yeah. We started in '83, retired about 4 years ago.
Tom: Okay. All right. And are you still writing freelance?
Ralph: Nope. I haven't been doing any writing. Mostly tying and reading and just [00:38:00.338] enjoying life, going on bike rides and stuff when I can.
Tom: Oh, that's a real shame that you're not writing anymore.
Ralph: Yeah. You know, it stopped being fun. And every time I wrote something, I didn't care if I got paid for it because I just enjoy writing. But I don't wanna be one of these authors who just starts repeating themselves over and again, and I was really... Just fresh material wasn't there. And I just don't wanna go there. I don't wanna force it, and so I just dropped it.
Tom: Well, that's good. [00:38:30.865] You know, it's a loss to the world of fly fishing, but it sounds like you're enjoying life. So that's a good thing.
Ralph: It's a great thing. Yeah. It's wonderful.
Tom: And, you know, I've done a number of podcasts on wading safety because it really seems to resonate with my listeners. And somebody sent me an article you wrote probably years ago about some common fallacies about wading safety. [00:39:00.749] And you had proven this by, you know, doing some experiments and research, and I'd like to explore that today in the podcast.
Ralph: Sure.
Tom: And you can start any place you want, and I'll shut up and let you talk.
Ralph: Oh, boy. You're not gonna guide me, right?
Tom: Well, I'll guide you a little bit. I'll ask you a few questions here and there.
Ralph: Okay. I guess it all started out when I was born because I was born into a Whitewater family. My parents were really into [00:39:30.251] kayaking. By the time I was about 6, it was literally sink or swim, And I did both a lot of times. I sank a lot and swam a lot. At 12, I got certified as a scuba diver, and later on, I was going to college. I worked at a dive shop for a couple years. I was in the water every day. And then became a paramedic firefighter at Lake Tahoe and a swiftwater rescue technician and rescue swimmer and lifeguard. I did all of that stuff. It was part of my job. I loved it.
So I'm [00:40:00.578] really comfortable in the water. And one thing that struck me though is because I was a hardcore fly fisher, so much of what was being taught and has been taught since the '50s is absolutely the antithesis of what a fly fisher should do if he sits down and drink with his waders. And the common refrain is that you go downstream feet first and fend off the rocks. And if you're wearing a life jacket, that is exactly what you should do. But if you're not wearing a [00:40:30.041] life jacket and you're wearing waders, that'll kill you. It's crazy to me that that still is the mantra. When you're floating down water, down the river, the current's going much faster than you are, and the current wants to get in your waders. So if you've got kinda loose waders, not enough tension on the belt, it'll flare up and your waders will fill up within seconds with water, which in itself is not deadly. I mean, the water in your waders doesn't weigh any more than the water outside your waders, [00:41:00.256] so you're not gonna sink. I mean, I heard that a million times, and I've had to jump in the swimming pool or a pond a million times to disprove that.
But what happens is you just get very cumbersome. There's that water weight inside your waders. You can't kick. You can barely walk on the riverbed. It's just very, very cumbersome and not very safe. And...
Tom: It's like a sea anchor, right? It's like a sea anchor pushing you down.
Ralph: It's exactly like it. It's the very same phenomenon. And the problem with [00:41:30.735] water-filled waders is you can't really maneuver yourself. The fastest water is about almost halfway down the water column. And the faster the water, the more it wants to carry stuff, including you. And if you're relatively in deep water, that faster water might be two or three feet under the surface, and that's where you're gonna go. And the current will steer you. And very many times the current splits, it divides, it dives, it does funny things. It's not just a laminar flow. It does lots of trick [00:42:00.249] stuff that can really tangle you up if you're in water-filled waders.
So, the number one thing before you buy a Helios or a $1,000 pair of waders is get yourself a wading belt. A real wading belt, not just a belt. It should have a little stretch to it, so it conforms to your body. And just as important, it needs a quick-release buckle. And probably 90% of the belts out there today have just the standard Fastex Buckle, [00:42:30.409] which is almost impossible to release. And if you're swimming downstream and a branch catches your wading belt, it's gonna just keep you there. But the specialized wading release buckles are great. One hand release under tension, they pop off, and you're free to go.
So get a good wading belt. If I'm going in dicey water, you're going, you know, whether it's a Truckee River, like Gunnison or something, I'll wear two belts. One will be around my waist, another one will be at my waist just [00:43:00.068] comfortably there. And if I start going across a dicey stretch, I'll pull the loose wading belt up to my chest to the very top of the waders and snug it down. And that way, you don't get that sea anchor effect. You don't get that bell that forms when the waders wanna flare open. And we demonstrated this a bunch of times when myself and Jim Lavalley from Rescue 3 in Canada did a wading safety video for Simms. And the camera crew got a little excited, and [00:43:30.491] they wanted me to swim harder water, faster water, longer swims.
And we had this one riffle on the black foot that, you know, had probably a class 2, but it had some good waves in it and stuff. And I set off and did about 100 yards with two wading belts on. I got out. My pants were dry, absolutely dry. And it was not calm water. It was, you know, you can buffet it around. So, I did it a couple of times to prove that it could be done, and I did it with one weighing belt, around the [00:44:00.532] waist. And it didn't take long for me to get wet pants, and then my inside of the feet got filled with water, but still it wasn't treacherous. You know, 100 yards down, you can get right out.
But, I mean, I think that really demonstrates the benefit of wading belts. Without a wading belt, I'd have died truly, and there's no recourse. So, I think the number one thing people need to do if they're fishermen is put on a wading belt, and when you start floating downstream, [00:44:30.306] point your head downstream. You wanna be going with the current and not having the current try to fill your waders. And be an active swimmer. You don't just drift and drift and hope for, you know, helicopter to pull you up. Swim obliquely to the current, you may be at a 30-degree angle or something. And not necessarily head for shore. If there's a big rock out there someplace, just get out of the water and then, you know, reassess your situation and take it from there. But I see far too many people just drifting, waiting to hit a gravel bar [00:45:00.360] or something. And when you're drifting and really not taking care of yourself, you may aim for a log.
And that's probably the worst thing you could ever hit is a log, unlike a rock. Because you can grab onto that log, but 60% of your body is still underwater. And no one that I know is strong enough to pull himself up on top of that log with that much hydraulic pressure against them. So, you know, you don't wanna hit a log, but if it that's unavoidable, swim at it hard, hard, hard, kicking, kicking, kicking, stroking, stroking, [00:45:30.703] and just as you hit the log, put both hands on and kick up and do a strong flutter kick and try to get as high up on that log as far out of the water as you can, and you'll probably be okay. What else?
Tom: Well, that goes without saying that the people are gonna wade treacherous water, need to know how to swim, right? I mean, there's people that trout fish and waders and bass fish and whatever that don't know how to swim, and that's dangerous.
Ralph: My very best friend is a retired guide mongrel [00:46:00.465] But he'd take his clients down to Yellowstone through all the tough stuff, and he can't swim a stroke. And he doesn't wear a life jacket, but, you know, he's 76 years old. He somehow made it.
Tom: I imagine he can at least dog paddle, right? I imagine he could do that.
Ralph: I think that's natural. You know, my two-year-old daughter can dog paddle. I think that is a natural thing, but I don't know. You have to swim, I think. If you're in water, [00:46:30.459] you have to swim. So anyway, with the log, you pull yourself up and high as you can and kick, kick, kick, and get up and kinda shimmy along the log to get to the shore. And kind of a fancy thing that Jim and I both discovered at the same time is pretty tricky, and I don't tell people to do it because it takes some practice. And you could do it wrong and get screwed up. But if you approach a log, instead of swimming towards it, put your feet towards it and stick your feet in the log and plane your body along the surface [00:47:00.068] of the water. And the water will lift you up when your feet are anchored against that log, and then you can sidestep to the shore. And it's magic. I mean, we just laugh it works because it's just crazy. It works great.
Same thing with cut banks. You've got a river running around a big cut bank, and you're free-floating, you know, stick your feet out there along cut bank and just work your way to the shore. It works great.
Tom: So that's kinda contrary. You do wanna kinda flip around if you're coming near a log [00:47:30.872] and put your feet on it.
Ralph: Yeah. That is contrary.
Tom: Okay. Okay.
Ralph: It is contrary. And, again, I don't recommend it unless you're in a controlled environment and play with it.
Tom: Yeah.
Ralph: But when it works, it's crazy. It's like, "Wow. This is fun." You know, the water's holding you up, you're walking along the log, and get to shore. It's really cool. When you get to shore... I wish I had a list of events I wanna cover, but [00:48:00.053] when you get to shore, everybody, but everybody, when they get to about knee-deep water wants to stand up and walk out the rest of the way. And if your waders are full of water, suddenly you don't have all that outside water supporting the water weight inside your waders, and you will fall down at best or tear your waders or, you know, break a wrist or something because you just cannot stand up against that weight of water in your waders. Crawl out. Crawl up hands and knees all the way to shore. Get on your back and raise one leg and then the other and empty your waders. And [00:48:30.377] you'll be good to go. What else?
Tom: Well, wader belts, how tight should the waiter belt be? I mean, after reading your article, I went back to my wader belt and tightened it a few notches to make sure it was tight, you know. How...
Ralph: As tight as comfortable. You know, it doesn't need to be... There are a lot of wader belts out there that you can tighten all you want are still stretching. The water will get right past them. [00:49:00.253] But I'm sure Orvis sells premium wader belts that cinch it up until you... You know, you don't wanna stop your breathing or make it hard to bend over or something. That's adequate, especially if you can close the top of your waders. That's the key because the water is now not trying to get into that sea anchor. It's just deflecting and going down inside your waders.
Tom: Right. I know the new Pro LT waders have drawstrings at the top to tighten the top of the waders. Like, it's probably not enough in really [00:49:30.041] fast water, but it probably helps somewhat.
Ralph: I would guess. Yeah. I would guess. I'm not familiar with that wader, but I know that... what was it? I forget. Some wader company back in the '80s did the same thing, Red Ball. They had a drawstring on the top. And I went swimming with Red Balls a few times, and they didn't really work. They filled up. You need a broader band around there. You need some stretchiness.
Tom: So the second belt you just wear loose around your waist and then...over the other belt, and then [00:50:00.429] you pull it up if you're going across dicey water?
Ralph: Right. Exactly.
Tom: Okay.
Ralph: You know, and a lot of waders come with belt loops, which I applaud. I think that's really good thing. And so that's gonna be your primary belt that you're gonna keep your pants up and stuff with, but your first reserve would be to slide that second belt up to your chest, up to your nipples, close that gap.
Tom: Okay. I know that... One recommendation I've heard before is if you're [00:50:30.280] wearing a rain jacket, or a jacket at all over your waders, which some people do, it's a good idea to make sure your pockets are closed so that they don't act as a sea anchor as well.
Ralph: Perfect. I'd never thought of that, but, yeah, exactly right. I would exactly fall on board with that one. That's a good one.
Tom: For someone who doesn't swim well, how about wearing a PFD when they're wading? [00:51:00.503]
Ralph: It's not good news. I've worn the Mustang's collars and the ones that hang on your belt. And they work, definitely. If you can't swim, you need something to help you out. The problem with the Mustang is you can't swim. You're stuck on your back, and you're kinda, you know, back paddling with your hands. They're actually more like little flippers. You don't have a whole lot of control. You can't get on your stomach and crawl. You're in a very weak position. The one on the belt, that's useless. I don't even know if they're sold anymore. [00:51:30.439]
Tom: I haven't seen one in a long time.
Ralph: Because when they inflate, you can't get your... It takes two hands to get it over your head. And you want your arms in the water. Your arms are buoyant. And if you take both those arms out of the water, you're immediately gonna sink. And then you end up with this horse collar on you that's exceedingly uncomfortable and, again, very, very difficult to swim.
So I would definitely go with the Mustang inflatable variety, if you can't swim or if you're in water you're not comfortable with. But just know that once that thing deploys, [00:52:00.400] you're kinda at the mercy of the river.
Tom: And you're gonna be on your back and not able to see as well.
Ralph: Yeah. You're gonna be on your back and, you know, once you got a life jacket on, you're gonna follow the old American Whitewater, you know, Navy, Red Cross recommendations to get on your back, feet downstream, and fend off the rocks with your feet.
Tom: Okay.
Ralph: That's a totally different ballgame versus just the guy with the wader on. And swimming in the water is... [00:52:30.654] Talk about fending off the rocks, I've spent 50 years swimming in rivers filming and taking pictures and just observing. And swimming through some very, you know, from the top looking down, looks like this is nasty water, but I've never been slammed in a rock. Never, ever. Not once. I just use my forearms to fend off. There's always a pillow. The water hits that rock and pushes back off. You know, everybody knows that pillow from, you know, drifting their fly into the sweet spot. But [00:53:00.522] that also prevents you from getting literally slammed into the rocks.
So the foot down thing is, it works probably better for guiding you than actually protecting you. And there are a whole lot of injuries involved with that technique, broken tailbone. Because your butt is the lowest part and you're going down, and Jim's an expert on that. Jim Lavalley trains people who work around water in Canada, and not necessarily fishermen, but loggers and miners and [00:53:30.460] raft guides and that kind of stuff. He works around all different kinds of people, not just fishermen, and his observation with the broken tailbone is pretty serious. Just so many times that happens. That's pretty debilitating.
So on your stomach, swim, get to shore. Before you have to do that, maybe you wanna check your shoes, your wading shoes. Felt soles are really good if you have [00:54:00.328] algae, but I don't know how many times I've fallen down trying to get to the river with felt soles. You know, they're absolutely useless on dry grass or dry logs or even dry rocks. They're like ice cubes. You just slip on them. And I've given up on that, you know. And the invasive species stuff is valid. I wouldn't wear them, even if they were the best thing in the world, because I don't wanna transport aquatic nuisance species.
I think the best all-around combination is a rubber compound with [00:54:30.619] studs, with spikes in it. Not the tractors, but little spikes. And the other critical thing to carry is a staff, the wading staff. I used to disregard the staffs. It was in the way, and they would make noise, and they would clank and stuff. But as I got older and less strong, less agile, that staff really came into play helping me feel what's in front of you in the water. It's really easy to step into a hole or put your foot under a root or underhang, overhanging rock and get stuck. [00:55:00.908] That wading staff will buy you time keeping you out of there, and also, it's a great brace when you're crossing the river.
You know, if it's normal fishing conditions, I walk sideways to the current with the staff downstream, and I brace against it as a tripod. If it's in runoff in the spring, you've got debris coming down the river, I do just the opposite. I put them upstream side. So it's easier for me to see junk floating down the river towards me.
Tom: Interesting.
Ralph: And I've never really been struck with a log [00:55:30.976] or a propane tank or anything else that comes down the river. But the one time I really did have a problem was with about 20 feet of bailing propylene, you know, rope. And yeah, it kinda tangled up. But, you know, it wasn't serious. But it really made you think that, you know, this could've gone south very easily. And, you know, it was a five-second ordeal, but it really made struck a note with me, like, "Yeah, this could go wrong." So look upstream, lean upstream, and take it easy. The most fun way to wade is [00:56:00.359] moonwalking with the current, but that's very, very likely to lead to something wrong. When going with the current, if you end up getting off the end of the gravel bar and into a hole, guess what? You have no way to stop, you know. And if you're going with the current, foot entrapment is a very real issue, and I've probably seen or know of more people that have died of foot entrapment than any other way when you're wading.
Tom: Ah, interesting.
Ralph: It's when [00:56:30.401] your foot gets shoved under a ledge or, you know, beaver cutting or a willow or a piece of rebar. You can't pull your foot back out. If the water is up to your knees, it's extremely difficult to back your foot out of that water. You're stuck. And we would do that in our classes. You know, few times, we would drive rebar into the riverbed and then put a piece of webbing across it, and, you know, people would just nonchalantly wait out there. And then they would try to back out and, like, just, "What the hell?" You can't. [00:57:00.365] It's really, really dangerous, and there's a plenty of videos out there in the swiftwater rescue classes that show people drowning while people on the shore are just watching going, "What to do. What to do." And what to do is the easiest thing in the world is get one, two, or three people upstream with the person, and break the current. Just break the current. Just, you know, just stand there, and it's like an instant quick release. If you can break that flow, they can back out. And it doesn't require any fancy training or anything. [00:57:30.511]
And the fire department will use a backboard. You know, walk out there with a plastic backboard, stick it in the water to break the current. But I think that just human legs do a great job, particularly if you get two or three or four of them out there.
Tom: So wading upstream, you're less likely to get your foot lodged in something?
Ralph: Yes. Yeah. True. That's absolutely true. I do a lot of downstream wading because I like it, and I like it so much easier to get a good presentation [00:58:00.409] of the downstream drift. So admittedly, I'm probably 70% of the time going downstream or across stream rather than upstream.
Tom: It is fun. That is a lot more fun.
Ralph: I think it is. You know, upstream wading is great. There are times when you you'd wanna pick off trout, you know, the bottom trout in the school and the next one, the next one. You can do that when you're fishing upstream. When you do that downstream, you're gonna catch the first trout in that school, and it's gonna swim through the school. Scare them apart. Anyway, [00:58:30.589] that's just my own preference.
Tom: Yeah. And by wading, you know, I'm thinking more not so much fishing, but when you're trying to cross a river going at an upstream angle just so that you don't get pushed down into a hole or a ledge or whatever, you can always backtrack, right? If you're going upstream at an angle, you can.
Ralph: Right.
Tom: Going downstream, you can't always backtrack, so.
Ralph: Exactly. And you can be put into a situation that you didn't even know was there because you're going downstream. [00:59:00.513] And as an aside, when you're going across stream, if you're having a partner and you can link elbows, that's good. But if you can grab on to the wading belt of each other, that's the best. The worst thing you can do is put your arm around their shoulders, and I see that every single day. And what you've done now is you've taken that person way above the center of gravity, and if you start to fall, you're gonna pull them over. Versus if you're holding onto their wading belt, that's a center of gravity. It's really hard to pull someone over that way.
Tom: Good point. [00:59:30.316] Good point.
Ralph: Grab above the belt.
Tom: Or locking elbows, you said, is another good way of doing that.
Ralph: Locking elbows is good as long as the instinct isn't there to reach up and grab the other person's shoulder, which is an instinctual thing. When you get in trouble, you just... I don't know why, but I do the same thing. I reach up for the shoulder to get more support. Yeah, it gives me more support, but it pulls the other person over.
Tom: Okay. So holding on a wading belt is probably the best way, yeah.
Ralph: Yeah. And if you have three people, you can [01:00:00.180] cross the ocean. Three people are bulletproof. You get in a huddle position, all three of you facing each other, each holding onto the other's wading belt, and there's not much you can't walk through as long as, you know, it's not above your head. If you've got a weak member, put them in the middle, and you can lift them up as we're going over a spot that's deep. It's crazy how, you know, our students just do that, and they go, "Wow. Wow. Wow." And I hope they don't get into [01:00:30.545] the trouble by going over their head in that way, but it's so secure. It's really good.
And we do that in rescues. We'll form, you know, a huddle, and we'll put the victim in the middle of the huddle and walk them out of the water. And it's one of the safest, easiest, quickest things to do is just walk them out that way.
Tom: How about if you two people crossing the river and one of them is stronger wader than the other, should the weaker wader be on the [01:01:00.266] upstream or the downstream side?
Ralph: Oh, for sure, the downstream side.
Tom: Downstream side.
Ralph: Yeah. For sure. So the upstream guy is breaking the current and moving them along.
Tom: Okay. Okay. Good stuff.
Ralph: When you're swimming... Again, I wish I'd written a synopsis here, but when you're swimming and you're going through a wave train, the instinctive thing to do is to wait till you get the top of the wave and take your breath, and that'll kill you. You don't wanna do that at all because [01:01:30.083] there's the least amount of water supporting you at the top of the crust of that wave, and, you know, you're buoyant. You wanna stay buoyant, you want to deep be in the water. And you have to exhale before you take an inhale. And if you're in that skinny, non-supportive water and you exhale, you're gonna be submerged instantly. You won't be able to take a breath.
So when you're going through a wave train, you know, again, face sideways so you're getting slapped by the side of the face and not full face in the waves. And take your breaths at the bottom, at the trough between the waves. [01:02:00.486] And see, uninitiated, that's scary. You're surrounded by water, and you're breathing, but, boy, it keeps you buoyant. It keeps you full of air. It keeps you ready to rock. If you try to consistently get on the top of the wave, you're gonna be worn out really fast. If you're swimming and you're going through a pour over where, you know, many waterfall of some sort, just be aware that the water is now full. It's [01:02:30.172] fully charged with bubbles when you get over that pour over, and there's very, very little flotation in that bubbly water. It's just very soft water. You just sink right down. Consciously take a huge breath as you're going over the pour-over, and most people hold their breath. You know, it's just kind of, you know, like, on a roller coaster. Hold your breath then consciously take a big old deep breath knowing that you're probably gonna be underwater for a few seconds [inaudible 01:02:56.549]
Pour out [01:03:00.314] overs can be deadly because if you get just the right angle and just the right flow, that water will recirculate just downstream of the dam or the rock or whatever you just went over. And keep you in that recirculating water. And I've been stuck in that many, many, many times and on purpose, just doing demonstrations for videos and just screwing around, see what I can do in the water. And the easy, but the worst thing you don't wanna do it is to swim to the riverbed. You get deeper. [01:03:30.400] Don't go towards the air. Go to the deepest part. And normally, that recirculating water is, you know, several feet above the bottom, and you'll just get shot right downstream, right underneath the whole problem.
Tom: So say that again. So if you're getting recirculated in a base of a pretty good hydraulic drop, what do you do again?
Ralph: Okay. Because when the water goes over the rock or the dam or something, it's gonna recirculate. It's gonna make this revolving eddy. And [01:04:00.649] when you get stuck in that, you know, if you're whitewater [inaudible 01:04:02.954], that's called being maytagged. Because that's just what's happening. You're getting... You don't go through the rinse-drier part. It's just over and over and over wet. If you get stuck in something like that, swim to the riverbed, and you'll get below that vortex. And you'll usually probably get shot out because there's a strong current underneath that recirculating water.
Tom: So you actually swim underwater? You actually...
Ralph: You swim to the bottom of the river, yeah.
Tom: Really? [01:04:30.303]
Ralph: And that's counterintuitive.
Tom: Yeah.
Ralph: But once you do it two or three times, and you're like, "Wow, this works pretty good." The problem is, though, if there's a lot of rocks and stuff downstream, maybe you may just be swimming into trouble. But if you caught in a good recirculating system, you're likely gonna drown, so it's good to take that risk.
Tom: And so just swim down. It's gotta be tough with waders full of air. It's gotta be tough [01:05:00.517] to swim down.
Ralph: No. The waders gets... You know, when you're wading, you don't have a lot of air in your waders.
Tom: Yeah, it's true.
Ralph: But they get squeezed out. And so that's never been an issue. Yeah. Another thing you do, there's a dam on the Yuba River here called the [inaudible 01:05:18.778] Dam, and it's got maybe a 40-foot recirculating wave. And I've done a lot of playing in that wave. And you can swim under it. Another thing you can do, which is, you know, kinda like what you do in rip current, [01:05:30.646] is you go alongside that. If you can, go alongside the flow instead of trying to break through it, until you find a weak spot, and then you can get through that. But, you know, it's just a situation you don't wanna get in in the first place.
Tom: Right. It sure is.
Ralph: It really is. And I do it with scuba tank, a little pony bottle, in case I get stuck. And I've never had to use it, but I wouldn't really wanna do that on my own without an air supply.
Tom: Yeah. Yeah. I mean, I've seen videos of boats just going round and around and [01:06:00.774] around and around. Maytagging, I guess, is what you call it, right? I'm not a white-water person. Yeah.
Ralph: What are you doing? Okay. When you're swimming downstream, you want to aim for the inside of the bend. That's always gonna be the slowest water and the shallowest water. That's where all the dry gravel gets deposited. The river's gonna wanna take you to the outside edge of the bend, which is the highest velocity, deepest water, and a lot of times, there's overhanging willow roots [01:06:30.417] and vegetation stuff coming at that bend. And you don't wanna be on the outside of the bends. So just work hard to get to the inside.
Tom: To the inside.
Ralph: Yeah.
Tom: How about, Ralph, if you're in a raft or a drift boat and it capsizes or you fall out, you know, people fall out of drift boats, what's the best thing to do there?
Ralph: The best thing to do is put on a life jacket. If you're in a boat, wear a life jacket. And I do. I mean, I don't just preach it, I do it. When I'm in a boat, whether it's my action craft or [01:07:00.486] little kick boat, I wear a life jacket. It just needs to be said. And when you go over, follow the protocol is, you know, espoused by the whitewater community. In a life jacket, feet downstream, and push off the rocks, and aim for a shore.
Tom: Okay. Don't try to swim back to the boat?
Ralph: If you're next to the boat, hang on to it. Yeah. Boat's great rotation. Definitely. I'm remiss for not just staying that right out the [01:07:30.534] gate.
Tom: Unless you see the boat going for a snag or a log, and then you wanna get away from it, right?
Ralph: Yeah. And you don't wanna be on the downstream side of that boat when it goes to that sand.
Tom: Yeah. Yeah.
Ralph: I know I've done some really good swims, like in the Grand Canyon, where the boat flips, you get on the boat, and you really need to work your way on the upstream side of the boat and not get crushed between the boat and the rock or something.
Tom: Yeah. Okay. Okay. Good stuff. Boy, there's a [01:08:00.820] lot of things that you've just said that are counterintuitive and contrary to what people have said for years, including myself, you know. And so this is good stuff for people to know for sure.
Ralph: You know, and I started... You know, the school was working for Orvis in San Francisco and doing the Orvis Schools with Rusty and Brandt. And I made it my mission in every [01:08:30.878] single class to waste 15 minutes of their time talking about water safety and wading safety. And I'm convinced that's the most important part of those classes and for 35 years. Yeah, Lisa and I both just espouse that. How to get out of the water, how not to get into trouble, and, you know, I think that's a lot more important than knowing the right knot.
Tom: Yeah. For sure. Yeah. And people drown every year.
Ralph: They do.
Tom: In waders and falling out of boats and things.
Ralph: You know what's... I hate the word [01:09:00.607] ignorance because it sounds like you didn't study, but it's following a lot of the protocol that you hear and see everywhere. And that again is floating with your feet downstream. That's the worst thing you can do. Where I just... I don't know. I wish I had that article that you have in front of me. I could just kinda refresh myself.
Tom: Well, you've... Where was that in? "California Fly Fisher?"
Ralph: That was "Fly Fisherman." [01:09:30.564]
Tom: "Fly Fisherman Magazine." Okay. So people can probably find it in the archive. Do you remember about when it was?
Ralph: Oh, no. Twenty years ago?
Tom: Yeah. Okay. It's probably somewhere online, though, because somebody sent it to me.
Ralph: It probably is.
Tom: I'll see if I can dig it up and maybe put it with the podcast, right up when we put it out.
Ralph: Oh, that'd be cool.
Tom: Yeah.
Ralph: Yeah. That'd be cool because there's pictures and stuff that kind of explain what I'm trying to articulate over the phone. [01:10:00.418]
Tom: Okay. Yeah. I think we'll do that. I'm sure that Ross Purnell can help me find it if I can't find it.
Ralph: Oh, I'm sure he can.
Tom: Yeah.
Ralph: And I hate to say it, but I don't save any of that stuff. So I'd love to just dig a copy out of a box someplace and mail it to you, but I'm not very nostalgic that way.
Tom: Yeah. I save them, but the boxes are who knows where.
Ralph: Exactly. Exactly. That's exactly how it used to be. When we moved, [01:10:30.734] I looked at all of these boxes I had never opened the lids to once I put them all in there and just gave them to the fly club, "Here's a bunch of fish and stuff. You can have it."
Tom: Yeah. Yeah. I'm not very nostalgic either, but I figure I might need them someday, so.
Ralph: Yeah. Like right now. I wish I could grab that to copy for you.
Tom: Well, I'll find it. I'll find it and I will put it with the write-up. That would be great. All right, Ralph, well, you have really [01:11:00.763] hopefully, and maybe saved some lives today by, you know, setting us straight on myths that have been perpetuated over the years. And this is important stuff to get out there. So I appreciate you sharing it with us.
Ralph: Well, I appreciate you giving me the opportunity to talk. Yeah. Deep in my heart, this stuff needs to be done. And if you've ever seen a drowning victim, it's the saddest thing in the world.
Tom: Yeah.
Ralph: You know, I see lots of gunshots [01:11:30.449] and knife stabbings and car wrecks and all that kind of stuff, but when you pull out a drowning victim, normally, they're young, they're fit, there's no holes, there's no blood. They just don't wake up. It's just, like, the worst thing. You know, if I can prevent anybody from going through that or having a family member go through that, that's great. That's my job.
Tom: Yeah. And it'll give people more confidence, too. You know, knowing this stuff will give people... maybe make people a little more comfortable on the water, knowing that [01:12:00.238] they have things that they can do if they fall in.
Ralph: Right. Right. Exactly. And, you know, one thing I really want people to do is jump into a swimming pool in the shower side without a wading belt and just feel very secure that the water in your waders is not gonna drag you down.
Tom: Yeah. Not gonna turn you upside down and drown you or anything.
Ralph: No. No. And I hear a lot of people, you know, who have heard it from a friend from a friend that, "Oh, no, you'll just drown," and they're convinced that that's gonna happen. [01:12:30.435] Actually, you shouldn't be afraid of that.
Tom: Yeah. I mean, Lee Wulff proved that, like, 50 years ago by jumping off a bridge in the Buffam [SP] and kill with waders on. He didn't turn upside down. So, you know, I don't know why that's been perpetuated, but it has.
Ralph: I'm happy that you did that.
Tom: All right, Ralph. Well, thank you so much. Really appreciate you coming on the podcast today. I've been wanting to get you on here for a long time. So, thank [01:13:00.739] you for taking the time to share this very important information with us.
Ralph: Sure. And thanks, Tom, for giving me the opportunity again to, you know, take time out of your schedule to give me a call.
Tom: All right, Ralph. Nice talking to you.
Ralph: All right. Take care. Good talking to you. Bye.
Tom: Thanks for listening to the "Orvis Fly Fishing" podcast with Tom Rosenbauer. You can be a part of the show. Have a question or a comment? Send it to us at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. in the body of an email or as a voice attachment. [01:13:30.537] You can find more free fishing tips at