Outsize waders of the lost art

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BRIAN HOOPER, a teenager from Liss, Hampshire, knows exactly what he would like in his Christmas stocking - a pair of size 14 waders. But his mum isn't sure that even Santa can find a manufacturer who turns out such outsize footwear.

According to Angling Times, which revealed this sad seasonal tale, Brian needs the thigh-length wellies desperately because he is taking a fisheries management course at Sparsholt College, near Winchester, and will have to have them if he wants to splasharound up to his waist like other budding fishery managers.

His mother said: "I'm at my wits' end. I've been running around for over a year, trying to find a pair of size 14 waders without success. The biggest I can find are size 13." Her son, who is 6ft 5in, is still only l8 years old.

Wading is generally associated with salmon fishing. Fish rest in the deeper parts that are often out of casting range, so fishermen wade out to reach them. Another logical use is on shallow lakes where rushes make it impractical to fish from the bank.

The trouble is that if an angler catches two fish by gaining an extra couple of yards, he soon assumes that by wading out five yards he can catch an extra five fish. Before you know it, this obsession with distance fishing results in wading to the opposite bank.

It has reached lunatic proportions on the Danish lakes, where competition anglers obsessed with snitching the teeniest advantage all wear chest waders. They have even built special platforms with 4ft-long legs so they do not have to paddle back to shore every time they want a new hook. But trout fishers are far from blameless. On many reservoirs in Britain, wading is now banned because over-enthusiastic paddlers frighten the trout so far out that nobody catches anything.

Waders themselves have come a long way since William Scrope, author of Days and Nights of Salmon Fishing, wrote in 1843: "Wading in the water is not only an agreeable thing in itself, but absolutely necessary in some rivers in the North that are destitute of boats; and that you may do this in the best possible style, procure half a dozen pair of shoes with large knob-nails at some distance asunder: if they are too close, they will bring your foot to an even surface, and it will glide off a stone or rock, which in deep water may be inconvenient."

Inconvenient, but also quite dangerous. When water gets inside waders, it will sometimes tip you upside down. It can be very amusing to see someone heading for the North Sea with green wellies thrashing the surface like a pair of giant sea serpents in coitus, but such an experience proves very frightening. It is an arguable pleasure that almost every wader-wearer will experience. The problem is that they give you a false security and tempt you just that little bit further out. A basic rule of wading is that the water will always be one inch deeper than the tops of your boots. Another is that deep holes are actually sentient, and can move around on the river bed. The action of wading appears to attract them.

All the books advise fishermen to carry a wading stick. This is simply an expensive tree branch that you poke in front of you before stepping ahead. But only those born with three arms can use a wading stick effectively when carrying a rod, landing net and tackle too. Mine always ends up floating off down-river because I haven't secured it properly.

The advent of neoprene, that wonderful material that enables daft windsurfers to get wet without dying of hypothermia, has made wading even more popular. Whereas once anglers would be forced out of the river by sheer cold, modern waders allow feet to stay warm all day.

But maybe Brian's mum should not really be worrying about finding waders for her offspring.

Perhaps she should tell him not to be a wimp, and to follow Scrope's example. He says: "Avoid standing upon rocking stones, for obvious reasons, and never go into the water deeper than the fifth button of your waistcoat; even this does not always agree with tender constitutions in frosty weather. As you are likely not to take a just estimate of the cold in the excitement of the sport, should you be of a delicate temperament, and be wading in the month of February, when it may chance to freeze very hard,pull down your stocking, and examine your legs. Should they be black, or even purple, it might, perhaps, be as well to get on dry land; but if they are only rubicund, you may continue to enjoy the water." He probably wore short-sleeved jumpers too.