I’m pretty careful of my fly rods and reels. Only a few pieces of gear have truly been damaged. I can’t say the same thing about waders, however. For whatever reason, I’m tough on waders and wading boots. Maybe I “fish hard,” or maybe I don’t look where I’m walking. Regardless, I’ve put holes in and torn through neoprene, Gore-Tex, and even vulcanized rubber.
Thankfully, all but the most colossal rips can be repaired. And virtually every repair can be made stream side. All you need is the right stuff, properly applied.
Since I’ve had a little bit of experience, including recently punching the hook of a thick-shanked saltwater streamer through my waist, I thought I’d share my take on the what and how of wader repair. I have two product recommendations and four tips on actual repairs.
UV Wader Repair (Loon) – This is the ultimate on-stream repair solution. A tube of UV Wader Repair and a tiny UV light will have you back in business immediately. You will spend more time taking your waders off and putting them back on than you will repairing them with this product. It dries rubbery, so a tiny dollop won’t pop off as you move. For small punctures, crease holes, and minor rips, this stuff works and works well. ($8.50 for the resin, UV light sold separately)
Flex Tape (Flex Seal) – It isn’t a fly fishing product and it isn’t going to make your premium waders look good, but it will get you back on the water. I’ve seen Flex Tape seal up foot-plus tears in breathable waders. You have to apply it well (see below) and it probably isn’t a long-term solution. But this “as seen on TV” tape will salvage a day or weekend of fishing. ($12.99 for a 4″x5′ package)
Whatever you use to fix your waders, and regardless of if you plan on working on them more in the future or not, be sure that you clean, dry, and flatten the repair area. Skipping one of these three simple measures will probably negate your work and just put you back in a damp pair of pants. An alcohol wipe would be ideal, as the dry time is very quick. Short of that, use half of a damp buff or glove to clean the area around the hole or rip and the other half to wipe it dry. Then find a suitable work space that will allow you to lay the area that needs attention flat.
Another important step, assuming you have the materials, is to repair both sides of the rip or hole. Resin and adhesive tapes do a great job of patching leaks, but patches can fail if snagged or otherwise compromised. Repairing both sides ensures that the leak is covered and filled in.
Once you get home, assess your work. Off the water and at your workbench or patio table, you can really look at the situation clearly. You might even want to test the patch by submerging it and seeing if any moisture moves through the area. Everything might seem okay on the river the day of your fix, but there could very well still be a problem that will just necessitate another stream side patch.
Lastly, make sure your are carrying and you replenish your repair supplies. One of the major drawbacks of the little repair kits included with most waders is that they are only useful for a single patch. If you don’t replace what you need for the next time, a major frustration can easily become a trip killing problem. If you have a tube of adhesive or small roll of tape, ensure you’ll have enough in your wader pocket or vest to make another reasonable repair.