Boating safety instructors, those who teach newbies how to get in and out of canoes in particular, repeat it all the time.

Maintain three points of contact.

Meaning, you have two hands and two feet. At least three of those should be on the boat or on solid ground at all times. That keeps you from falling.

Anglers, those who wade, would be wise to remember something similar.

Water – current – can be deceptively powerful. Get in deep enough and even a placid, seemingly slow-moving stream or river can take you off your feet.

It works like this. You lift one foot to take a step and the water, pushing against your planted leg, tries to, and sometimes succeeds in, sweeping you downstream. If you’re lucky, the worst you get is a dunking. If you’re not, you get swept away, or pitched in dangerously cold water, with limited opportunities to get to shore.

And oftentimes, by the time you realize you’re in trouble, it’s just as hard to return to shore as it is to continue crossing a stream.

One way to avoid that is to have an additional point of contact. In wading, that means a wading staff.

Besides helping with balance, though, a wading staff serves another purpose. That is, it allows you to reach out and test the area of your next step.

That can help tell just how deep the water is – clear water can seem shallower than it is – and what the bottom of the streambed is made of. What looks like solid ground might actually be a quagmire-like, boot sucking mess.

Wading staffs can be as fancy or plain as you like.

Some like wood ones because they float. Hickory and cedar sticks, standing about shoulder height, make good staffs, provided you cover them in several coats of tung oil. Given time to dry, they resist water and are strong.

Others use aluminum staffs, much like hiking poles. They are light, but those that extend and collapse are inherently weak and can fail at the wrong time.

If you want to go all high-tech, it’s possible to buy wading staffs made of materials like carbon fiber. They’re strong, and most fold up, but they’re expensive, too. Plan on spending in the neighborhood of $150 or so to get one.

Whatever kind you get, consider adding, if needed, a loop or rope that can attach the staff to your wader belt. That keeps it handy when you let it go to fish.

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See also: Wet wading a summertime fishing pleasure.