Nothing will “dampen” (and I mean that literally) the start of a fishing season quicker than jumping in an icy river and discovering that your waders leak. Large rips and tears are usually easy to identify. It’s those annoying pinholes that are harder to find, but are no less annoying when water starts seeping in.
The good news is that you don’t need a soaker to tell you if your waders are leaky. A good off-season project to prepare you for the spring is to test your waders for leaks by using a cotton swab and a bottle of rubbing alcohol.
Turn your waders inside out, and apply rubbing alcohol to suspect spots like seams, and areas that typically experience the most abrasion, like the knee, calf and ankle areas. You can use a small rag, a cotton swab, or even a spray bottle to cover more areas at once. Because rubbing alcohol evaporates quickly, pinholes will appear as dark spots that stand out from the rest of the fabric.
At that point, you might take a Sharpie pen and circle the suspect areas, so you know where to apply the fix. For pinholes, I think the best cure is to dab small patches of Aquaseal (or a similar product) directly over the affected areas, and let that dry for a good 24 hours before you climb into your waders and actually step in the river.
It’s important to remember that, while the measure of fishing waders is ultimately a “pass-fail” test (they either leak or they don’t), some materials last longer and are more resistant to small abrasions and leaks than others. Multi-ply breathable waders seem to last longest, but even those aren’t immune to the occasional nicks and scratches that lead to pinholes. And you can make your waders last longer and leak less by storing them in a cool, dry spot out of direct sunlight during the off-season. Nothing rots waders faster than storing them wet and wadded up.
No matter what, I take 10 or 15 minutes every winter and perform the rubbing alcohol leak test to my waders just in case. I’d rather know if they leak when at my workbench dreaming about fishing, than when I’m actually knee-deep in the river.
Kirk Deeter is the editor of TROUT magazine, the national publication of Trout Unlimited, and an Editor-at-Large for Field & Stream.