My well-intentioned mother bought me a pair of ‘Lady Hodgman’ orange neoprene waders — complete with attached rubber boots — for Christmas four years ago. My mom’s ineptitude regarding the requirements of wading (bless her heart) assured that they weren’t your everyday fishing waders, and were instead of the putting-in-docks or doing-aquatic-insect-research wader variety. I briefly considered how thankful I was that she didn’t go with pink, and then I went fishing.
In a matter of months, I ripped the seam between rubber boot and neoprene knee open while stepping over a log, catching the thick, rust-orange fabric on a rogue branch. With a wet sock and a bad attitude I tromped back to the car, slosh-slosh-sloshing all the while, knowing the Lady Hodgmans were goners and that I was, once again, wader-less.
I could admittedly take the blame for that one, though. The first time she asked me for a Christmas list — already plagued by end-of-the-semester chaos as a freshman in college — I forgot to email her back. Two weeks later, well past Black Friday deals and bordering dangerously on the possible no-shipping-before-Christmas zone, I finally got back to her — but it was too late. The local sporting goods store would have to do.
My lack of specification and punctuality had cursed me again, only this time my punishment was slogging around in big orange waders for two years, eliciting a healthy combination of pity and laughter from anyone who would come to witness the Lady Hodgmans in action — particularly when we got off the river and I emptied my rubber boots of the liters of sock water they’d been collecting all day.
However, at the inevitable (but long-awaited) retirement of the Hodgmans, my boyfriend’s old guiding setup was bestowed upon me, fresh from the floor of the basement. Secondhand waders are probably a familiar item for most girlfriends of guides out there — he gets a shiny new pair on pro deal and here we are, perhaps too new to the sport to justify dropping $200 on our own pair or otherwise broke enough to deal with some leaky, smelly waders for the time being. Still recovering from my breakup with my Lady Hodgmans, I was willing to take some worn and torn hand-me-downs in lieu of spending a paycheck on the fancy articulated knees and thoughtful seam placements of a new pair. What I got in return were waders that were worn about 170 days a year for four years and, as a result, were in a condition best described as ‘well-loved.’
I’ve since spent about two years in these things, long past their assumed expiration date, which I’m guessing was the day they were thrown on the basement floor, laid to rest in the graveyard of old and unfit gear. Between the swamp foot and wader butt that has defined my ‘new’ getup over the past two years, I’ve dreamt of the simple color schemes, fleece-lined pockets, Gore Tex fabrics and “designed for women, by women” curvature of those sparkly waders in the Patagonia/Simms/Orvis catalogs. Because, I mean, would you look at that model’s profoundly unbaggy butt? I’d go so far as to say it actually looks good. I wish my butt looked even marginally as feminine as hers does in waders. I bet I’d catch bigger fish if my butt looked that good, right?
Right. But not really.
For now, the smelly and leaky ones will have to do, and I’m only complaining a little bit. Because while they have a perpetual scent of having been left in the back of the car for too long, and have the strange habit of bunching up in the worst places because the material has since stiffened to an eternal “cardboard” stage, they’ve lived a long and beautiful life. They’ve fallen into and climbed out of beaver holes. They’ve fought through briar patches. They’ve been covered in mud and ice and fish juice. They’ve paid witness to countless lost and landed fish. They’ve been pitched from car to car, car to garage and river to car. They’ve been bunched up, hung to dry, left in the car to freeze overnight and even abandoned at times, namely on the basement floor before their resurrection. Still, I think it’s time they are eternally laid to rest alongside the ‘ole Lady Hodgmans. I just want to wade up to my waist without the devastating suspense of feeling what was once a small trickle turn slowly to a cascade of freezing river water. I want dry feet. I want a color scheme that doesn’t contain the words ‘rust orange.’ And yes, I want a more feminine fit — because maybe, just maybe, a better-looking butt will help me land more fish.