Air temperatures in the 80s and 90s are as much a part of Pennsylvania summers as are barbeque grills, lightning bugs and the Fourth of July.
Beating the heat for many equates to putting the air conditioning unit on high. Though I too use this tool, I am an advocate of another form of relief: getting wet.
Nothing brings out the little kid in me like leaving the waders in the car, putting on my modern version of the old tennis shoes and wading into a river or stream.
As hot as it has been in central Pennsylvania, the mercury has climbed even higher in the southeastern portion of the state. I was in Allentown just prior to Independence Day with a half day free to explore but was not able to get to the local trout stream, the Little Lehigh River, until 9:30 in the morning. The air temperatures were already into the mid-80s, with a predicted high of 97.
After parking in the shade, I donned my wet wading shoes, grabbed my rod, shouldered my tackle bag and headed for the water. Before I had finished walking to the bridge where I wanted to begin fishing, I had already begun to sweat.
The first step into the water caused my breath to catch in my throat as the icy chill of the flowing water hit the nerve endings in my feet and translated as a wave of relief to both body and mind.
I eased further into the stream until I stood knee deep in the water shaded by the bridge and only then did I begin stringing up my rod. Almost instantly I stopped sweating and simply smiled as nostalgic memories of summers past flitted through my mind.
Wet wading has been a part of summertime fun for me since I was quite young. Thankfully I had parents who introduced me to this joy and, whenever possible I try to share it with others. I recently had the good fortune to do this when I taught a youth fly fishing class for the Millbrook Marsh Center and Centre Region Parks and Recreation. After an initial day of fly casting and knot tying, I scheduled the remaining days on the water. Day two dawned warm, with the promise of higher temperatures to follow.
Following a quick check-in and preview, we headed for Spring Creek Park in Houserville. After an electro-fishing demonstration and fish identification, the kids eagerly went wet in search of aquatic insects. We rolled rocks and enjoyed the cool water while discovering what lives beneath the surface. In the heat of the day, learning became cool without the kids realizing it - they simply had fun.
Though the simplicity of wet wading is one of its most attractive qualities, I now find a few minor adjustments make the experience more enjoyable.
Old sneakers were my mainstay footwear for many years. However, a variety of physical realities summed up simply as "not as young as I once was" have led me to use sturdier wading shoes and a wading staff.
If the stream or river bottom is reasonably easy to wade, I use a low-cut specialty wet-wading shoe that has a closed toe but is vented on the sides. Newer versions of this shoe have covered the open sides with mesh to keep larger stones out. I have the older version that does not have this and would recommend this feature.
Another good option is the wading shoes many fishermen already have for use with stocking foot waders. A simple wet wading neoprene sock is an ideal compliment, as the shoes are designed to fit over the neoprene foot built into most waders. This neoprene sock fills out the shoe to create an appropriately snug fit and also cushions the bottom of the foot. However, when I've forgotten my neoprene socks, a heavy cotton sock has proved an adequate substitute.
When I was in my teens and spent some part of every summer day along the river, I never thought about falling down. Having survived reckless days of youth and now happily entering into my middle years an acceptance of my general clumsiness has led me to carry a wading stick. This can be as simple as a sturdy branch of the correct length tethered with a piece of rope or parachute cord. If you prefer high tech, a number of companies make a collapsing staff that fits in a belt pouch when not in use. Though it sometimes becomes tangled at the least desirable moments, usually with a ballistic fish involved, I find it indispensable.
The last adjustment I've made for wet wading is actually one I have adopted for all warm weather outdoors activities - the use of quick-drying, breathable clothing. Though far from a necessity, I value the comfort afforded by shirts and either shorts or pants made from these materials.
If I anticipate walking through any significant amount of undergrowth, the full pant version offers protection from itch weed and poison ivy. Once wet, the lightweight nature of the material makes for greater comfort and ease of movement.
As summer continues don't let the heat keep you indoors - grab some sturdy wading shoes or an old pair of sneakers and head for the nearest water to enjoy Mother Nature's cooling system. If you have kids, take them too. If they seem to move faster than you, just smile, find a good walking stick and have fun trying to keep up as they splash their way through the summer heat .
Scott McKee writes about the outdoors for The Sentinel.