Nothing says spring like the arrival of latest in kicky new fashions, and the kickiest trend this season is the revival of the chest-high neoprene wader.
“What’s exciting about neoprene is it’s so versatile,” said Jerk Blandson, a Blue River stylist and fly-fishing guide who’s worked with celebrities such as the hip-hop recording artist Wooly Booger.
“They’ll pair well with a wide range of tops,” he said, "mock turtlenecks, sweatshirts, polo shirts, tanks or long-tail T-shirts and almost any kind of felt wading shoe.”
Still, it isn’t the easiest look to pull off, since these waders can add volume in all the wrong places. Mr. Blandson suggests them for “a fellow who is more, shall we say, visibly prosperous, someone who doesn’t have that much in the hips and backside, but sports at least 32-pack abs.”
We wondered whether we could find a neoprene wader that didn’t turn us into a playground kickball, so we took a trip to our nearest fly fishing shop and tested them out.
After months of wearing long johns and thick socks, we found something to like in all the waders. The dense 3.5-millimeter thick closed cell neoprene was lined for comfort and ease of donning and doffing, and all that roominess felt comfy.
We liked the spring-like soft oranges and pinks, in a hydrangea pattern, on our breathable waders, for $189. However, the drawstring enclosure started at the waist, which seemed a little low. (A higher drawstring would help minimize the wideness). The flowery pattern on the black stocking-foot neoprene wader for $169 was also cute, with white vines and small pink-and-red daisies, but we found it a little full. The $280 topline breathable waders got bonus points for its bandanna-style pattern in turquoise, a popular color this season, but its gold sequin treatment made it pretty fancy and seemed to limit its use to fishing trips in Colorado, particularly on the Roaring Fork River.
We loved the fit of our last two waders, and they seemed to be most versatile. The Annebelle ring-dot wader was slim to about six inches below the waist, and then gently filled out toward the chest, making room for a hoagie-style sandwich. The two layers of soft lightweight Gore-Tex felt great. The look is fairly casual, so it’s best for weekends. At $98 it’s our best value.
The ultra-soft polyester waders, for $290, were a little more sophisticated, with two layers of breathable membrane. These had adjustable elastic shoulder straps, and a laminated outer shell with neutral colors — pearly grays and browns — which flowed together like watercolor paint. You don’t want to get too bright with bigger waders. As Mr. Blandson emphasized, “Anything too vibrant can be a little aggressive and scare the fish.” Its pleats were sewn tight on top, and unfolded to a full, but not bulky shape. We’d wear it in New Zealand, and even in Patagonia without fear. It’s our best overall.”
So, there’s no excuse this season for looking drab when you’re out and about with the trout.