August 27, 2012

Making a Human Tripod

As I have gotten older, I have become less stable on my feet while wading. This has been a gradual change over the past few years. I used to be young and flexible but now I am older (not really old, just older) and much less flexible. Besides, a few years ago I had back surgery, like so many of my fellow human beings (the lower back is a design flaw for upright, bipedal motion), and since then I have really become more stiff through my lower back.

I have used a wading staff on and off over the years but I use one 98% of the time now. I find that it gives me a lot more stability and makes me feel more confident in the stream. Since my back surgery I really fear falling.

To date I have used three different wading staffs, Two of them are commercial products and one is my own creation. The first is a wading staff from Dan Bailey's of Livingston, MT. It is essentially a Folstaf but with a rubber handle instead of cork. It folds into a leather holster that is carried on your hip. I like that. It can be deployed quickly and it snaps together because of its internal bungee cord. What I don't like about it is that at times it can be difficult getting the segments apart so that it can fit back in the holster. On some days I have had to take it home and work on it before I can pry the sections apart, and even then there were times I wasn't sure it would come apart! I have tried wax, teflon spray, and oil on the section joints all without improvement. A quick Internet search shows that this is a common problem with this staff's design. It has a nice diameter so it is very stable in moving water, however.

Dan Bailey wading staff

The next wading staff that I tried was the Simms wading staff. This is also a folding design, but instead of a bungee running down its core there is a nylon-plastic connector. To deploy the staff you pull it out of its neoprene holster and grasp the sleeve on the upper-most segment. Then while holding the staff handle with your other hand, just straighten the staff. The segments snap and lock into place. This is a nice design in that the segments don't get jammed or stuck together like the Dan Bailey/Folstaf staff can. That said, there is a problem with the Simms wading staff: it is unstable in flowing water. Example: let's say you are wading in thigh high water, trying to cross a section of river to position yourself for an optimal presentation. As you wade into the current you plant the Simms wading staff firmly to aid in increasing your stability. All of a sudden, the wading staff starts to oscillate wildly. This harmonic resonance, due to the water flowing around the shaft of the staff, shakes your hand violently. Now you realize that instead of helping increase your stability, the staff has compromised your stability! This is what I don't like about this wading staff.

Simms wading staff

These first two staffs, that I have mentioned, are made of metal -- aluminum. There are some who say that these staffs impart an unnatural sound as their tips strike the rocks in the river. This sound is reported to scare fish and put them down. I have not see any scientific studies to confirm this, but there may be some truth to it. Therefore, it is argued, mainly by the makers of wooden staffs, that wood staffs are more stealthy.

After using these two staffs, I desired one that was more stable in brisk currents. Also, because of the metal noise issue I wanted a wooden staff. So, having an extra 1.75 inch diameter garden rake handle in the shed I turned it into a wading staff. I wrapped some yellow tennis racket grip ribbon around the top to decrease the varnished wood's slipperiness. I also added a T-piece across the top. This is made of  piece of 2" rake handle. This T-piece allows me to hold the top of the staff in deeper water. I also use it to quickly grab the tenkara line so to bring it to my rod hand. This has greatly decreased the amount of time in hand lining the fish in -- particularly when the fish is larger or the current is fast. The T-piece also lets me grab overhead branches to retrieve my snagged fly.

Upper portion of my wading staff.  Parachute cord used for leash.

T-piece of my staff. The notches are to aid in capturing the line or branches.

My wooden staff is absolutely stable. It doesn't oscillate in the current. I feel very secure when using it as I can put my whole weight on it and it doesn't bend or flinch. Also, it is quiet when it touches the stream bed rocks -- I just left the tip wooden. Now, after long use, the tip has a slightly frayed look. This probably helps it grips the rocks better as well.

My staff looks similar to the wading staff offered by the Pit River Company (Note: as of January 2021, this staff is no longer available). Mine doesn't have a rubber tip or measuring ruler though. That said, my staff was much less expensive!

Is it perfect? No, nothing is. It doesn't fold or collapse for transport. It floats in the stream instead of sinking (this can be an advantage depending on your point of view). But it is the most stable staff I have found to date.

It has become my third leg; I am now a human tripod. I haven't fallen since I started using it, and that was my goal in the first place!


  1. Tom,

    Nice post. I hope it encourages more anglers to make their own wading staffs. Nothing against th commecial ones, other than the points you have mentioned, but like you I find my home made ones to be more stable and quieter. That T handle is a nice touch! I may copy that on my next one.

    1. I like the T handle. As I stated above, it is nice to hold for deeper holes and in retrieving snagged flies or the tenkara line. You are right about home-made staffs -- I think they are better and certainly they are cheaper!


  2. I've used a staff for many years now, found it was invaluable as a stabiliser even when I was young - allows one to go into the zone in a river, to step wade while fishing without paying too much attention to feet placement
    I always put a rubber stopper on every staff to avoid making noise, especially with a metal staff; a benefit is that the rubber base of the stopper is a broader contact area, and the rubber has more friction, so it doesn't slip as much

    the compactness of the folstaff is great for bush bashing, but the heaviest by far; the 3/4in diam version is solid and doesn't vibrate, the 1/2in diam version does, and further, can collapse suddenly on a heavy lean as it bends; failure occurs with wear and tear by on the bungee cord and results in it breaking suddenly and all pieces just fall apart immediately (fatal in the river); replacement of the bungee is very difficult
    a collapsable carbon staff is quiet and lightest, but you can't collapse as short, and most are too short at full expanded length for wading; they vibrate more in the current than any other; the joints are often made for dry use, and can jam with continued wetting unless maintained; failure is actually quite rare, but when it happens, is results in a shaft shatter. this is normally caused by nicks in the carbon from rocks, and will fail when under stress (ie leaning on it); an aluminiumm staff is a better option for these reasons, and more durable, and much cheaper than carbon at minimal extra weight (and still much less than a folstaff or simms)
    cross country ski staffs are longer than walking staffs, but single piece; a second hand 185-190 cm pole works as an option if non collapsable is desired. either carbon or aluminium.
    Simms are the strongest and most durable; not as compact as folstaff, but lighter and reasonably compact; i've never found the vibration to be excessive or overly worrying, but does occur; failure occurs at the cable attachment to the handle section when locking open, and results in all pieces falling apart; you can't seem to buy replacement cables; there are copies of the staff available that are very similar, just with lower quality zinger, at a quarter of the simms price
    wooden staffs are generally lighter, far more durable and not as prone to single total failure without notice; more cumbersome to carry through heavy bush, but able to be used for many harsh purposes without qualm, and as a diy, cheap and uniquely customisable.

    best regards

  3. I’m a little late to the game, following a link in your May 2021 reply on YouTube.
    The wading staff is essential for maintaining at least two points of contact at all times on wet/submerged surfaces, especially when trekking through streams in remote locations and fewer fellow anglers to assist with our possible injuries.
    Mine is a simple 5’ section of thicker bamboo to compliment my larger-than-average paw. The lower portion near the rhizome works wonderfully for a handle, and the other end worked out to accept the tip of an old crutch. I also have some 550-cord as a leash after learning the hard way about current and carelessness.
    I measured out 12’’ sections, then a few in-between lengths and burned the marks into the bamboo using heated wire. The only care for the staff is to remove the rubber stopper at the end of the fishing session and allow the bamboo to dry.
    Nice and lightweight.
    The T handle is something I need to incorporate, so as always, many thanks for sharing your tested/proven knowledge.