Thursday, April 30, 2009

Thursday Review: Victor R. Johnson, Jr.'s America's Fishing Waders

A Review of Victor R. Johnson, Jr.'s America's Fishing Waders

America's Fishing Waders: The Evolution of Modern Fishing Waders, 1838-Present by Victor R. Johnson, Jr. is the fourth in a series of fly fishing histories authored (or co-authored) by Johnson. Previous works include histories of fly lines, fiberglass fly rods, and the Fenwick Corporation.

Like his earlier works, Johnson sets out to tell a story virtually ignored by the fishing community. Few people have given much thought to waders, but when one stops to think about it, they are an integral part of the fly fisherman's kit. Few dedicated fly anglers don't own at least one pair of waders and a pair of hip boots, but almost no one has written about their history. Johnson is digging in virtually virgin territory here.

The title of the book might be slightly misleading; basically, this book is a history of the Hodgman Rubber Company, without question the most famous wader brand in history. The foreword was written by Ron Foster, former owner of Hodgman, and most of the historical information comes in the form of a linear history of this firm.

This should not in any way be taken as serious criticism. Founded in 1838 and likely making waders as early as the 1850s, Hodgman serves as fertile territory to tell the changing history of waders. From the dawn of the rubber revolution, through the halcyon years of fly angling, to the post-World War II era all the way up to the present, Johnson hits on many of the technological changes in waders and hip boots. Even the neoprene and breathable wader revolutions of the 1990s are covered.

The majority of information is Hodgman (and by proxy Converse, as the two companies were intertwined for much of their history), but Johnson makes an attempt to cover other firms in his research. Red Ball, Servus, LaCrosse, and Marathon all get brief histories. A few notable makers, such as Hood's Ike Walton line of waders, popular in the late 1940s, and W.B. Jarvis of Michigan, makers of rubber fishing gear ca. 1900, are missing from the discussion. Additionally, some interesting debates in the pages of sporting journals ca. 1900 over the safety of waders is not covered. In a week or two I'll reprint one of these entertaining articles in the Voices from the Past column.

With over 150 images (black-and-white) and lively text, the book certainly is informative. At 131 pages, it is also a fairly quick read. The majority of information covers the later (post-1960) improvements in material and construction of waders, which of course is both a subject and a time period rarely written about from a historical standpoint when it comes to fishing history.

If you've read any of Johnson's previous work, you'll know what to expect from this book: solid research, interesting material, pleasant format, reasonable price. While it is not a definitive history of the wader in America, it is the only history we have, and for this reason (and others) should belong in any worthwhile fly fishing library.

The book is available directly from the author by Clicking Here.

-- Dr. Todd


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