Top 10 Tips to Staying Warm in Cold Weather Fishing Conditions

Ahhhhh…. This topic is near and dear to my heart as I am not one of those people that easily manage the cold.  My hands and feet tend to get brutally cold faster than most so I have really had to plan out my winter fishing days well.  With that in mind I thought it was a good time to talk about some of the tricks I have learned along the way that have helped make my days on the water not only more pleasant, but also more effective.

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  • 10 – Check your waders thoroughly for leaks on a regular basis.  Nothing can make you cold faster than wet legs in a freezing cold river.  Sounds basic but most of us have small pinhole leaks that don’t really bother us too much in warmer weather.  Don’t forget a UV wader repair kit as well for stream side field repairs.  Duct tape can be a life saver as well!
  • 9 – Avoid the urge to put on socks that are so thick that your feet don’t fit easily into your waders and boots.  The fastest way to frozen feet is to cut off circulation.  Instead, wear a thin pair of liner socks, a reasonable warm pair of insulating socks, and put a chemical toe warmer pad in-between the two layers.
  • 8 – Pants should be two layers of synthetic fabrics that wick.  I prefer a base layer of fleece tights and a second layer of either shell style pants or if it is really cold a second layer of looser fitting fleece.  One of my buddies will often wear a pair of thin snowboarding bibs under his waders that he swears by.   Avoid cotton fabrics and again, make sure you have plenty of room to move.
  • 7 – Avoid over insulating your top half.  So many times you see guys throw on a pair of jeans under their waders and then put 5 layers on their torso.  Remember you are going to by default have the layer of your waders and typically a wading jacket.  I always start with a very thin base layer of a synthetic wicking fabric followed by a thin 100 wt.  fleece pullover.  Depending on the conditions you may end up adding one more layer and for me it is usually a windproof micro fleece.  This gives me plenty of room to move and the ability to adjust my temperature by removing layers as the day wears on if I get warm.
  • 6 – Cover your head well!  Unless you are doing a photo shoot for Simms, Patagonia, Orvis, etc… this is no time to be style conscious.  You lose a tremendous amount of heat through your head so keeping your mellon warm is vital.  This can be compounded by the need to keep the sun off of your eyes on sunny ice cold days.  Don’t be afraid to channel your inner Elmer Fudd and dawn the duck hunters cap or something similar.  Again think wool, or synthetics here.
  • 5 – Bring multiple glove options.  The hands are often the trickiest part because we need them for the dexterity of  fishing, knot tying, etc… But we also need to keep them warm and if at all possible dry to be comfortable.  For more mild days I am still a big fan of fingerless wool gloves.  They are inexpensive and easy to pack a few pairs.  For colder days I prefer fingerless gloves with fold over mittens.  Throughout the day you will need access to your fingers to tie knots, release fish, remove ice from your guides and many others.  You can do all of this without having to take your gloves on and off with this option.  Always bring at least two pairs with you to try and keep somewhat dry throughout the day.
  • 4 – Chemical hand warmers are a life saver!  I typically bring 3 pair.  1 pair goes inside of my mitts.  The second pair is in my pockets.  The third pair is a back up and I keep in my sling pack.  If you don’t like the bulk of them in your mitts, you can use the toe warmer type and use the sticky part against the mitts on the backs of  your hands.  I also have a base layer designed for runners that has fold over covers for your hands.  They make perfect holders for had warmers right on your wrists.
  • 3 – Keep moving!  Nothing will make you cold faster than standing in the same spot for 3 hours in a fast cold river.  The more you walk and move around the more you get your blood moving and flowing to your extremities.
  • 2 – Keep a dry bag with a full back up set of all of the above!  If you wade rivers long enough you will eventually end up taking some kind of swim.  The more aggressively you wade, the more you run the risk.  Taking a mid winter river swim can result in anything from losing a day of fishing to losing your life if you are not well prepared.  I travel with back up waders, socks, fleece pants, base layer, insulation layer, jacket, hat and gloves and you should too!  Your back up can be some older stuff that might not be your favorites or things you picked up at the discount store.  Keep them in an old duffel or bin that you can leave in your car or truck so you never forget to pack them.
  • 1 – Don’t be afraid to plan your day so that it includes a mid day stop at the car.  This is not possible in many fisheries but in places like Steelhead Alley it can often be pretty easy.  It is amazing how 15 or 20 minutes in the truck with heat blasting, a hot beverage, and some food can send you back out into the most brutal of days feeling like new again.  Remember, hypothermia is serious and so is frostbite.  Even when you are borderline hypothermic, it effects your ability to make good decisions so be careful out there!

Winter fishing can be truly amazing and the uglier the day the fewer anglers you will see on the water.  Enjoy the scenery, hammer some fish, and come home safe and sound to do it all over again!  If you have any questions about the right product for you or just need some general advice please give us a shout up at the shop.  We are happy to help!

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Tight Lines and Loose Pants,

Lee