It is January 26th and according to the news stations we are awaiting another "storm of the century". Correct me if I am wrong, but didn't we have a "100 year storm" last year? I will bet you can't find a snow shovel, ice melt, milk, bread, or eggs any where in New Castle county today. All kidding aside, the winter months can be some of the best fishing of the year. Due to the weather conditions we face during December, January and February they can be some of the toughest times to be out in the elements. I would like to give some of my thoughts and insights as to how to dress for the tough months in hopes that you can extend your time on the water. Hypothermia is a serious consideration during this time of year and protecting yourself from the elements should be your first priority. Let’s start with our feet and work our way up.
Layering is the key to staying warm in the winter and our feet are no different. I generally like to start off with a liner sock of some type. Polypropylene gets the nod here as it is the best material to wick sweat away from your feet, the key to keeping your feet warm. From here the temperature will determine the next layer for me. In mild times say 30 degrees and up a simple wading sock works for me. In extreme temps, 30 and below I will usually wear a liner sock, a cotton type crew sock and then a heavy wading sock like the Simms Extreme wading sock. This combo keeps my feet warm in the coldest of days. Play around with your sock combo until you find a system that works for you. One item of note; as you add layers of socks on your feet those wading boots that feel great in April and May might be too tight in January. Tight boots equal cold feet period! A sizable investment for sure, but a pair of boots a size or two bigger can be a godsend. Also, be careful with the tension of your boot laces. If you lace em up tight you will cut the circulation of to your feet. This is sure to send you to the truck early. You will loose a little ankle support, but it will help to keep your feet warm if you leave your laces a little looser than normal. If you do a lot of winter fishing in extreme conditions, say Steelheading in New York, you may want to seriously consider a pair of boot foot waders. Boot foots have more room in the foot section and won't constrict your feet as much as stocking foot waders and boots. They also will keep the warm air inside and circulating around your feet.
Next would be the body layers. Again the conditions will determine how many or how few layers you need. Anything that touches your skin needs to have some wicking properties. We all sweat and the key to staying warm is to get that perspiration away from your body. One of the newer products on the market that gets the nod from me is Merino Wool. A Merino wool base layer will go a long way to keeping your body temperature regulated. My next layer would be some sort of fleece. Simms and Redington both have several different types of fleece in different weights to fit your needs. From light weight shirts and pants to heavy weight crew tops and extremely warm one piece “jumpsuits.”There is a product for everybody. To this I will usually add a Windstopper jacket of sorts and this combo seems to keep me warm on most excursions. On those extreme days I might add a mid weight or heavy weight layer of fleece on top of a light weight layer. The key is to have interchangeability in your system so you can adapt to the changing climate.
We all have heard the saying that you loose most of your body heat through your head. If that is the case lets cover it with a quality hat to prevent that from happening. “Beanie” type hats are fine in mild temperatures; I wear them all the time. I particularly like the visor type of hats from Simms and Loomis. The next step up would be the Extreme hat from Simms. Sometimes called the “Elmer Fudd” for obvious reasons. Insulated to the max with ear flaps to boot if any hat is going to keep you warm this is the one. Not the most aesthetically pleasing hat, but when it is 10 degrees keeping warm is the priority. Remember this isn't a fashion show. To this I might add one of the polar Buffs. This insulated, fleece lined “collar” is designed to keep your neck warm, and can be worn on your face like a half mask. Both are a priority in order to keep warm. Last but not least are gloves. I like the finger-less models so I can have some dexterity when tying knots. Actually I believe it is impossible to tie knots with gloves on. If you are prone to cold fingers one of the fold over mitts may be better. These have a finger-less glove inside and a mitten flap that will fold over the entire thing. A great idea, but fishing with mittens on will take a little getting use to. In the winter time try to touch as little water as possible. Once you get your hands cold in February it is tough to get warm them back up without leaving the river. Some of those hand warmers stuffed in your top wader pocket and help with this.
During the winter season, especially during bitter times I try to always fish with a partner. Safety in numbers goes a long way when it is 20 degrees out. I try not to stand in the water for extended periods of time. If you feel your self getting cold get out and go for a little walk. The foot traffic on the rivers is usually light this time of year. Many times I can walk for ten or 15 minutes to get warmed back up and return to the same spot. Another tip that can help to keep you warm is to eat while you are in the river. This tip is a carryover from many days spent in a freezing cold Deer stand or Duck blind. In order to stay warm your body needs to burn calories. The more calories you burn the more you need to replenish the supply. Carry some protein bars, nuts or dried fruit and nibble on that while you are out. Your car won't run without gas and your body won't run without fuel. Also, I always have a “fall in bag” in my truck. If I do happen to take a spill (and believe me I do) I have a warm, dry set of clothes waiting for me at the truck. If you do go in the water this time of year IMMEDIATELY get out and head to the truck. As I said earlier Hypothermia is no joke and needs to be taken seriously. Get out, get dry and go home. The fish will be there tomorrow.
Winter fishing can be some of the "hottest" fishing of the year. Hopefully these tips will keep you warm and out on the river this winter. Have a safe and fun filled winter season. Till Next time...