Sunday Classic / 5 Tips for Beating Out the Winter Cold on the Water

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Winter fly fishing and 5 tips for beating the cold. Photo: Louis Cahill

I’ll be the first to tell you that I’m past the days of heading out into Arctic conditions to fly fish unless I’m outfitted properly.

Call me a wuss or nancy, that’s fine with me. I don’t care how big the fish are, If I’m not prepared, I’m staying at home and you can go catch them. I’ve been miserable too many times over the years and I refuse to put myself in that position anymore. If I’m unable to enjoy myself wetting a line, there’s absolutely no reason for me to be out there. Furthermore I’ve had some really close calls with frostbite in the past, and frostbite is scary stuff folks. Once it’s progressed to a certain point, there’s a good chance it will be permanent. I’m lucky enough to have found a wife to put up with me for the long haul, despite my hair falling out, my muscles disappearing and my beer belly growing. The last thing I need to do now, is come back from a fishing trip with half a nose or a black foot. You know what I’m saying? Here’s the good news though. Because I’ve spent a great deal of time fly fishing during the winter with friends, I’ve picked up some helpful tips on beating the winter cold. When used together, they go a long way towards making sure you can fly fish reasonably comfortable no matter how cold or nasty the conditions are.

5 Tips for Beating the Winter Cold Fly Fishing

Tip 1: Invest in Separate Winter Waders, Boots and Socks

The first extremities to get uncomfortable in cold weather are your feet. Cold water zaps heat from the body 25 times faster than air. That’s why it’s so important to make sure you’ve outfitted yourself properly if you want to beat the cold. Choose your gear too small and it’s not going to take very long before you’re standing there miserable with frozen toes that are unbearable. To avoid this, you need proper insulation and good blood circulation. The biggest mistake people make that puts them in this situation is they head out fly fishing with the same gear (waders and boots) they used during the spring, summer and fall. I leave my large waders and size 12 wading boots at home, and I pack my XL waders and 13 or 14 boots depending on how the sizing runs. I want enough room to accommodate all the extra layers with more room to spare.

Many people think, the more socks you throw on, the warmer your feet will be. Unfortunately, that can actually work against you, because every layer you put on, the tighter and more constricting it becomes on your feet. This again, works against your body’s ability to provide proper blood circulation to your feet.

Below is my sock set up that I use. I use two layers if it’s cold, and three layers if it’s extreme cold conditions. I also use heated adhesive foot pads always when I’m dealing with really cold conditions. They are worth every penny.

First Layer: 17″ Tall Polypropylene Liner Sock (Great insulation that’s thin and is moisture wicking)

Second Layer: 23″ Tall (above knee) Wool XL Thick sock. (Extra long wool sock is a must)

Third Layer: Simms Neoprene Guard Socks (Nothing fights heat loss from cold water like an extra layer of neoprene)

Tip 2: You better Learn to Fly Fish While Wearing Gloves

Your fingers are the second place that will suffer after a short time in the cold. In extreme cold weather, anglers need to be outfitted with a water-resistant or waterproof glove, and they need to learn how to fly fish while wearing them. I use two different types of gloves. If I’m not going to need to change flies, or need to adjust my rig much, my favorite pair of gloves are Kast Steelhead Glove. They are 100% windproof and waterproof and have kept my fingers warm in the nastiest of Arctic conditions. They are perfect for Spey anglers who may swing the same fly pattern for thirty minutes at a time without messing with their rig. However, if I’m guiding or nymphing different depths and speeds of water that requires regular maintenence with my fly rig, I prefer slit-fingered waterproof gloves, like the Glacier Bristol Bay Glove. Having the ability to quickly pop out my index and thumb finger allows me to quickly adjust or retie my rig and get back to fishing without having to take off my gloves completely.

FYI: I”m not going to go into multi-base layers, fleece, and outer rain jackets. Let’s assume everyone here knows how to outfit themselves properly for their Torso and let’s focus on areas that a lot of people overlook.

Tip 3: Purchase yourself a quality cold weather cap

A quality cold weather cap goes a long ways towards keeping us comfortable on the water. There’s lots of hat options out there, but in my opinion, when you’re going to be dealing with wind, sleet/snow, and teens to single-digit temperatures, the best hat on the market is Simms Exstream Hat. It has a windproof and waterproof Gore-Tex outer shell that’s fleece lined, and it can be strapped down to cover your ears and neck when fastened by velcro under your chin. It’s the baddest extreme weather hat I’ve ever worn, keeps wind out in the down position and it’s worth every cent believe me.

Tip 4: Choose to eat or drink food that help you stay warm

Yes, choosing to consume certain foods and drinks can help you beat out the cold weather. A good breakfast with coffee is a must and packing something to-go is even smarter. This year I will be carrying a thermos as well as spicy snacks to help me stay warm during my cold-weather fly fishing trips. It will either have hot coffee or spicy chicken noodle soup. Check out this link that gives you all the details on foods that keep you warm and why. Warning: Make sure you monitor the status of your thermos. Last year, we had soup in a thermos freeze solid on us in only 2 hours on the water. Use it before it’s too late.

Tip 5: A Flask can be a Life Saver

Let’s accept the fact that sometimes the only way to turn things around, get you comfortable and having fun in nasty weather is consuming liquor. A buzz can go a long way to raising morale and motivating you to stick it out for another couple hours in the elements. I’ve been ready to head to the truck many times, but after a few sips from a flask, I was back in the game giving it 110%. For all you non-drinkers out there, disregard this tip. It’s not for every one. If I had to pick one drink to fill my flask with though, it would have to be moonshine with olive juice. I call it a “Redneck Martinis” and it packs a punch and only requires a couple sips to yield results. You can never go wrong with a nice bourbon though. Orvis Trout Skin Flask is solid flask choice for its ascetics, price-point and 8 oz. storage capability.

Keep it Reel,

Come fish with us in the Bahamas!

Kent Klewein
Gink & Gasoline
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9 thoughts on “Sunday Classic / 5 Tips for Beating Out the Winter Cold on the Water

    • It’s more about having just enough to temporarily warm the soul, so to speak. I don’t think he suggests getting drunk in freezing conditions.

  1. If you can freeze soup in a thermos in two hours……….it’s way beyond the type of day I’m looking for. Thanks, I’ll stay back. That’s COLD!

  2. The socks advice is spot-on. For extra warmth, put on your dry hands latex rubber gloves before putting on your other gloves, esp. if using 3/4 finger gloves. But that thin layer of latex helps even under Glacier Gloves. Not only do you get extra warmth, but also good protection again nicks from hook and fish handling.

    If you can’t tie knots with latex over your digits, snip a slit in the tips of the thumbs and index fingers, and roll back the latex when you need bare skin. Then roll them back when finished. The latex will tear and fray over the course of the day, so either bring an extra pair or else count on it warming up enough that 100% cover is still required.

  3. Ahhhh, the special breed of winter fly fishers. I’ve had those days when it literally feels like I’m walking on stumps walking back to my car because of how cold the water/day are! Sometimes the bite is just way to good to leave! haha! I have the same philosophy about the polypropylene liners under thick merino wool socks. Most of the time they keep my feet comfortable. There is one thing I might end up doing and that is adding neoprene socks as the last layer just as you did. Overall, I LOVE winter fishing and feel it is one of the best times of year to be on the water. It’s surreal and peaceful to be on the water during a snow storm. The sacrifice is well worth it! Thanks for the post!

  4. Another trick for the feet is using anti-perspirant before donning your socks in the morning. Reduces sweat and moisture keeping feet drier and warmer. Longtime trick of fellow ski professionals.

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