5 Tips for Beating Out the Winter Cold on the Water

25 comments / Posted on / by


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
Sign Up For Our Weekly Newsletter!

Follow Gink & Gasoline on Facebook:

25 thoughts on “5 Tips for Beating Out the Winter Cold on the Water

  1. Great article. Definitely have learned the importance of staying warm and dry on the water here in WY. I am thinking it’s some Kast gloves for Christmas. I might have to make a trip to GA to fish just for the “redneck martini”. Sounds great.

  2. I agree completely with the opening paragraph, if i’m not comfortable while out fishing, i’ll stay home too. I’ve never come close to frostbite, but I have had hypothermia and it aint no joke! All it takes is once and you change the way you prepare to be out in cold weather doing sporting activities. High performance cold weather clothing isn’t so expensive any more.

    • Ronnie,

      Wish I could give it to you but I have not fished the toccoa in a couple weeks. Mostly because the tribs have been so low and then the low flows on top of that. Tough floating even with only two people in the boat. Eight mile floats from dam to curtis or curtis to horseshoe is a cheese grader and ass kicker. Pretty much like wading eight miles. I’ve been sticking to wading lately on the small streams. I have not heard of any significant baetis hatches lately but i’m sure they are coming off at times and you can catch fish on imitations. The stockings last month on the river helped catch rates.

      Th only good thing was the rain the last two days. The rest of the week will probably offer the best fishing on the river in a while. From what I’ve heard fishing pressure is down. I’ve actually seen the best baetis hatches lately on the upper toccoa.


  3. Kent wrote, “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?”
    And then there are some extremities that the wife would be even more horrified to find half sized. 😉 Good reminders overall. I’ve updated chest layers and long underwear a few times now without paying attention to a better hat or gloves. Time to remedy that, thanks for the story.

  4. “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.”

    “No Soup For You!”

  5. BTW your site totally killed that reply’s buzz by removing the awesomely funny (angle bracket)soupnazi(angle bracket) (angle bracket)/soupnazi(angle bracket) fake HTML from the quote.

  6. I’m working on the fishing in gloves bit, and I need a larger pair of wading boots for extreme cold, but until then I’ll stay as warm as I can with fleece-lined everything, a new beanie and late-December trips to Florida… It’s not late January in the Bahamas but its a start! By the way, neat shot of one of my local fisheries, that’s the best weather to fish in, keeps the people away for sure. And finally, love the new layout!

    • A.J.

      I new you would spot the location if you saw the post, ha. I own both pair of gloves I mentioned in the post. Each have their strengths. I’m running 14 wading boots these days for cold weather. There’s not point in layering up if you’ve got your feet crammed in tight into your wading boots. If you can’t move your toes freely, there’s a good chance they will freeze up on you. Hope all is well. How’s the fishing been by you lately?


  7. Pingback: Tippets: Advice from the Carp Pros, It Isn’t All Paradise, Cold Weather Tips | MidCurrent

  8. I have spent many hours in Alaska fishing estuaries for dolly varden and the trib flowing in was frozen. Peaceful and after several dollies and a couple sea run cuts it is nice to sit on a log and sip on some coffee, with baileys irish cream, and just contemplate the upcoming season that makes Alaska so great. Great tips but your article also brought back some great moments in my memory and I appreciate that. The power of the written word is a wonderful thing.

  9. I would also add….keep a spare warm set of clothing in your car. A friend of mine slipped and fell in the water while fishing last year on the Colorado river and was soaked to the bone. The extra set of clothing and a towel to dry off saved his butt.

  10. Great pointers in there! I’ve never thought of packing spicy foods while fishing before! That’ll sure heat you up!

    One thing I picked up while on the Ski team for my college was wearing thermacare pads on my neck and over my kidneys. While skiing in sub zero conditions it just about doesn’t matter how many layers you have, you’re still freezing your rocks off! I picked up the trick to put the shoulder pads under my base layer over my neck and then use another patch for over my kidneys. It’s kept me warm even in some of the coldest temperatures, even when using fewer layers to help mobility!

    • Richard,

      Holy Crap!!!!, I love this idea and I’m going to give it a try next time I’m out in the cold fly fishing. This is why I love our G&G community. I throw some tips out there, and you guys and gals send your own right back to us. Thank you for posting this. I hope others see it and give it a try. Thanks for following the blog and for the great tip.


  11. Using a utility knife, I slit my Kast steelhead gloves at the last joint of the thumbs and index fingers. I then used Aquaseal to seal the cut edges. This approach works fine for freeing fingertips and thumbs for knot tying. However, it’s not a perfect solution for two reasons. The tips don’t have Velcro attachments, so don’t fold back to stay out the way. Be prepared to use more tippet on your knots. Also, when taking the gloves off, if they’re wet from sweat or landing fish, take care to make certain that you don’t inadvertently pull the lining out of the thumbs or forefingers.

    I used to use neoprene Glacier Gloves (with the slit fingertips), but the Kast gloves are warmer.

    * * * * *

    One additional option you might experiment with is to wear latex gloves under your fishing gloves. I find that in above-freezing temps, my hands stay warmer when when I wear them. The sweat from my hands warms my fingers.

    Fishing in -10C (14F) air temps last week, latex gloves made my hands colder as the sweat began to freeze even inside my Kast and latex gloves . . . not a good outcome.


  12. Sorry Kent, but gonna’ disagree with tip #5 and I think you do us (your readers) a big disservice by recommending alcohol while outdoors in the cold.
    If you do the research you will find that booze slows your system which causes you to get colder quicker. a hot beverage such as tea or soup, although not as much fun, will serve you better.

  13. When using fingerless gloves, I learning from a friend to wear the thin nitrile gloves under them. This works particularly well in spring creeks on windy days. Since the nitrile gloves are so thin, you can easily tie flies on your tippet. Try it. You will be surprised.
    Dave B.

  14. A guy I fished with once told me to wear the little acrylic knit stretch glove liners under medical latex gloves and then put your fold back mittens or fingerless gloves on over those. This has worked great for me. You can pull the mitt or fingerless glove off while handling fish with the latex covered knit gloved hand, your skin stays dry as long as you don’t dip your hand too far into the water. I’ve even been able to tie tippet onto replacement flies with the latex on, except for size 20s and smaller. One con is puncturing the latex with a hook which then leads to water leaking into the glove liner, so have to be aware of that.

    Another thing to help hand warmth is put handwarmer packs between the mitt/fingerless glove and the latex glove, on the back of your hands or on the palms, both ways have worked for me.

    One further question I have is has anyone tried the Hot Hands “toe warmers”? Am wondering if those work inside wading boots under water since they need oxygen to produce heat, and whether they might get too hot?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

Captcha loading...