Fly Fishing in the Winter – Getting in the Routine

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Fly fishing in the winter poses difficulties, but also plenty of positives. Photo Louis Cahill

I’ll be the first to admit, that the first few cold fronts of the year negatively effect my angling morale.

Those initial cold fronts are always a sobering reminder that winter is quickly approaching, and the warm days of the summer and fall are long gone. Yes, this is the time of year that I find it harder to get out of bed in the morning. My snooze button gets quite a bit more love from my index finger, and I’m forced to brew my coffee extra stout. As I loosen up in the shower, with my morning stretches, and warm water hitting my back (as us old folks are plenty familiar with), I think about my next objective of the day, which will be to de-thaw my frozen waders and boots. I left them laying in the back of my truck, and yes, I know, I should have brought them inside. I respectfully ask you all to turn your cheek because it always takes me a few weeks before I wise up to the cold season. That’s why, if you peak into the window of my truck this time of year, you’ll probably find me driving around with my waders and boots on the floorboard of my truck, with my heater set to high, and blasting on my feet.

As I drive the curvy mountain roads into town, in total darkness, dodging patches of black ice and the occasional suicide deer, I’m accompanied by the jamming tunes of Rob Zombie. I find his music to be excellent for getting me pumped up to catch big trout and  overcome freezing temperatures. And it’s about this time of my day, that I finally forget about all the negatives that fly fishing brings during the winter, and I start focusing on all the positives. I remind myself that I’ve got one of the greatest jobs on the planet. I think about how nice it’s going to be, for a change, to actually float a river with some solitude with my clients. Most of all, I think about all of the big trout that have started to drop their guard because of the sharp decline in angling pressure and their need to fatten up for the winter. My last leg of the trip into town, moments before I meet my clients, I find myself wearing a grin from ear to ear and I relish the warm fuzzy feelings in my chest, that comes to me every time I’m about to hit the water for all the right reasons.

It’s going to be a good winter……

Keep it Reel,

Come fish with us in the Bahamas!

Kent Klewein
Gink & Gasoline
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24 thoughts on “Fly Fishing in the Winter – Getting in the Routine

  1. Winter is normally tying season for me, restocking all the streamers that I’ve lost or given away, but this year is different. I’ve made it a goal to get out hunting for trout in the cold this year, something I’ve never really done.

    Kent, do you normally downsize your patterns for the winter or throw the big stuff?

    • Chris,

      I let the day and the fish tell me what I need to do with pattern choice. I’ve caught plenty of trophy fish in the winter on streamers and big nymphs. But some days, the fish will prefer smaller patterns and you have to be willing to listen to them if you want to have a productive day.


  2. I reminded myself yesterday by finding that one magic rock that sent me into a face first baptisim before I even made the first drift. Fished with cold arms in the 30’s. When I got out and headed back to the truck, I noticed that ice was forming on my waders. All signs of things to come, and to start slowing down a little. Winters coming………

  3. Yesterday was the first truly cold day on the water for me. The high temperature here (Finger Lakes Region NY) was 24. And there was plenty of wind.

    Took a great deal of stalling before I finally headed out for an hour or two. Most of that time I spent scouting, wondering where the fish were. Eventually, I put on my waders, strung up a 7wt and made some casts to likely holding spots.

    By the second cast the guides were icing up. On the fourth I could feel the ice on the line. And by the sixth I was cleaning the guides.

    No strikes, no follows, no fish. But I did get out, and the next time will be easier.

  4. An appropriate post after this cold front just rolled in! My friends and relatives tend to think I’m insane for wanting to fish in below freezing weather, but it’s part of the addiction, and the love I have for the sport. Believe me, I do my fair share of grunting and groaning when I step out of my jeep into twenty degree weather and slide into those cold waders and boots. However, as soon as I step into the water and toss my first few casts, the cold is nothing but an afterthought. A flask doesn’t hurt either 😉

    • Justin,

      The flask is a super important piece of gear during the winter. Survivalists will tell you its not a good idea to drink alcohol, but I find it keeps morale up and it warms everything up by ten to 15 degrees 🙂

      Hope you won that tourney the other day.


  5. Rob Zombie is an important element for me also. Intense and relaxing at the same time. Energizing. I definitely feel that it works better than caffeine…to get me going. I have a “White Zombie” sticker on the back window of my FJ Bruiser opposite my Gink & Gasoline sticker. Intense and relaxing at the same time.

  6. how do you get a g n’ g sticker?

    and rob zombie to get pumped for a drift boat? try negotiating ice shelves out 10′ from the bank – as you wade in fast current – dropoff coming up and no easy way to get to shore. i love winter fishing… while listening to living dead girl….

    • Hit the “GINK STUFF” swag…get yourself Christmas Presents.

      Playing Zombie before swinging winter meat is kind of like getting ready to surf in “Apocalypse Now”…attitude adjustment.

  7. Michigan winter steelhead fishing for me means applying about 20 of those disposable hand warmers all over my body. It’s kind of tough walking with a couple of those in each of my boots, but I seem to survive. I love winter!!! 🙂

  8. One question for everyone –

    What are your go-to winter gloves?

    For years I have been using Glacier Gloves (neoprene, full and half fingers). Overall, the gloves are ok, but not perfect. The half fingers tend to keep my hands warm down into the mid 30’s, provided there is no wind. The full fingers are ok below that, into the teens.

    Both can get wet, and although they warm up quickly, it can still be numbing for a bit. I have used nitrile liners to help with that, but they are not a perfect solution. Additionally, with the full finger gloves, I need to remove them to change flies, re-tie tipet.

    Looking at stepping up into the Kast/Patagonia range. At $80.00 though, I would like to see if people think they are worth it.


    That said,

    • If you want 100% waterproof and maximum warmth the Kast glove is hard to beat. You’ll have to take them off to rig but you don’t re-rig every cast. Great rowers gloves and awesome to release fish without getting your hands wet. If I know I will be having to re-rig a lot, example guiding I often go with a glacier glove with slotted fingers.


  9. I have a nice location to do some winter fishing in North Idaho but I tend to be a top water snob as my buddy likes to say. That being said I would love to spend some time with my fishing rod and the river. Do fish change locations as it gets colder or are they just deeper? I appreciate any feedback as its a long time until spring and I am missing fishing already.

  10. I went out this past Friday by myself. I caught my second biggest Rainbow here in the Hills, 20″. Yes, it was butt cold. Yes, my line had ice on it. Yes, fishing was tough. I learned the fish are more spooky when you are silhouetted against the snow. But, once I set the hook on this guy, it makes it ALL worth it. I made it my mission to start fishing year-round. Just like any other thing, you have to put the time in, and the hard work will pay off!

  11. I’ve been able to conquer the elements in the cold weather here in CO except for the feet. I’ve tried the warmers, wool socks, poly liners, boot fit waders etc….and my toes still say f$ck you…lets get back to the jeep!! Any suggestions???

    • Paul,

      There is not a great way that I know of to avoid cold feet in the water during winter. My first suggestion would be to make sure you are not lacing up your boots to tight. Tight laces can cut off circulation, which cuts out heat. Wool socks are your best bet. You might even consider heated socks. What I wear is Darn Tough wool socks, Dakine thermal underwear, fleece sweatpants, then my waders. If my feet are to cold, I will throw on a pair of liner socks. Hope this helps!

      • Paul,

        All great tips here. I’d add to get a one or two sizes larger wading boots for the winter if you can afford to spend the money. It does wonders for circulation and providing the room for thick wool socks.


    • I fish for steelhead thru the winter in upstate NY and use neoprene boot foot waders with 1200 gram insulate boots. They’re the hybrid style from Caddis Wading Systems but I would guess any neoprene wader would do … neoprene is far warmer than breathables. As someone already mentioned, get a size larger so the boots are not tight at all. Tradeoff is warmer feet but bootless don’t have as good ankle support. Be sure to get the studs too. I still use smart wool liners and alpaca socks over those. For gloves, I use wool fingerless gloves with fold over mitts. And use fingerless “sun gloves” under those with chemical heaters (on back of hand between sunglove and mitt as Jeff on another post suggested) mostly when temps below freezing. Bomber hats with fur lining are great too. Yup lots of gear but I’d rather be warm and able to fish at the same time. Good luck out there.

  12. The best time of year to fish. A lot less stream traffic and believe it or not the fish still need to eat. Not sure what some folks believe fish do in the winter months.

  13. I fish all winter on the Salmon River in upstate NY for steelhead. I’m closing in on 76 yrs old, so circulation isn’t what it used to be. For keeping my feet warm, I use a size larger boot foot wader, 1600 grams of insulation, 5 mm neoprene. Cabela’s makes them. Two pairs of heavy wool socks completes the system. They’re great. I rarely get cold feet. Two pairs of wool fingerless gloves with hand warmers sandwiched between the two gloves keeps my fingers pretty snug, although I do get cold hands occasionally. A few minutes break on shore with my hands tucked inside my coat and I’m back in the water again, good for another half-hour or so. The best warmer upper? Hooking into a screaming 12-14 lb. Steelhead. Amazing how the cold goes away, and the sore back stops hurting, when you’re hooked up with one of those beasts.

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