An angler could read and conform to all of the cold weather dressing advice in the previous 4 postings on the subject and be well prepared for ‘ole man winter’, yet there are a host of additional tips that can make winter fly fishing an even more enjoyable experience. Here are three solid bits of advice to heed:
- Invest in a separate set of wading gear – waders, boots and socks. The first extremities to get uncomfortable in cold weather are one’s feet as cold water pulls heat from the body 25 times faster than air. Fit is probably more important in winter as gear that’s on the small side will restrict circulation, especially in combination with wicking and insulation layers. It’s common for anglers to use more layers of socks, thinking that equates to warmer feet. Unfortunately, that build-up of layers can actually work against the desired outcome because with every layer, the feet get bound tighter resulting in poor circulation and cold feet. So it pays to buy separate winter wading gear that’s a size or two even bigger than normal to accommodate all the extra layers and to provide space for the heat the body produces. As with the body, feet need a wicking layer so purchase a few pair of polypropylene liner socks. Wear the liner sock to wick foot moisture – then wear a good merino wool sock over the liner sock for insulation. Another layer of neoprene socks can be worn over these layers for extra cold weather comfort, but remember, this added build-up will require a much larger wader size and boot.
- Fly fish with gloves and learn to like them. The 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. There are two types of gloves that can be used depending on how often fingertip dexterity is needed. If an angler won’t be changing flies or adjusting rigs much, such as in spey angling, a more traditional full coverage glove that is windproof and waterproof is best. If nymphing different depths and speeds of water, for example, where regular maintenance of the fly rig is needed, fingerless gloves are best. There are some on the market with mitten covers or even slit-fingered waterproof gloves. It helps when these gloves are wind-proof and waterproof. The slit-fingered type allow an angler to quickly pop out index and thumb finger to make rig adjustments without having to take off the glove completely. One can also use layering with gloves, where a polypropylene liner glove is worn under a fleece-lined waterproof glove or mitten. And finally, ALWAYS have a towel handy as well as a change of clothes. Sooner or later (and hopefully!) a fish will be brought to hand and hands will get wet, or much worse yet, a spill will occur. In either case, frostbite and potential hypothermia could result if one cannot dry hands or body before continuing to fish.
- Purchase a quality cold weather cap. In the warm parts of the year, hats are primarily all about sun protection and helping an angler see the water better. They often sport large bills or wide brims. Come fall and winter, the uses of a hat change. Sun is not so much an issue anymore but cold and wind and blowing sleet and snow can be a huge issue. Since the head loses heat faster than any other area of the body when exposed to the cold, a quality cold weather cap and good neck protection are very important in cold weather angling. There are a lot of cold weather hat options out there. Some anglers will wear a regular baseball style cap and cover it with a wool beanie as a start. This option is good for late fall and early winter when air temps drop into the 30’s to 40’s. Another option is the brimmed-type beanie. But as temperatures drop below freezing the game changes significantly. Neck and face protection become more of a concern. This can be achieved through use of a gaiter or balaclava. When dealing with wind, sleet/snow, and teens to single-digit temperatures, hats that incorporate the use of waterproof material such as a Goretex shell will help fight the wind and moisture, much like a softshell jacket will.