If it wasn’t for the fishing, you would be inside at dawn
HAVING an addiction to trout and an aversion to cold weather is cross to bear. If I was smarter, I’d found a place without a winter.
Make no bones about it I’m the biggest wuss in our crew when it come to winter conditions _ in Australia outlawed the sort of temperature we had this morning years ago. Now we do have snow in trout country Tasmania, but the Ozark winters (mild compared to our friends up north), are something else to your average Aussie.
Winter fishing here is awesome, and not just because we love streamer fishing, but there is something about fishing with snow on the banks and no one else in sight. If you are prepared, and have the right gear, it can be a lot of fun. And with mine, and Mississippi Johnson’s dislike of the cold we are very serious about our cold weather gear.
Just remember that the cold can take you down fast if it all goes wrong.
I’ve seen two cases of hypothermia in my time guiding: the first was a fly fisher who didn’t tell me his waders were actually a flow-thru model in 45 degree water and on a 80 degree day on Beaver Tailwater. The air temperature made the job of getting his body temperature back up much easier, once we got him dry and dressed. So lesson one: don’t wear leaky waders in the cold.
The second case was actually myself, on a 30 degree day on Norfork, with you guessed it leaky waders. I was using Simms awesome wader repair program to refurbish my first choice waders and when the trip came up I was caught short. My feet were cold when I finished the day on Norfork, but on the drive home I cranked the heater to the max through the floor vents. Bad idea, by the time I got to Mountain Home I was slurring and shaking hard, it took a while in a hot bath to get me back to normal. I really think that the fast evaporation from my waders via the heater was the trigger, so if you can get dry before driving home.
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THE HEAD AND NECK: Most of us were instructed since we were little ‘uns that a warm hat is a must on cold days, and we have a range of good beanies and other hats. But winters working on the water added another lesson _ protect the neck and throat as well.
I use the wool Buff for chilly days and running to and from the shop, but just about all of us swear by the Polar Reversible Buff series wit h a toasty warm full length of polar fleece for the neck and ears in a bunch of stylish colors. If you want a little more temperature control the Cyclone Buff and regular Polar Buff have either Windstopper or Polarfleece for half the length and regular Buff material the other half.
Buff have also introduced a killer “portable” hoody version plus a balaclava this season. Swing by and check out the range.
BUILDING LAYERS: Layering is a pretty commonly used term these days, dealing with the concept that 3 layers of clothing is warmer than two. Its all about trapping air, one of the best insulators around.
We are really liking the Redington Sonic Dry baselayer, one of the most underrated products in fly fishing. Light and warm for its thickness and cheaper than most. We have a great selection of Simms Guide Core and Guide Mid tops and pants for over layers, or add the thicker Coldweather Pant and Shirt.
For the top layer add a Kinetic Jacket or the ultimate ExStream Jacket and Pants, which will keep you warm even running hard upstream.
KEEP YOUR TOOLS IN WORKING SHAPE: Winter has always posed something of a dilemma _ I hate wearing gloves fishing but worse is having to stop fishing when your fingers seize up. And its more serious than just blowing a big fish because your fingers wont obey the mental commands to let go of the fly line _ I know of 2 or 3 fly fishers who ended up with frost bite on the Norfork.
I have tried them all: wool, neoprene and fleece, and for actually fishing I can’t go past the current model of Simms Exstream Fingerless Gloves _ and don’t forget the hand warmer packs. These gloves are a step up over previous models, slightly more bulky but way warmer _ slip a heater packs into to pocket over your wrist to keep the blood flowing to your finger tips nice and warm. The Windstopper also slashes dramatically evaporative cooling when you get them wet.
For rowing, running in the boat or a quick warm-up (snowball fight or similar) I carry a heavier insulating pair of full finger gloves. I also carry a spare pair of fingerless inside my waders _ keeping them toasty.
WATCH THE HEAT: One of the smartest tips I have ever read for staying warm was to not to fish in the same socks you wore to the river. It really works because if you are like me the heater normally is cranked wide open when you leave the house on those frosty mornings all geared up.
The blast furnace on your feed, and torso, will have you all sweaty by the time you get to the river, a certain recipe for getting cold quicker. Unless I’m leaving the house all wadered up, these days I have different footwear and socks to change into once I get to the shop/river.
If I’m wadered up then the answer is simple, keep the heater temperatures just warm enough to keep the ice off the windows. For similar reasons, if you are stripping streamers hard, or hiking into your fishing spot, shed layers before you get seriously sweaty and you will stay warmer.
BIBS JUST AREN’T FOR BASS: If you are used to the traditional look of waders, your eyebrows might have raised up at the very “pro bass” looking Simms Goretex Bibs introduced a couple of years back. But there is a good reason the bib have been jumped on by our guides like Chad, when you are working all day on a drift boat or an outboard.
The stocking foot of a regular wader keeps the wader pulling tight over your knees when you are sitting all day, compressing all that nice warm fleece you have underneath and taking away all the insulating properties across the knees and thighs. Bibs will ride up and down, allowing the fleece to work properly, and as long as you don’t forget you aren’t fully waterproof then they make a lot of sense for hardcore winter fishing.
Most of us are wearing calf or knee high insulated boots underneath to keep out footsies dry.
FUEL THE FIREBOX: My first seasons of winter guiding were exhausting _ till I figured out I wasn’t putting enough fuel in the system to stay warm, work the day and lug around all the extra fleece. A hearty breakfast is a good start _ I have a fondness for biscuits and gravy, or more healthily toast and marmalade, over my normal cereal and cold milk.
I have also followed Chad’s example in putting together a snack box under the drift boat seat _ protein (jerky & power bars), simple sugars (candy & dried fruits) & fats (sardines), ready for a quick raid. For drift boat drivers in particular rowing all day in big water will deplete your energy reserves, keep them topped up like Tour De France cyclists, by eating often.
Carrying a stove/jet boil like a lot of our guides do on cold days is another smart idea _ you will be amazed how good some fresh coffee or a simple hot feed of brats or chili, or hot sandwhiches will reinvigorate you for the afternoon.
- Pack a dry bag with a spare fleece top & bottom, socks, hat and a towel. You or a fellow river user will appreciate it if you take a dunking.
- When shopping make sure your fleece tops are long enough to stay tucked into your pants all day _ a gap over your kidneys when you move is no fun.
- I have added a portable propane heater for warming fingers during a bitter day.
- Don’t forget your sunglasses/sunscreen, even in the snow. The reflection of UV off the snow can cause snow blindness.
- Some facts on the symptoms and treatment of hypothermia.
- Watch for icing of boat ramps on days when its below 32 _ choose the flatter ramps and/or launch off the gravel.
- Drink plenty of water _ you will be amazed how dehydrated you can get on those cold dry days.
- go fishing.