Fly-fishing Voices

Staying warm in the cold

Photo Credit: Don Oliver

Just because winter and cold weather are now upon us is no reason to stop fly fishing. It’s been my experience that great fishing can be had when the mercury in the thermometer heads south. However, to stay safe and warm while fly fishing in cold water and weather, one has to dress properly.

In order to stay warm, the first thing you should never do is put anything on made of cotton. Cotton, while comfortable, absorbs moisture and keeps it next to your body. The cold air and water will make that body-hugging moisture very cold, and even harder for you to get warm.

So, what’s the best way to dress for fly fishing in cold weather? Everything I’ve ever read about dressing for the cold says “dress in layers.” I can attest to the fact that is a true statement. It has helped keep me warm in some very nasty weather. So where to start?

Start with a t-shirt and a pair of long underwear that are made with some type of moisture-wicking synthetic fabric. Long underwear comes in various weights for differences in the temperature. Pick a weight that is appropriate for the conditions. Over the t-shirt wear a turtleneck shirt similar to what snow skiers wear.  Again, there are different weights of turtlenecks. I suggest you try on different materials to see what is most comfortable for you.

Once you’re comfortable with the base layer, the options for the next layer seem endless. I suggest you put some type of polar fleece over the turtle neck. Then, over that goes a wind blocking vest. The turtle neck, fleece, and vest should have zippers for ventilation. The options to keep your legs warm are also endless. If it’s not going to be freezing you can stay with just the long underwear under your waders. If it is freezing cold wear some type of polar fleece pant over the long handles. Again, there are many weights to choose from.

Keeping your feet warm is the most important part of fly fishing in cold water. If your feet aren’t happy, none of your body is happy. To keep your feet warm, do not put on multiple layers of socks, and do avoid cotton. Multiple pairs of socks will slow circulation down and bring on cold feet. Multi-layers of cotton socks will make it happen faster. I suggest you wear a pair of socks that are made with a combination of wool, nylon, and lycra.

Your head acts like a chimney. And, if like me, you have no hair on your head the heat vents out very fast. Don’t have the perfect layers on your body and forget about your head. I like to wear a baseball cap, then cover it with some type of stocking hat. Pure wool, even through a cap, is itchy. So, wear a stocking hat with a fleece lining in it, on top of the cap and over your ears.

The last area, your hands, can be very tricky. Since it takes exposed fingers to tie on a fly, use your forceps to remove a hook, or put your rod in the water to melt the ice off the guides, what’s one to do? There are many variations to winter fly gloves and mittens. Again, go to your favorite fly shop and try on several pairs. Once you have made a choice, buy two pairs. I guarantee, no matter which pair you choose they will get wet. Your hands will thank you for the dry pair in your pocket. Then pull on a pair of boot-footed waders. It’s my experience that boot-footed waders will keep your feet warmer than neoprene-foot waders.

Of course, the other way to stay warm when fly fishing in the winter is go the Bahamas.


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