Winter is my favorite time to go fishing. The scenery is beautiful, the fish can be found with a little effort and there’s no such thing as crowded water at this time of year. If you’re willing to incorporate just a small amount of extra preparation, your options are plentiful. This post will discuss my winter fishing gear – a kit I used just a few days ago in late January on a nameless creek in Dauphin County, PA.
Cold weather really doesn’t bother me much with my style of fishing. I like to move a lot on a stream, hopping from spot to spot, so my hiking, wading and clothing keep me warm enough. I’ll go fly fishing in temperatures as low as the high 20’s. The lowest air temperature I ever fished in was 8-degrees but it didn’t last long because my line quickly picked up ice the way candle dipping adds wax. A friend of mine will fish in his boat as long as there’s open water, but sitting still (even with insulated coveralls) wears me out quickly. Of course, if there’s an active bite I don’t notice any cold temperatures at all!
My extra cold weather gear doesn’t take up much more room than my regular season gear, but a few things are absolutely essential.
My winter waders are Simms Freestone bibs and I couple them with Korkers Wraptr wading boots. Every pair of waders I’ve ever owned have been stocking foot waders as I prefer the support and flexibility of separate wading boots. I’ll wear the full-bib style because it traps extra warmth and gives me space to stuff my jacket. If my hands get really cold I can also stuff them inside the bibs for a few minutes until I can use them again.
I love Korkers wading boots because of their unique sole-switching ability. This is the only boot on the market that allows you to change from rubber to felt soles in seconds. Each sole snaps into the boot quickly, giving you more options while on the water. I like to hike in & out with the rubber soles and, if conditions demand it, switch to felt for wading on rocks and boulders. Falling in the water with waders on is never fun but you definitely want sure footing in the winter. Korkers even has barred and studded soles. The Wraptr is a discontinued model and they were very stiff when I first used them. After a few trips on the water they’ve broken in quite nicely but even their entry-level Redside & Greenback models are great boots.
The best advice I can give for winter fishing is “make sure your clothing is layered.” I fish in some remote areas that require a bit of hiking. I sweat easily so layers are essential. Before I start to sweat I take layers off. Before I get cold I add layers of clothing. If you are out in exceptionally cold weather and get wet, you will be (best case) miserable.
My most recent fishing trip saw temperatures in the 40s, so all I needed were some basic wool socks, sweatpants, long sleeve shirt and t-shirt. I topped it off with a Simms Kinetic jacket. If it had been raining or snowing I’d add a wading jacket as a waterproof shell.
I always wear a hat when I fish – to keep the sun out of my eyes and keep warmth in. This particular hat is my lucky hat as it’s been with me since 2001. If conditions call for it I’ll wear a fur-lined trappers hat. Yes I look stupid in a trappers hat but it keeps me warm.
I don’t need to say it, but the use of your fingers is critical when fishing. If your fingers are cold you can’t tie knots, can’t manage your line and can’t change flies. I haven’t found the “perfect glove” yet but the closest thing to it is the traditional wool half-finger glove. Wool’s best feature is that it will still keep you warm when it gets wet. It’s worst feature is that barbed hooks stick will stick in them like crazy glue. I’d love to find an open-pile fleece option. Anyone have suggestions?
You don’t need fancy name-brand clothing or gear. Those sweatpants were bought at Walmart for $8 and that long sleeve shirt is at least 10 years old. Develop a good layering system and you’ll be set. I’d recommend avoiding cotton as it stays wet longer than synthetic fibers.
You may have wondered where I stuff all my extra layers when I take them off. The Umpqua sling pack I have handles all my gear quite nicely. I use a Fishpond Wasatch vest in the spring and early summer but it doesn’t have quite as much storage as I’d like for winter excursions. Oddly enough, the Wasatch holds heat better and I switch to the Umpqua pack for summer fishing! Tippet wise I carry 2x – 7x but rarely use anything other than 4x & 5x. I’m a creature of habit.
Most of my winter fishing sees me using a Czech nymphing rod with a Lamson Liquid reel. This past week, however, I was dead drifting wooly buggers on a tiny stream so I used my 6-piece Cabelas Stowaway 3-wt rod which is 7’6″. The reel on that rod is an antique Pflueger Medalist 1492. I prefer a left hand retrieve so I need to replace the 1492 with its opposite-hand brother.
The one piece of equipment I have that I’d consider high-end are my sunglasses. They’re Costa Del Mar polarized shades with glass lenses. I hate them. Previously I used sub-$20 plastic polarized glasses but read great things about these Costas. The glass lenses don’t scratch but they are heavy. I thought the weight difference between glass and plastic lenses couldn’t possibly be an issue but I was wrong. I also chose the wrong tint. I think mine are tinted “copper”. Anything outside of direct afternoon sun on open water is not a good match for these glasses. I spent a few hundred dollars on these glasses so I wear them for that reason. My recommendation to you – buy cheap polarized sunglasses!
My thermometer is with me all the time and in winter I use it to see just how cold the water is. Finding a pocket of water that is just 2 degrees warmer could put you on fish.
The rest of my basic gear is shown above. Tippet rings are especially useful with my Euro rigs and a range of strike indicators can also be found in my pocket. My favorite strike indicator, even in the dead of winter, is a #12 Elk Hair Caddis. I’m always amazed at the number of fish that will hit such a large dry fly even when the conditions are “wrong”.
To keep my Elk Hair Caddis riding high, I use Loon’s Aquel Floatant and I will also coat my rod guides with Stanley’s Ice Off Paste. The only product I’ve ever used on rod guides that works better than Ice off Paste was the time I tried a commercial deicer that is applied to the leading edge of airplanes that are flying into known icing conditions. That airplane deicer costs a few hundred dollars per quart, so I’m happy using Ice Off Paste.
Finally, the last bit of gear I stuff into my winter kit is a bottle of water. I often carry a thermos full of hot tea or coffee but I always have a backup bottle of water. Yeah, I’m fishing in a plentiful supply of water but if a pseudo emergency hits and I get stranded, I’d rather not risk diarrhea on top of other possible problems! A fresh bottle of water should be in every year-round pile of fishing gear.
Those are my thoughts on winter fishing gear. This is what works for me and your mileage may vary. I’d love to hear what works and what doesn’t work for you!