Sunday, December 12, 2010

Early Winter Fishin' (and How to Be Comfortable Doing It)

I keep trying to get over to the Salmon River in Pulaski to fish for steelhead but plans just keep falling through. That's alright though, it has let me get out and do some fishing on a couple of rivers in Vermont that are still open. There are definitely a few great spots to fish in the winter in Vermont if you know the when and where. Unfortunately I am not going to tell you the where. Time to do your own research. I don't want to be labelled as one of those "fish and tell" guys. I can't think of anything worse than going to one of your favorite spots and having a ton of people there (or obvious signs that a lot of people have been fishing there) because someone has told everyone online exactly where to go and exactly what to do when you get there. There are definitely a few formerly great spots that have been systematically ruined by someone doing just that. But I digress.... on to winter fishin'!

I have been fly fishing in the winter months pretty much right from the time I first started fishing in college. I was very fortunate to have had  a river that was legal to fish in the winter within walking distance from where I lived. I took full advantage of that. And I caught my fair share of landlocked salmon and brown trout too. During that time I learned a thing or two about being warm and safe while fishing in the winter months. I have been amazed (and shocked) at some of the people I have fished with in cold conditions- a total lack of preparedness by people who should know better. Cotton kills folks. Plain and simple. Wet cotton holds less heat than air does. It wicks heat away from your body. If a guide puts on his waders with jeans underneath, you gotta wonder if he knows what he is doing....

Well here is my system that works out pretty well. I start with a good pair of synthetic underwear (coincidentally, I wear synthetic undies for fishing all year. So much more comfy and it eliminates chafe). I have pictures for most of the layers, but I spared you all the horror of viewing my underwear. Breathe a sigh of relief now. 
Base Layer
 The base layer is your key to comfort during a day of fishing. Good liner socks first. Lots of good ones out there- just make sure that they are a pair that will wick moisture away from your feet. That helps keep your toes toasty. Choose long underwear for your legs according to how mobile you wil be. If you plan on walking a lot then don't wear a super heavy pair of Merino woolies- lighter polypropyline will be much better. The reason for this is to eliminate sweat and over-heating. Sweat = wet which in turn = uncomfortable. Choose a good base layer for your top on the same principle. There are a lot of really good synthetic base layers out there right now and I don't think the brand matters. 
Second layer
 Next you want your main pair of socks. I wore some classic VT wool socks yesterday (seen on the left in the photo in red/grey/white). They worked out pretty well for me. The pair on the right, the olive drab colored ones are what I wear most of the time. They are kick ass socks that the military wears made out of Merino wool right here in Northfield, VT by Cabot Hosiery. I love their socks! If you haven't tried any Darn Tough socks, you really want to. I have a few pairs that are a couple of years old that look the same as the day I bought them. And I fish hard in them. Add to that a pair of fleece pants. I really like the ones with elastic cuffs at the bottom so they don't ride up when you pull on your waders. Then on top I wear a light or mid weight fleece shirt.
Top Layer
 To finish things off I put on a nice top layer. I have this totally sweet Ex Officio sweater that I wear all the time- it is really warm and cozy- that I put on as my final layer. I love their gear. I have quite a bit of it and totally recommend it. A bit pricey, but you get what you pay for! A wool sweater works very well too. Or a heavier weight fleece. I have been wearing a Buff around my neck when I fish and it really helps keep you a lot more comfortable in the winter time. Amazing how much heat you lose around your neck... plus you can pull it over your mouth and nose if your fishing buddy has the nasty farts... A good hat should top it off. Beth came home with this stupid looking camo baseball cap that she got at a yard sale this past summer. I laughed at it. The thing had these flaps that came down over your ears and it was lined. I laugh no more. That hat is da bomb! I look goofy (alright, more goofy than normal) but I stay warm. If your sweetheart has not found one of these at a yard sale, a winter hat over your ball cap works pretty darn well too. But wear a hat. Huge heat loss from the top of your head otherwise. 
Outer Shell
  The last line of defense against the cold is your outer shell. I have been winter fishing while wearing breathable waders for about 10 years now. So much more comfortable than neoprenes and without the nasty sweat factor. Every time I wore neoprenes I ended up feeling so clammy at the end of the day. Breathable waders = Bivalve Begone! (clams are bivalves, get it???  oh nevermind). Make sure you have good fitting boots too. Ones that fit your heaviest socks. If your boots are too tight your feet WILL get cold. If they are too loose, then you will slide around, have traction issues and maybe end up with blisters. Just get the right size wading boot and you will be all set. The last thing you are going to want is a good wading jacket. This will keep out the wind and the rain and the sleet and the freezing rain and the hail...... Seriously a good wading jacket is worth its weight in gold. If you get one with plenty of pockets you might even be able to eliminate wearing a vest or a pack. You don't need a lot of gear to fish in the winter so why bog yourself down?

Now that you are all properly layered up you can adjust during the day as the conditions call for. Yesterday I was overheating pretty quickly. It was in the 30's and I didn't need quite as much on. I took off my favorite sweater and I was good. It won't take long to figure out what you need to do to stay comfortable. Sometimes just zipping or unzipping your wading jacket will help a lot. Taking off your hat while you walk will help keep you from overheating. A good pair of fleece gloves is a really nice thing for your hands. Those little handwarmer packs are wonderful to defrost cold fingers too.

So how did I do on the water yesterday?  You will have to read the post tomorrow to find out!


  1. It's all about the layers in that kind of weather. Good write up and thanks for not showing us in your undies. =)

    The Average Joe Fisherman

  2. All good advice Drew. Nicely written although the bivalve thing was a little over the top ;^)