Chilling winter weather is almost here, but that doesn’t mean anglers should forgo their fishing expeditions. If you want to take greater advantage of the season’s several fly fishing opportunities, it’s crucial to be appropriately prepared and equipped to do so. You’ll want to invest in the right winter fly fishing gear to keep yourself safe and healthy while still getting a huge catch.
While many anglers often avoid winter fishing for several obvious reasons, such as frigid temperatures, iced-over lakes and rivers, finicky fish, and treacherous driving conditions, it’s often the perfect time for anglers who like to fish uncrowded waters and want to enjoy the challenges the season presents. To improve your cold season angling outcomes and experiences, we came up with 19 cold weather fly fishing gear every angler must have.
19 Must Have Winter Fly Fishing Gear
Even if things look warm and nice right now, you may soon be wrapping up your rods and gear and hiding them away in the basement while you wait for the seemingly endless period between Thanksgiving and spring thaw. But that doesn’t have to be the case. If you’re properly prepared, winter is a fine time to go fly fishing.
As you might guess, we don’t mean that you should head up to the high desert to go fly fishing. It simply means you should do whatever you need to do to be warm and comfortable during your winter fly fishing expeditions. After you hook up on a few fat rainbows, you will be able to enjoy a few hours of uncrowded fly fishing. With proper gear, you will quietly appreciate us for outlining the following cold weather angling essentials.
1. The Right Socks
It’s recommended that you use two different socks for fishing in the winter because when you remove one, another one will come in handy. If you use stocking foot waders, you’ll be wearing neoprene booties. Neoprene doesn’t breathe, and you’ll sweat a lot when you’re wearing them. While the rubber waders help you keep out the water, they don’t help you sweat away all the sweat you generate while you move.
Start with a pair of socks that are as thin and lightweight as possible. They should be made with 100% synthetic materials. These socks are made from a mixture of poly, nylon, or spandex. They do not insulate, but they help wick away sweat. Add another sock on top of the light wool one to help keep your feet warm.
Avoid wearing socks that make your hiking boots too tight. If your feet barely fit into your hiking boots, it will cause your feet to be very cold — as cold as if you weren’t wearing socks at all. If you often fish in the winter, consider buying a pair of winter wading boots larger than your regular boots. A pair of boot foot waders are also a good option for winter fishing.
If you are walking through snow or standing in a very cold stream, you’ll be happy that you wore a good pair of thermal socks. Just slip on a pair of boring cotton socks to help keep you warm, even if they were designed to be worn underneath waders. You’ll be out of the water in a matter of minutes.
Choose socks with a high percentage of wool and a bit of nylon or other synthetic fibers like lycra, spandex, or other wooly socks. You’ll be shocked at how well the socks hold up, how well they conform to your foot, how well they support your arches and legs and how they keep your feet warm.
Do not fall for the commonly held notion that wearing thick socks is better than thin ones. If you put on thicker thermal socks, it will make your boots feel uncomfortable. You will be restricting blood flow to your feet and toes, which could cause you to have a really uncomfortable, even risky, day on the water. There are a number of good brands of socks that will keep you warm, but our favorite thermal sock for cold season fly fishing is Simms Guide Thermal OTC.
2. Gloves and Hats
Nobody enjoys fishing while wearing gloves. Fishing with gloves helps you feel more comfortable, keep lines from going off when you cast, and help you be more confident in your casting. But during the winter, fishing gloves are mandatory. So, it’s important that you know the different types of gloves available.
It’s the only way you’ll be completely protected from the water. Using waterproof gloves is the only way to go. Neoprene gloves that are made to look like diving gloves are the perfect choice for fishing in cold water. The only downside of Neoprene gloves is that they don’t allow you to move around and are very cumbersome to use. It’s impossible to tie a fly on neoprene gloves while they’re on, so it makes sense to take them off when you’re re-rigging.
3. Fingerless, Fold-over Mittens
Fingerless mittens are best for comfortable, practical fishing and provide a little bit of warmth for the trip. When you need to tie a fly, just put your mitten over the fly and put it back in place. Look for mittens that have velcro or other mechanisms to keep the mitten from coming off your hands during the day. That way, it will stay secure during the day. If you choose not to wear mittens to stay warm and comfortable, you’ll be wrangling the fly line in your mittens all day long. Always have a spare pair of gloves in your pack when you need to be outside more than usual. If you start to feel very cold, it is only a matter of time before you decide to quit fishing.
Leave the baseball caps at home and go with something practical. You’ll need something that will give you good insulation, so look for a fleece-lined bill hat with fold-over ear flaps. You’ll be warm in a 100% wool skull cap or a wool beanie. If you want to keep the sun from getting in your eyes, pick a beanie with a visor. Be prepared to flip the beanie down and over your head to keep your ears warm.
4. Long Underwear
When considering what to wear when fishing in the winter, it can be hard to talk about some pretty straightforward things. So, we always recommend that you start the base layering with a great pair of long underwear. Carefully select what to put on under your waders in the winter when the temperatures are unreasonable.
Good underwear is the first thing you need to have to enjoy a successful day on the water. Stay away from cotton. It’s a bad idea. Cotton clothing is not warm enough and should be avoided in freezing weather.
One of the most effective long underwear choices is Patagonia’s Capilene line. It comes in different weights, including mid-weight and thermal. It comes in different weights, from light to very heavy. Depending on what kind of conditions you are planning to fish in, we suggest having a few pairs of different weights.
5. A Proper Sweater
Layering starts with a nice mesh or knit shirt made from a thin cloth that you can put over a sweater. If that doesn’t work for you, a good sweater will help you stay warm. It’s best to start with a thin knit turtleneck shirt and then layer it with a warm, cozy sweater. We always recommend the Spyder or Duluth Trading Company’s Alaskan Hardgear sweaters.
6. Fleece Or Nano-Fiber Pants
A great pair of cold-weather fly fishing pants won’t disappoint! If you wear them over long underwear, it feels like wearing a warm toasty treat. Even after wading in incredibly cold water for several hours, the temperature inside your waders will barely exceed 20 degrees all day. You probably won’t be fishing in those cold waters without a good pair of wool pants. We highly recommend investing in a pair of Simms Fjord Fleece Pants to help you stay nice and warm even on frigid days.
7. A Good Base Layer
Now that you’ve covered your lower extremities, it’s time to concentrate on your core. It might not feel very cool to wear a thing that looks like a mesh shirt to stay warm in the wilderness — until you actually see how well it works!
There are tons of outstanding options for core/torso layering, but try layering some cheap mesh shirts. They’re reasonably priced and very warm. If you start with an inexpensive mesh top and layer another good base layer or two on top of it, you’ll be well ahead of everyone else in your group in terms of being warm.
We don’t like the ratty-looking shirts available on the market today; they basically make you look like you’re wearing an extra layer of skin. It’s best to avoid the ones that all the top-ranked linebackers in the NFL wear. When you are planning to go fly fishing in the winter months, we suggest that you keep things loose. Being too snug restricts your blood flow and makes you more vulnerable to cold weather.
8. Neoprene Waders
Because neoprene waders have become so advanced, we don’t think it’s really necessary to have a pair of neoprene waders for cold weather fly fishing. But in some cases, neoprene waders are better than breathable waders. When it gets very cold out there, neoprene waders are likely to be a better option than breathable waders. And many fly fishers actually prefer them for cold water fishing.
Neoprene waders not only provide a warm layer to protect you in very cold environments, but they also provide a cheap alternative to more expensive breathable options. They’ll probably be as comfortable as a good pair of breathable waders for your winter trips.
9. Guide De-icer
If you let your line run through a bunch of small metal guides that are hard to see, they will start to ice up pretty quickly. When that happens, it could cause you to have trouble with your reel. Moreover, you’ll no longer get the line or the leader doing its job. Basically, you’ll be left with a bunch of annoying problems.
Fishing fly rods can be fairly trouble-free, so it’s a good idea to prevent problems from ever happening. You probably have a couple of faded sticks in your vest. It really is as easy as getting some sticky chapstick on your fingers and applying a thin layer of that to each guide on your rod. It will keep the guides from ice-forming on their own. Reapply it as often as you like to keep them from getting ice-ridden.
But there is another great product that is specially formulated for this task, called Stanley’s Ice-Off Paste. Although some anglers say that Pam works well, that big spray will not fit most of your clothes or fishing backpack.
10. Instant Warmers
Warming packets that heat up instantly are safe, long-lasting, and disposable. You can buy these individually or in packs at most sporting goods stores; we prefer Amazon online shop because they have all kinds of high-tech warming gear and clothing.
Put a few of these packets in your pockets or your vest and use them to heat up any part of your body that might need it. Take extra care because these heating packets will become really hot after a while. It is best not to use any of these packets on skin that is very sensitive. Follow the directions that are on the label.
11. Small Nymphs & Egg Patterns
Although many hatches take place throughout the year, fishing for small nymphs in the cold water favors small nymph rigs, small weights, invisible fluorocarbon leaders and tippets, and subtle strike indicators. Fish are cold-blooded and become more lazy and selective when the weather gets colder. And, since river waters stay thin and clear throughout the winter, fish can easily be scared off. Small nymph rigs, and gentle casts, will give you the best chance of landing a fish. Don’t go fishing with big fuzzy flies you’ve got in your bag; instead, go tiny. Bring a couple of small imitation bugs to put in your nymphs if they aren’t working.
12. Fresh Leaders & Tippet
When it comes to leaders and tippets, consider purchasing a few new leaders and a tippet spool or two before your next winter weather outing. You are losing precious time because the older leaders and tipsters get, the more likely it is to become brittle. Add a little cold and some icy surface areas, and an old leader or a broken tippet can cause the first bite of a trout when it takes your fly.
13. Thin Down Jacket Or Parka
Just like nano puff pants, modern jackets and parka technology make it easy to insulate your torso well without making you look awkward. While nobody wants to relive the unpleasant feeling of wearing a bulky parka over your Halloween costume, it is especially desirable when swimming, casting, or netting fish. If you shop around and find some good options from reputable outdoor gear manufacturers and at a range of prices, look for thinner, down jackets and parkas with stretch technology.
14. Fingerless Or Half-Finger Gloves
If you want to keep your hands warm while still being able to tie knots in angel-hair tips and remove small fly hooks from fish mouths, half-finger or no-gloves are a must. Even though it can be awkward to hold a fly rod in your hand while it is cold, a good pair of fingerless gloves can make all the difference between a memorable fishing day and one that ends in a miserable dance with painful frostbite.
Wool half-finger gloves, which are very cheap, are a great option. Wool is known for its warmth and moisture-wicking properties, which means that wool gloves keep my hands warm and dry on many cold and wet days. The world of fly fishing is filled with amazing and fascinating things, and gloves that provide a mitten cap you can pull over your fingers to give you even more warmth or greater dexterity are just as useful.
15. Head Sock and Wool Hat
If you want to keep your feet warm, put on a hat. And since many gents lack natural protection on their heads, they usually lose almost all of their body heat through their exposed crania. It seems obvious that when going for a trip to the mountains in the winter, you should consider wearing a warm head covering. However, we see many exposed noggins out there, indicating that this doesn’t always hold true. However, we do recommend wearing a warm hat. In the winter, put on a nice hat that will allow you to keep warm, and then, if it gets really cold, put on a nice sock to keep warm.
16. Seine Net
Get a Quick-SeinesTM, which you attach to your fishing net handle to use quickly and easily, even when it’s freezing. The ability to quickly survey a particular area of water to see the types of critters that are hiding there is tremendously advantageous. It can make any day that was slow into something memorable. It’s particularly useful when it’s really cold out or when the water is freezing. Some people find the price of these rings a bit high at $30, but once you start using them, you’ll realize that it’s a great deal at nearly twice that price.
17. Hair Dryer With Car Socket Adapter
Even if your feet are properly insulated, the water in your shoes can still completely freeze. Instead of running hot water over them to melt the ice away, a hot blow dryer with an adapter for a car can solve this problem much faster. It’s great to hand-warm up, defrost a windshield quickly, and even make plans when it rains.
Even if you do your best to be prepared for a cold day of fly fishing, the frigid temperature will eventually win out. If you start your day with a hot streak, your body will tell you when it’s time to get out of the water and stay warm. At that particular moment — and there will be many more — having a big bowl of hot chicken soup and a nice glass of wine or other hot beverage with it is heaven-sent.
Because of the amazing innovations in thermos technology, you don’t need that old one your dad used to take to the football game. You only need a small plastic cup that holds two cups and looks like a giant Styrofoam container. You can find great thermos virtually anywhere. There are literally hundreds of thermoses available — from the very popular Yeti Thermos to Hydroflask — that come in various sizes, colors, and styles.
We like those big thermoses, sometimes referred to as growlers or tumblers, because they hold enough hot liquid for several hours. You can also find plenty of plastic dishes available that will help you keep warm food in the winter, like hot soups, chilis, gruels, or porridge. Take two big thermoses filled with hot soup or stew and another small thermos filled with coffee, hot chocolate, or other piping hot beverage you enjoy.
19. Jet Flame Lighter
A jet flame lighter works perfectly and may be a necessary survival tool. As shown in the movie Castaway, you shouldn’t go into any kind of remote location without it. Jet flame lighters come in all kinds of different types, styles, powers, and prices. They also make stormproof lighters like Survival Frog lighters. In a survival emergency, this lighter could be your most important purchase.
Expert Tips for Staying Warm When Fly Fishing in Winter
Fishing in the winter months is truly enjoyable and rewarding. Most of the time, you’ll have all the water for yourself, and if you decide to fish all day, it can be extremely productive and rewarding. Being prepared for a great arctic fishing experience is arguably the most important part of winter fishing. If you don’t layer your clothes and dress appropriately, fly fishing during the winter months is simply futile.
It is important to stay comfortable and warm while fly fishing in the winter. Be sure to have the right gear to keep you warm and dry even if the weather conditions warrant that you head to the truck for a warm-up. You’ll want to get as many fish as possible to satisfy your obsession with fishing. So, don’t allow the weather to stop you from fishing the rivers. This mentality can make you stand in some of the coldest water you can imagine, swinging your humble fly and making some noise.
You must know how to use your gear properly and how to use it correctly. It’s all about layering because a good system will help you keep warm by allowing you to retain as much of your body heat as possible. Always go with wool or synthetic clothes. Avoid cotton because it will basically be useless once it gets wet. Cheaper merino and poly base layers and warm-up layers are better than your average long johns, but if you talk to anyone who has made the switch, they’ll tell you it’s worth it.
A nice warm vest and a warm sweater are your friends when it comes to cold weather fly fishing, but on the coldest days, it really can make a huge difference. If you give your body plenty of room to breathe, your body will warm up. If your boots are too tight, you’ll cut off your blood flow and heat flow through your waders. You want to move around in your gear freely but not sloppily.
Even though it’s likely that your hands, feet, and head are all that you need to stay warm, having a good hat and gloves will help you stay warm. You’ll need a good sock game if you want to fish all day. Try a body warmer that uses artificial heat, as it can make you feel warm. You’ve experienced the comfort of putting a warm hand warmer in your glove.
Additionally, bring some warm liquid to sip during your fly fishing expedition. If you’re trying to stay warm, take a thermos full of hot coffee or cocoa, or take some comfort food like hot chicken soup. Start warming up as quickly as possible. It takes more energy to generate body heat than to retain it. Always prepare before you go out to fish and start heating up your house or vehicle with a good heater on.
Avoid Cotton Like Plague!
Cotton is very water-loving and absorbs water very quickly. It absorbs water and will soon lose almost all its insulation value. This might be bad news when fly fishing in winter, as it means that once the cotton layer is dampened from a leaky wader or sweat, your body will work harder to keep warm.
Avoid using cotton socks, sweat pants, or even cotton undershirts. All you want is your body to breathe easily from the bottom of your shoes to your head. Breathable waders allow you to quickly remove water that your body has accumulated, but once you have dried them, a lot of moisture will stick around. Breathable waders help evaporate the water that forms from condensation. Cotton clothes will become condensation pools, making you cold and damp.
Cover Your Body and Legs
Follow the same steps you’d use when layering your socks. Stay away from cotton material. Layer first with a comfortable, lightweight, breathable base layer made from a blend of wool/synthetic fibers. Layering fleece on top of a thin base layer is your best option for great insulating material. Use long pants that are made from fleece to protect your legs and a warm top to protect your upper body.
On top of your thick fleece-lined top layer, you may need to add another layer of insulation to protect you from the cold. Wearing a wind-stopping jacket when the wind blows can help you stay warm.
Proper Layering for Winter Fly Fishing
The idea of layering is a critical concept to grasp and practice when winter fly fishing. You hear it repeated all the time when you are doing any cold-weather activity, but what’s the big deal with layering?
By layering, you are blocking your body from losing heat, but when it is really important, you are moving humidity. You want to move the moisture you sweat away from your skin more efficiently. Because water is a good conductor of heat, it cools you down much faster than if you had dry skin.
At a minimum, have at least three layers under your skin that will protect you from the icy conditions that can occur while you are fly fishing in cold weather:
- Base layer
- Insulating mid-layer
- Protective exterior layer
Base layers can be made from different materials, but for simplicity, we’ll define them as the material from which your clothes are made. That means whatever you are wearing that is touching your skin. Some of the most efficient base layers not only provide you with good insulation but also actively wick away any moisture that might be on your skin. Even though you may be very cold, you will sweat during the day. It’s the job of the base layer to move that sweat away from the skin as quickly as possible so that the outer layers can absorb it.
Trapping Body Heat with Insulating Mid Layer
After the base layer, comes the mid layer, which keeps you warm. You have a ton of options when it comes to mid-layers for fly fishing. Redington, Simms, and Patagonia all make great options. Stay with either the same type of jacket and pants you’re used to wearing, or add a puffy jacket and pants to the mix.
You can even go old school and wear a woolen sweater under your rain shell. Actually, you’ll earn extra style points if you do that. You can really dress up your outfit by wearing a full-length wool sweater underneath your rain shell.
The Outer Shell for Winter Fly Fishing
Being waterproof and breathable are important to keep you warm. It will probably happen that rain, sleet, or even snow will fall from the sky at some point during the day. Wind may blow at least part of the time, causing the water to feel colder than it actually is. If you are in your waders, you are protected from the elements from the bottom up. But if you are in your boots, you will be cold on your skin.
Tips for Choosing a Merino Wool Base Layer
You can’t go wrong with merino wool, and if you’re fishing in a very cold environment, we highly recommend using this natural wonder material. If you’re shopping for a merino wool base layer top, remember that wool comes in all kinds of different weights. The weight of a merino wool base layer is equivalent to its thickness.
Merino wool weights are often described in grams per meter squared (g/m). Therefore, a merino garment weighing 300 g/m means that one square meter of fabric weighs 300 grams. A higher number means a thicker, warmer fabric.
Sometimes when it gets really cold, you think it’s best to wear the thickest merino wool layer that you can find. But that might be a mistake. In cold conditions, it’s best to keep your base layer as light as possible. The lighter the base layer, the more quickly it will dry. Because it is extremely important to keep warm by effectively wicking away water from your skin, staying light in your clothing will be more beneficial in the long run.
If you’re going to fly fish in any kind of cold weather, a mid-weight merino wool base layer is best. Wool tops and bottoms that weigh between 120g and 200g are a great place to start. If it gets really cold and you need to layer on something warmer, you can easily add another layer to your outfit. This could be the same weight as your current base layer or something slightly heavier. We recommend adding a layer of insulation to your base layer, but as you’ll see, that layer is just a guideline.
Winter fly fishing can be warm, dry, and enjoyable, or freezing cold, wet and miserable. If you’re serious about fly fishing, you should be prepared to fish during winter. It’s a great time to fish waters that would normally be very crowded, but the bite is fantastic all winter long. Hopefully, this list of must-have winter fly fishing gear will make your next fishing expedition fruitful and enjoyable.