Don't Let the Snow Blow You Away

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5 Tips for Staying Warm on the Water During Winter

There’s nothing worse than knowing that fish are rising to Baetis or midges, or whatever else might hatch during winter, and there’s nothing you can do about it. Why? Because you’re freezing your gluts right off, not to mention that your fingers don’t work, your feet feel like wood planks, and you can’t even speak because your lips are nearly frozen shut. So you sit in the truck, watch those fish, and wonder how that dude who’s out there railing them can stand the cold.

Want to be the dude railing them? Here are several tips on staying warm during winter, some conventional with specific clothing/gear suggestions, and some gleaned from years of being out on the water when most people are behind the tying desk or watching football.

Don’t Count on Neoprene. Instead, you might remain warmer by wearing a proper fitting pair of lightweight GoreTex waders, such as Simms’ Guide waders or G4 waders. Redington's Sonic Pro waders are another lightweight breathable option. If available you might want to get a pair of waders with boots built in as this helps alleviate the pressure that stocking foot waders and the required laced boots place on your feet. In addition, lightweight waders don’t fit as tight on the body as neoprene waders, which allows you to layer clothing underneath.

Layer Your Clothing. You’ll want to wear a lightweight or mid-weight pair of long underwear when fishing during winter and my choice—for the past 20 years—are Patagonia’s lightweight and mid-weight capilene underwear, tops and bottoms. In addition, wearing a light pair of liner socks, under a mid-weight pair of socks, say a pair of Smart Wool mid-weight Hikers, is the way to go. Over your long underwear go with a long-sleeve shirt, say Simms’ DownUnder Merino Zip Top, and a heavier pair of fleece pants. After that you’ll need a warm top and Patagonia’s Nano Puff Hoody is my go-to jacket. If that’s not warm enough you’ll need a wind-breaking wading jacket over it and there are many good options out there—Patagonia’s legendary SST; Simms’ G4 Pro; Redington’s Stratus II; William Joseph’s Squall; Orvis’ Pro Stretch; and L.L. Bean’s Big Water or PacLite Stowaway. Make sure you top off all of that with a good wool or fleece stocking hat. No nasty, knitted rasta top, ok

Heater In The Truck. This is far from scientific, but a friend once told me a trick. He said, “During winter I put on all of my fishing clothes and then I get back in the truck and crank the heater full blast. I sit there until I’m just on the verge of sweating, then I turn off the vehicle and fish. Doing this seems to keep me warmer a lot longer than getting cold while I’m putting on my gear and going straight to the water.”

I’ve tried this tactic and it works.

Drink and Eat. Cold air dehydrates the body so you’ll want to drink some quality liquid before you hit the water. Sports drinks and bottled water are fine. But there are some great, healthy energy drinks being made these days, some specifically for outdoorsmen, that treat our bodies far better. Want the best? Buy Hammer’s Heed Sports Drink. Feel the power.

Chill Out. Chill out? Isn’t the point to stay warm, you say? Well, yes. But, I mean take a chill pill on your way to the water. You don’t want to start sweating or you’ll have moisture next to your body. That moisture sucks heat away from your body as it attempts to evaporate. Just in case you do sweat, make sure you don’t wear cotton clothes, which absorb up to 60 percent of their weight. Instead, wear quality synthetics, which only absorb about 1 to 3 percent of their weight.

Bonus Bee. Ok, there are a couple other ways to stay warm, one which fools the body into thinking it’s warm, and one that costs a fair penny. So what are these tactics? One would be to drink coffee while your on the water. Another would be to run down a St. Bernard and take tap hits off its wooden keg. Easier would be to carry a flask and take a belt when the chill hits you hard. But that is the temporary fix—alcohol actually robs the body of heat, providing only that false and fleeting sense of warmth. Hey, if I’d been “The Man” in Jack London’s To Build A Fire I would have swilled it all because there would have been nothing to lose, but on the water it probably doesn’t make the greatest sense. The final option would be to book a trip to, say, Turneffe Flats Lodge in Belize or Belize River Lodge’s new Long Caye Island Resort. Mexico, New Zealand, South America, the Bahamas—those are all viable choices, too. Spend your time there, chasing bones, permit and baby tarps, and leave the snow and ice for the rest of us knuckleheads.