Ask FR&R

Ask FR&R

  • By: Buzz Bryson

Q: Invariably, I seem to get cold feet when fishing for trout. Is there some trick to keeping your feet warm while “standing in the stream, waving a stick?”

AS ONE WHO DOES GET COLD FEET (and hands and ears), I share your pain. While there’s no single trick to staying warm, there are some commonsense steps to keeping your feet comfy. First, realize to stay warm, you’ll need to stay dry. You can’t stay warm if you’re wet. Yeah, I’m repeating myself, but the point is that important. So forget the moisture-holding cotton! Synthetics rule—from the feet to the top of your noggin.

Second, plan on several layers on your lower half, just as you would on your top half. You’ll probably want at least two pairs of socks, a thin or mid-weight wicking pair, and a thicker, insulating pair. Most important, you don’t want socks so thick that your feet are too tight inside the boots. That doesn’t mean wearing thinner socks; it means getting larger wading boots—one or perhaps two sizes larger. You want to be able to wiggle your toes. The idea is to neither compress the socks, defeating the insulation capacity of the loft/thickness, nor to squeeze your feet, impeding circulation.

Treat the legs and lower torso the same as your feet. The first layer has to wick moisture away from your body. Whether you opt for thick or thin on that first layer isn’t as important as ensuring it’s a hydrophobic, synthetic material.

The colder it is, the more likely you’ll want that first layer to be “expedition weight” (the thick stuff) as opposed to simply a thin, wicking weight of poly. The next layer is definitely for insulation, and again should be poly material. Forget the jeans!

Waders are next. When it’s only moderately cold, your breatheable waders will be okay, as long as you have sufficient insulation underneath. For extreme cold, neoprene is best, and go with the thicker weight (5mm, typically). Consider boot-foot waders instead of  stocking-foot waders and wading boots, particularly if you’re looking to buy cold-weather waders anyway. Just make sure the feet are large enough to allow you to wear extra socks and still have sufficient wiggle room.

Realize you’re dressing your lower half to fit the temperature of the water, and not the air. Even if you have an unseasonably warm spring day, the water is still very cold, and that cold water will suck the heat right out of your body unless you insulate yourself sufficiently.

Keep your top half warm, too. Use the same layering, and consider topping off with a wind-resistant breatheable parka. Add an insulated cap, and don’t forget gloves or mittens. If you have cold hands, you’ll simply not fish well. I like thick fleece mittens that incorporate a vapor- barrier liner. The pair I’m currently using are from Simms, and incorporate a flip-back fingertip section, so they function as either fully covering mittens or as fingerless gloves.

Also, remember that while fishing, you’ll remain largely inactive for long periods of time. The amount of clothing needed to keep you warm while hiking to your fishing spot is not going to be adequate to keep you warm during prolonged periods of inactivity. You might want to pack in an extra layer of insulated lowers (and uppers) so you won’t be sweating too much during the walk in.

Knowing that the water saps your body heat, consider options. If you can fish your chosen spot equally well by standing in shallower water, there’s that much less of your body that’s submerged in the heat-robbing cold water. And however silly it might look, some activity every half hour or so can generate some body heat. Push-ups, sit-ups and jumping jacks might be a bit excessive, but a brisk walk up and down the stream might “stoke up the furnace” and generate enough heat to thaw your body and keep it warm for the next half hour or hour of fishing.

Consider carrying chemical heat packs. When all else fails, these little things are life-savers (ultimately, perhaps in the literal sense). Being able to shove your hands into your jacket and wrap them around some real heat can re-energize you for fishing.

I’d further suggest that you fish with a buddy. We sometimes let our desire to catch fish outweigh common sense. Fishing in extreme cold can literally be life-threatening, even life-ending. Don’t put yourself in that position.

Send your questions for Professor Buzz Bryson to [email protected]