Upfront Notes

Upfront Notes

  • By: Greg Thomas
Greg Thomas

With more than 200 rainy days a year, plus battering Pacific winds and a cloud ceiling that rarely lifts higher than a person’s nose, Seattle, Washington serves as the ultimate test kitchen for cold-weather gear companies. This includes some—R.E.I., Outdoor Research, Ex Officio, Filson and Eddie Bauer—that are located just a few miles from the house I grew up in during the 1970s. Theoretically, if there was a place to be well outfitted for winter weather, western Washington was it.

But I remember playing fall soccer games wearing nothing more techy than a black plastic garbage bag under my uniform, with slits cut for arms and head. The rain came in sideways and stung my cheeks and thighs. It ran down the back of my neck. By the end of those games my teammates and I were soaked to the bone and shivering, ready to dump the water cooler on our coach, not to celebrate victory, but to get at least one of those adults back for putting us through such misery.

I had similar sensations when I took up winter fly-fishing. I fished the Skagit and Sauk for steelhead and Puget Sound for cutthroats, but a lack of quality gear, coupled with that Northwest weather, cut my fishing short. It was the rare day when I didn’t think, with teeth chattering, Just what in the world am I doing out here?

Today things are—fortunately—different, and even anglers who spend eight or 10 straight hours waist deep in water, with an additional bombardment often falling from the sky, can stay dry, even warm. Fly-fishing companies such as Simms, L.L. Bean, Patagonia, Cabela’s, William Joseph, Orvis, Ex Officio and Redington, among others, are turning out superior and affordable gear that gets the job done. It’s now more viable than ever to fish during winter, whether you’re casting for steelhead in the Northwest or Great Lakes, trout in the Rockies, stripers on the East Coast, or anything else that eats during the cold season.

I’m at my desk right now in Missoula, Montana, with a few inches of snow on the ground outside. A friend just told me that pods of rainbows, cutthroats and browns are sipping midges on the lower Bitterroot with nobody out there to get them. Given the bag of great cold-weather gear I have near the front door, I’d be lying to say, “It’s too cold to fish,” and doing so would put me in a class of anglers that doesn’t realize they are missing some of the best action of the year, minus the competition of summer. Plus, my friend would give me an earful that I don’t want to hear.

But that’s what I just did. I said, “No can do,” and he shouted, “Wimpster! Do you fish, or do you not fish?” Tomorrow—and I hope you follow my lead this winter—believe me, I fish.

—Greg Thomas