When the snow starts falling, many anglers pack up their gear and wait out the cold months, anticipating the return of long days and warm afternoons. For those willing to brave the cold, though, winter fly fishing can be a rewarding time.
In many places, fish are active and accessible year-round. Even better, you probably won’t have to compete for your favorite runs, and can often go all day without seeing another fly fisherman.
Winter fishing requires a couple careful considerations. Where to go, which flies to use, and what gear to bring are all important decisions. While fly and water selection are important for catching fish, arguably the most important factor in the winter is what you wear.
Not only do you want to be safe in the cold weather, but being comfortable while you fish will let you stay on the water longer. And, more time spent fishing usually leads to more fish in the net.
Here are some guidelines for staying warm and happy on the water during your winter fly fishing trips.
Best Clothing for Cold Weather Fishing
Waders and boots
Waders are a must-have during the winter. You don’t need a special set for fishing in the cold, but there are some features that can be especially useful for winter fly fishing.
The first is a lined pocket on the front of your waders. Many brands include this now, since it’s such a handy feature. The lined pocket gives you a place to warm your hands when they start to freeze, especially after reaching into the frigid water. Storing hand warmers in this pocket will make it even cozier!
The second consideration for fishing when it’s snowy is the sole of your boots. Felt-soled boots, while great for gripping slippery rocks, are magnets for snow. Take a few steps through it with felt boots and you’ll be carrying around two massive clumps on your feet until you get back in the water. Rubber boots won’t collect snow, so they are preferable for winter fly fishing. If you need more grip in the water, you can add studs to the bottom.
Layers, Layers, Layers
Layering is important for any outdoor winter activity. The last thing you want is to start sweating while you’re active, and then freeze once you slow down. For fly fishing in the winter, you’ll want to layer up top as well as inside your waders.
One of the best clothing decisions for cold weather fishing is to avoid cotton. Cotton does not breathe well and takes a long time to dry out. For your upper body, a good layering option for winter fly fishing is a merino wool base, an insulated mid-layer (synthetic or down, but make sure you don’t get the down wet), and a windproof outer layer. If there’s a wet snow falling, you may want a waterproof outer layer instead.
Under your waders, you probably won’t need as many layers. A pair of fleece pants, long johns or leggings may be good for warmer days, and you can add another pair of pants over top on colder days.
Hats, Gloves, and Socks
Cold hands and feet are often the first things to drive people off the water when it’s cold. The right hats, gloves, and socks are vital to staying warm and cozy while fly fishing in the winter.
On warm winter days, a normal baseball hat might be just fine. On colder days, though, switching to a beanie or pulling your hood up to cover your ears (or both) can make a big difference. Wearing a Buff or neck gaiter under a hat is also a good way to “layer” on your head.
For your feet, try to avoid the temptation to wear multiple layers of socks. While it seems counterintuitive, a single pair of socks is usually warmer due to better circulation. Multiple layers of socks can get tight, cutting off blood flow and making your feet colder. A good pair of wool ski socks is a great choice for winter fly fishing.
If you want to wear gloves while you fish, consider a pair of Patagonia rubber fishing gloves or Dexshell waterproof gloves. Fabric gloves, while great for other purposes, are not great for fishing. First, they get wet easily and are no longer warm once they’re soaked. Second, they’re abrasive to fish skin if you try to handle a fish while wearing them. Thick rubber gloves, on the other hand, are waterproof and slide easily over slimy fish skin. Consider bringing a pair of normal gloves to wear during breaks, and switch to the rubber gloves while you fish.
Finding the best clothing for cold weather fishing will make staying warm and dry much easier while making your day of winter fly fishing more enjoyable and productive. If you’ve never tried fishing in the snow, bundle up and give it a shot! You may be pleasantly surprised.
Written by Katie Burgert
Originally from Pennsylvania, I grew up fishing warmwater rivers for bass, pike, and walleye. Now I spend my time in Colorado fly fishing, hunting, backpacking, and skiing. I love chasing any species of fish, and prefer backcountry fishing trips to
get away from the crowds. I run a fly fishing website called Fish Untamed, and can be found on Instagram @fishuntamed.
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Let’s hear some of your thoughts in the comments! How do you layer up for winter fly fishing?