I was asked the other day what clothing keep me warm whilst fishing during the winter months. I’ll cover what I’ve found works best for me, though everyone will have their opinions on this. My winter fishing sessions often see me fishing though the night in temperatures below freezing. My biggest areas of concern are my feet and hands, once these are suitably frozen that’s my trip over. It’s not just the end of the trip neither, I know at some point they’ll warm up again and that at times can be a rather painful experience. Ultimately, it’s something to be avoided, so being suitably clothed is in my opinion extremely important. It’s not just exposure to the elements whilst fishing, there’s always the risk of a capsize and I want to remain functional for long enough to make a successful re-entry should the worst happen.
Ok, so starting with my hands. I suffered quite a bit in the early days, though I’ve pretty much got this problem area sussed. For general fishing in dry weather I’ll always wear a pair of thermal fingerless gloves. Mine are made by Sundridge and do a decent job at keeping my hands warm. However, once wet they are pretty useless to be honest. To that end I always remove them whilst re-baiting or handling fish (tucked into the top of my PFD), drying my hands before donning them once again. It may seem like a bit of hassle, but dry gloves are far more pleasant than the wet variety!
So what about neoprene?. Well I’ve used 3mm divers ‘gauntlet gloves’ in the past and they were ok. I found them quite restrictive for general duties so I only used them for paddling. The trouble was they would of course get wet, no problem, well until I put them back on at the end of the session. They’d be freezing until they warmed through, they didn’t always, not pleasant. For me at least, they didn’t work. What I ended up buying was a pair of waterproof skiing gloves. Now these really are a top piece of kit. I wear them for paddling where they are comfortable and very warm. Being waterproof means they can get soaked yet remain dry and warm internally, perfect!. When it rains whilst fishing I’ll remove my fingerless gloves and wear my ski gloves instead. Again, removing them to bait up and handle fish, drying my hands once more before wearing them again.
It might sound rather fiddly, but keeping my hands and gloves dry whenever possible makes a HUGE difference and I can fish for many hours in cold and wet weather.
As for headwear, well I’ve tried woolly ‘beanie’ hats, etc. I only wear one hat these days, and that’s the SealSkinz Hat I purchased over three years ago. It’s fully waterproof and windproof, though despite its light construction it’s extremely warm. It’s crushes into a small size and lives in my dry box where it’s accessible in seconds.
Next I’ll cover is my basic clothing. Basically it’s all about layers, trapping heat and wicking sweat away from the body. For legwear I wear a fairly thin pair of Sundridge thermal leggings underneath with a pair of snowboarding pants on top. The latter are heavily padded/insulated and are comfortable to wear and easy to put on. The thermal leggings breathe well and any sweat is absorbed by the snowboarding pants. These sometimes feel a little damp inside after a long trip, though the thermal legging and my legs themselves are always dry. It’s a very warm combination and it works well.
For my upper body I generally wear three layers. The first to go on is extreme cold weather military shirt (bottom of the pile in the photo). It’s of cotton/fleece construction with a looped inner surface. It’s extremely effective at wicking sweat away from the body and is a warm top in its own right. Second layer to go on is a Sundridge thermal top, nothing too special, it’s not very thick, though it provides an extra layer for trapping the heat. Lastly is an artic fleece jacket, it’s fairly thick and elasticated around the base (if required). I wear the same tops all year round, in the summer I’ll just wear the first layer, perhaps adding the second layer for night fishing. Though for winter fishing all three layers go on, no questions asked!
Feet, now that has always been by far my biggest problem area. I originally started off with a pair of wetsuit boots that I wore over my dry suit socks, socks being worn within my dry suit. It was fine for summer fishing, though once the temperature plummeted I quickly began to suffer. As they were ankle height they’d fill up with water during a launch. They had no real thermal properties to begin with and being sat there with water drawing heat from your feet throughout a fishing session was always going to be bad news. I was often limited to 3-4 hours fishing during freezing weather, not really ideal.
A year ago I purchased the latest version of the Chota Mukluks kayaking boots. They’re made from 3mm neoprene, fleece lined with a rigid soles. The thermal properties of the boot are pretty good and with it being a tall boot it does a good job of the water outside the boot, this is aided by the presence of a splash proof seal positioned at the top of the boot. Within my dry suit I wear two pair of military issue artic socks which are very effective at fending off the cold.
Keeping your legs and feet stationary during cold weather causes your feet to chill off quite quickly. I often move around, or just wiggle my toes and feet. The tall boots allow me to sit side saddle with my legs in the water without water entering the boot itself. Continued movement, allied with dry boots, seems to make a huge difference and I can now happily fish for 6-7 hours before freezing weather will force me ashore.
Lastly is of course a dry suit, something I never go to sea without, even during the summer months. Should I capsize I want to give myself the best possible chance to make a successful re-entry onto the kayak. With winter water temperatures often down to five degrees or less, preventing my body succumbing to the cold within minutes is top of the list.
Lastly is my PFD, it does provide an extra layer of sorts and does a decent job of keeping the wind at bay. What my particular model provides is a pair of fleece lined hand warmer pockets. These really are fantastic are as long as they are kept dry they are very effective. In extreme cold I have been known to put a solid fuel hand warmer in each pocket, luxury indeed!
This is certainly not an exhaustive guide to winter clothing, it’s purely what works well for me. One thing is for sure, it’s vitally important to keep warm whilst fishing afloat during the winter months, ultimately your life could depend on it !