In spring, fall and winter, anglers should ensure they are properly dressed for cold-weather conditions. It’s astounding, the anglers wearing jeans that are able to fish the entire day in cold temperatures.
Although they tough it out, they would be more comfortable if outfitted with proper clothing, and were dressed in layers.
Choosing the right clothing, along with accessories that will help keep you warm, is an important consideration when heading out fishing because if you’re not comfortable, you’re not mentally focused, and you’ll miss fish — it’s that simple.
Dress In Layers
A key principle to outdoor clothing is to dress in layers. Layers allow you to regulate your body temperature by adding or removing clothes to suit your activity level and adjust to the weather conditions.
A layered clothing system should consist of an inner-, a mid-, and an outer-layer. The inner layer directly contacts your skin and should fit snug. Its job is to wick moisture away from your body. This wicking is critical to cold-weather comfort because if wet clothes are left on your skin, they will pull heat away from your body.
An early November shore demonstrates how conditions can turn biter-cold overnight, a good reason to bring extra clothes and dress in layers when fishing in cold weather.
The fact that damp clothes cause one to lose heat raises an important note regarding outdoor clothing. And that is that clothes containing cotton should be avoided, as this material will absorb moisture instead of wicking it.
Many can relate to the chilly feeling caused by damp clothing against the skin, and how quickly it can cool you down. Instead of cotton, look for inner-layer clothes containing polyester, silk, and wool blends.
A mid-layer is the next part of the layering system. This layer provides insulation while still wicking moisture away from the body. Fleece, wool, polyester and other synthetic blends are mainstay fabrics for these clothes. Mids come in various thickness, or weights, depending on the amount of insulation required.
They are often classified as light, mid and heavyweight. In some cases, it’s better to wear two sets of mid-weight layers instead of one heavyweight to give you more layering options to regulate your temperatures.
The outer layer of your system provides protection from wind and rain. High-end outer layers (often featuring Gore-Tex) will also breathe, allowing the moisture that’s trapped inside your clothes to escape, but preventing outside moisture from getting in.
Also keep in mind that layering clothing doesn’t just apply to shirts, jackets and pants. You should ensure you take precautions to wear socks, mitts or gloves, and hats that all will wick moisture, insulate, and block wind and water.
Discussing proper boots for cold-weather conditions is a separate article on its own, but do yourself a favor and invest in quality boots. Your feet will thank you.
A survival suit, which is actually a Type V (Special Use Device) PFD, is a must when fishing in cold temperatures on open water and, if you own one, should also be worn when venturing out on thin ice.
Survival suits are designed to keep you afloat should you fall in the water, as well as trap and contain your body heat within the suit. The suits are not watertight, so there will be leakage into the suit if immersed in water. However, once this occurs, the water will be warmed by your body and held inside the suit. Note: suits can only provide protection for so long. Always get individuals out of the water immediately, carry the proper safety gear (throw rope and ladders), and get into dry clothes as soon as possible.
A survival suit, or Type V PFD, should be worn when fishing in cold temperatures on open water.
As an added bonus, suits do an excellent job of blocking wind and rain. I have found the most difficult part of wearing these suits is not wearing too many layers when I’m active at the start of a fishing excursion. Otherwise, I find I quickly overheat and need to shed layers.
The best approach I’ve found for late open-water fishing and ice fishing is to wear only a light inner layer under the suit when I’m moving around (launching the boat, setting up rods, drilling ice holes, etc), but once I’m stationary for a while, I add on mid-layers to ensure I have enough insulation.
Bring Extra Clothes
It’s always a good idea to bring extra layers so you can change into dry ones if needed. After a long hike to your favorite ice fishing spot and hand-drilling several holes, you might be sweating a lot, and your inner layer gets quite wet. In this case, consider toughing-out the cold for a few minutes and changing into a dry inner layer. This is especially useful if you plan on being inactive for a while.
It’s also a good precaution to bring extra clothes should someone accidentally fall in. A first line of defense against hypothermia is getting out of wet clothes as soon as possible.
Also, don’t forget to store the extra clothes in a waterproof or water-resistant bag; there’s no sense having extra clothes if they can get wet from rain or snow.
When out in cold weather, there are a variety of heating options available to anglers. Portable propane or gas heaters are extremely useful to anglers when ice fishing, although one must exercise caution if using these devices in closed quarters as carbon monoxide can quickly elevate to lethal levels.
Hand and feet warmers are also useful to have and come in various models. There are disposable ones that release heat once the contents of the packs are mixed and exposed to air. Additionally, there are warmers that use lighter fluid and can be refilled and used again.
Another simple, but effective, way to stay warm is to ingest hot drinks and meals. A small, portable stove and pot is a great accessory to prepare warm meals on a daylong ice-fishing outing. A mid-afternoon snack of a hearty soup or chili will boost blood sugar levels and add warmth to your body’s core.
Similarly, carrying a thermos full of hot chocolate, coffee or herbal tea will help keep you warm. It is also important to ensure you stay hydrated when outdoors; dehydration will undermine many of your body’s natural functions to stay warm, so drink plenty of fluids throughout the day.
Having the proper clothing is crucial to comfort and safety when cold-weather fishing. Not only will using a layering system and bringing some portable heating options keep you cozy while fishing, but staying comfortable keeps you mentally alert and ready to set the hook. If you’re chilled and frustrated at being cold, you will simply not be as alert when fishing, inevitably equating to lost fish.
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