By: Jackie Holbrook
For many anglers, there are few experiences as exhilarating as a steelhead ripping line from their reel. These feisty fish are some of the best fighters out there, making them a choice favourite for fishermen and women around the world. Known for “playing hard to get”, steelhead are renowned for living in rough weather areas and for being difficult to catch. For many of us, steelhead fishing, downpours and blizzards seem to go hand in hand.
If you’re someone who’s been interested in chasing chromers, start with our Intro to Winter Steelhead Fishing class with Mia and Marty Sheppard. But having the skills necessary to land a steelhead only takes you so far. “The key to a happy day on the river is staying warm and dry,” advises Mia Sheppard in the masterclass.
Here are some tips and tricks for staying warm while fishing in wintery weather:
Baselayers build the foundation of a layering system. Without the right baselayers, you’ll get cold quickly. Fleece and Merino wool are two of the best fabrics to wear against the skin. Synthetic fabrics and wool absorb sweat without getting wet.
When picking baselayers remember your “ABCs – anything but cotton.” Never use cotton as a baselayer. Cotton absorbs sweat and stays wet, which can lead to discomfort and potential hypothermia.
Winter fishing means wading through cold water. Your choice of socks can mean the difference between calling it quits after a couple of casts or sticking it out all day on the water. Merino wool is the best option and some people even choose to wear liners underneath thicker socks for extra warmth. But you need to make sure multiple pairs will fit comfortably in your boot. If your boots are too tight they will reduce your circulation and make you even colder.
“Layering up is really important and you want to be able to fit those layers underneath your waders,” says Mia. If you plan to fish frequently in the winter, consider sizing up your waders to account for additional layers. Sheppard recommends GORE-TEX. She also says bootfoot waders are warmer than stocking foot waders.
Down is a favorite among outdoor recreationists. Wearing a down jacket and pants won’t take up much room in your layering system (down is incredibly lightweight), but they’ll provide you with a ton of warmth. The downside to down is that when it gets wet, it loses its loftiness and warmth. Some companies use synthetic down because it stays warm when it gets wet. It’s always a good idea to pack a shell layer too.
“It will be raining and snowing, those are the elements that you need to prepare for, and having a rain jacket just adds that extra layer of wind and rain resistant,” says Mia Sheppard.
Don’t forget gloves, a beanie and a neck gaiter. These will make all the difference in keeping you warm. Fingerless gloves are helpful for fishing but try to have a warmer pair as a backup. Also carry hand and foot warmers, as they can be lifesavers when your extremities get chilly. Another useful tool to have nearby is a hand towel. It comes in handy when your fingers get wet after releasing a fish.
Bring Extra Clothes
Always bring a dry bag with extra clothes. Despite your best efforts to stay dry, a day on the water can bring all sorts of surprises. Extra clothes are particularly important if you fall in the water. In the winter, ice along the shore can create slippery wading conditions that make it more likely to take a tumble into the water. It’s best to be prepared.
Pack Snacks and Survival Supplies
Fishing in cold weather is one time you don’t have to worry about skimping on the snacking. Eating will warm you up. Having a thermos with something hot is always nice but be sure to pack cold water too. It’s important to stay hydrated, even when the sun is nowhere in sight. Also, carry some basic survival supplies like a blanket and fire starting kit. If you’ll be out of service, bring a satellite communication device in case of emergency.
Winter steelhead fishing isn’t for everybody, but with the right gear and attitude, you can find some hot fishing during the cold winter months.
Sign up for Mia and Marty’s Winter Steelhead Course here.