The mercury in thermometers have dropped below freezing, the rivers have begun to build up ice shelves and the trout have moved into the deep slow holes. Wintertime in #troutcoutry is a special time for anglers as the rivers are much quieter, the time on the water is short but sweet and the trout are still hungry.
Here in the Vail Valley our local rivers where we guide and fly fish the Eagle River and Gore Creek offer some wonderful winter wade fishing. The rivers stay open up for the winter due to some outflows of water treatment plants. The steady flow of water keeps the ice build-up from happening, allowing anglers to fly fish. And there’s only one thing in the way of getting on the water, the cold temperatures. With some proper planning and preparation, you can stay warm while winter wade fly fishing. Below you will find 8 tips to stay warm while winter wade fly fishing.
Tip 1: Wear Proper Clothing for Winter Wade Fly Fishing
This seems like a no-brainer, and yes it sort of is. Like any outdoor winter activity, proper clothing is key to staying warm. Layers are the ticket, starting with a warm base layer, then a mid-layer, and then a warm insulator like a down or synthetic jacket. After that comes the waders and to cap it off a waterproof windproof wading jacket. A beanie or warm hat, thick wool socks, a buff, and some sort of gloves are also essential to have. Try wearing two pairs of socks, a thinner one and then a thicker wool or ski sock over it. This helps if your feet do warm up and begin to sweat it doesn’t get on both socks. You can also go up a wading boot size for extra room if you are going out on a winter wade fishing guided trip with us. Check out this previous blog “What to Wear For Winter Fly Fishing” where we really break it down.
Tip 2: Gloves Are a Must for Winter Wade Fly Fishing
Your fingers are hands down the one area of the body that gets cold the fastest on the river (no pun intended). So keeping them warm is important to be comfortable while winter wade fly fishing. Simms Fishing makes a variety of different gloves to choose from, all of them are great options based on angler preference. To determine which glove or mitten is for your check out the previous blog, “What are the Best Gloves for Winter Fly Fishing.”
Another option that many of the guides are all about is using black nitrile gloves or medical gloves. These thin gloves give you maximum dexterity to tie on flies, cast, strip, and release fish with ease. The key is they keep your hands from getting wet thus keeping them warmer. They don’t offer any insulation so they might be a better option for the winter days that aren’t brutally cold. You can purchase a box of them on Amazon for less than 10 dollars, check them out here.
One more point to note about gloves and fly fishing is to NOT handle fish with gloves on. When you touch a fish with gloves on, the gloves take off a protective slime coating that protects the fish from diseases. So please use barbless hooks, a landing net, and forceps to prevent touching the fish with your gloves on.
Tip 3: Do Your Rigging Prior to Arriving at River
Another important point to note about winter wade fishing is to rig up your fly rods prior to arriving at the river. First, it is very hard to rig with gloves on, so taking them off to rig up the riverside will result in cold hands and cold hands mean less fishing time. So do yourself a favor and rig up your rod in your garage or house the night before or morning before heading out. Your hands will thank you later. While some may say they always rig riverside to see what bugs are hatching, etc. In the winter, the hatches are pretty straight forward, with lots of small bugs, nymphing, and some attractor patterns. So rig up your fly rod prior and you can always change a fly while on the water.
Tip 4: Bring a Small Towel
This hack comes from Sales Manager, Brett Elkman. He stands by bringing a small golf towel with him while winter wading. The towel serves as a way to dry your hands very quickly after handling a fish or when your hands evidently get wet. The towel can get that moisture off your hands fast keeping them dry and warm. Even if you plan to use gloves for the most part. There is always that instance when you need to get a fish off the line and using gloves to touch the fish is not an option. You can buy a pack of three nice golf towels on Amazon for around 10 dollars.
Tip 5: Bring a Warm Beverage for Winter Wade Fly Fishing
A winter wade fly fishing trip is a perfect place to enjoy a warm beverage on the water. There is plenty of time to sip some hot coffee or tea while you are waiting to catch another fish. A Stanley thermos is a great tool to pack along to warm up your inner body. Another great idea is to bring some hot soup in a thermos. Lunch in the winter should always include warm soup. A VVA Logo Yeti Rambler is a perfect thermos to keep a hot beverage in.
Tip 6: Take Small Breaks and Move to Different Spots
One way to deal with the cold temperatures of a wade fishing trip in the winter is to keep the body moving. Standing in the water in a specific hole for hours on end is a recipe to be cold, very cold. Plan your wade fishing day with a couple different spots in mind. Fish one hole for an hour or two then hop in your car to drive to another spot to fish for another hour or two. The car is a great place to warm up the toes and get ready to get cold again.
Tip 7: Fly Fish the Warmest Part of the Day
Unlike the summer, wintertime on the water is not the time to be out there at first light in hopes of getting the first crack at the fish. Patience pays off, the trout in the winter tend to operate like bankers. They are most active in the middle of the day. The warmest part of the day is when the fish tend to feed heavily. So plan your winter wade trip to be smack dab in the middle of the day. The 11:00 am to 3:00 pm program is a great option for winter wade fishing.
Tip 8: Pick the Warmer Days
Similar to trying to fly fish the warmest part of the days, the same goes for choosing the specific days you want to try winter wade fishing. Check the recent weather reports and see which days upcoming are going to be the warmest. These are days you should target to go winter wade fly fishing. The colder days are great days to hit the ski hill. The warmer days typically will mean more productive fishing and also warmer for the angler who is out there fishing.
There you have it, 8 tips to stay warm while winter wade fly fishing. By following along with these tips and having the right mental attitude you can stay warm while winter wade fly fishing. If you are interested in a guided winter fly fishing trip, you can find more information HERE or give us a call at 970-926-0900
Patrick Perry, Former Fishing Guide, and Content Contributor.