cold-water wading

Fall is here, and before we know it, winter will be knocking on our collective door wanting in, and despite the opening of many of the state’s hunting seasons, there are still a devoted—or crazed—few, myself included, that fish through the winter. As water and air temperatures begin to drop, special care should be given to thwarting the threat of hypothermia and other cold weather threats. Here are a few things to consider.

Dress Right

Being cold isn’t fun—period. But if you’re fishing, it’s slightly more bearable. When dressing for a winter wade consider the temperature and the type of waders you’re wearing.

Most waders used widely in fishing, these days, are breathable waders with neoprene booties or feet. Inside a pair of neoprene booties and a pair of winter socks, feet tend to sweat, and thus, get wet. The same can happen to your legs, in breathable waders, but particularly in neoprene waders. And when the ambient water and air temperatures are low, the last thing you want is to be damp.

For this reason, one should always don a base layer of a synthetic material with moisture wicking qualities. Cotton absorbs moisture and will get waterlogged with sweat. Never, ever wear cotton as your base layer. An insulating layer, if needed should go over this base layer. My favorite is wool, and fleece is a close second. Just make sure that your boots and waders still fit with these layers, and if they don’t consider bigger ones.

The same rule should be followed when dressing your upper body, with the addition of a water-resistant or –proof layer. You’d be surprised how much splashing can go on while wading, and how easy it is to dunk your elbows while reaching for a net, and if you soak your arm or body, you’ll feel it.

Choose the Right Boots

This probably should be everyone’s first consideration whenever they plan to wade, but particularly in the winter.

Wading boots come in a variety of styles, but the only thing that really matters (apart from perhaps their ability to support your ankle) is the sole. Manufacturers have greatly expanded the number of sole styles designed to grip the river bottom in the last several years, but one remains my favorite. Felt. When compared to straight rubber and traditional studs, felt gives you the ability to scale walls, and this translates directly into a safer wade, as it will cut down on stumbles and falls.

Some metal stud systems are bucking the trend, though. Most notably, Rock Treads, a company founded in Bristol, Virginia/Tennessee, makes a very effective system of aluminum disks that capitalize on aluminum’s soft, malleable qualities to grip and adhere to rocks. If I have to abandon felt, Rock Treads is my system of choice. They can even be added to felt boots.

Choose the Right Hat

Warm hats on cold fall and winter days are hard to beat, especially considering how much heat can be lost through your scalp. However, your usual billed fishing hat offers some valuable qualities not offered by a beanie—like the bill. I often wear my billed hat underneath a synthetic beanie-style hat to retain the sun-blocking qualities of the former, while utilizing the warmth offered by the latter. If the sky threatens rain, make sure your water-proof outer jacket layer has a hood.

Wear a Wading Belt

Wear a wading belt. And tighten it.

Wading belts are designed to be worn tight to prevent the downward trickle of water in your waders should you take a spill or otherwise take water into your waders, and it will make drying off and remaining warm much easier in such an event.

Keep Your Hands Warm

Cold hands, more than anything else, I believe, weakens fishing morale and welcomes those tempting thoughts of returning to the car. Fight it with all you’ve got.

I own a few different pairs of fishing gloves, and have arrived at the conclusion that a fishing glove will never be made that grants the wearer the same amount of dexterity enjoyed bare-handed. So I rarely wear gloves if I can stand it, but I still keep my hands warm by carrying a towel.

Hands get cold while fishing hugely because they get wet. Carrying a towel to dry off your hands after landing and releasing a fish, etc. is invaluable.

Respect Cold Water

Hypothermia can occur at any temperature below a healthy body temperature, and can take hold after just a few minutes of exposure to near-freezing water temperatures. Respect cold water as a potential danger. Be careful, don’t do anything stupid, and you’ll have a much better time on the water.

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