Winter ‘Yakking – Comfort and Safety

Winter ‘Yakking – Comfort and Safety
Well folks, looks like Old Man Winter is upon us. Between work and family commitments I haven't had many chances to get out on the water recently. But a few days ago I decided that I was going fishing no matter what; I needed to get out. Guess I should've checked the advanced weather forecasts before making that promise to myself, it was brutal. Cold wind and misting rain don't generally go too well with kayak fishing.

But it did get me to thinking, mainly because there was plenty of time to think while not catching much. I can normally pick and choose my trips to avoid going out on those miserable days. I realized that day how lucky I am because I know a bunch of folks don't have that luxury. If you've only got one or two set days off per week and want, or need, to go fishing you either have to suck it up or wait through another week hoping for better conditions on your next break from the grind.

The good news is that with the availability of today's technical foul weather gear you can venture out in most any conditions and remain relatively comfortable. And you can do so without looking like the Michelin Man. The key word in selecting your clothing is "synthetics." Avoid cotton at all costs. I know that big hoodie sweatshirt feels great, but wet cotton will stay wet and cling to your body while sucking every bit of heat you can produce leaving you susceptible to hypothermia. The right synthetic clothing will wick the moisture away while still providing insulation. None of us intend on getting wet, but kayak fishing is a watersport. Be it from rain, paddle splash or the dreaded dunking; the chances of getting wet are present and it is best to be prepared.

Layering is the key to staying comfortable while still being mobile enough to paddle and fish effectively. Everyone's definition of comfortable is different. My wife starts to shiver if the thermometer dips below 70 degrees. I'm good to about 50 degrees as long as the sun is out and the wind isn't howling. Given that, it is difficult to provide a definitive system that will work for everyone, but I've come up with what works for me even on the worst of days.

I start off with a base layer of Simms WaderWick shirt and pants. They are made of a very light-weight knit material that stretches easily and doesn't bind with the constant movements involved in paddling. It is also designed to wick perspiration away from your skin to keep you dry and warm. There are also many other options on the market such as Under Armour's Cold Gear or any of polypropylene type long-johns. Again, the key is the wicking factor. Do yourself a favor, throw out those itchy old-school long johns and try any of these options.

My next layer consists of synthetic fleece. Again, I went with Simms. They make some fleece pants with tight fitting cuffs that work great for keeping your pants legs from riding up when you slide into your waders. They might look a little silly, but the convenience factor outweighs the fashion faux pas. There are quite a few fleece sweatshirt style tops available in the athletic apparel market. Be sure to check the label and confirm that it is synthetic and not cotton because they look virtually the same. On really cold days I prefer a hoodie to keep my neck and head covered and found a one made by Under Armour that is great.

For the extremities I stay the course with socks made of a synthetic wicking material, an insulated fleece beanie and some good gloves. If you're like me, keeping your hands comfortable is probably the most problematic part of the equation. I've tried everything and have a stockpile of various gloves in the closet from failed experiments. For a while I just gave up and toughed it out with bare hands. Then I tried a pair of the Simms WINDSTOPPER fold-over mitts. They're the best solution I've found for those bitter cold days. The design allows you to have the full coverage of mitts while paddling, but you can fold the mitt back exposing just the tips of your fingers while fishing.

I top it all off with breathable waders and a breathable waterproof wading jacket. I know a bunch of guys who still insist on wearing neoprene waders for warmth. I've found that while they are indeed warm, I get soaked with perspiration after paddling for a while. The neoprene doesn't breathe and holds that moisture in throughout the day. After sitting still for a while I'm wet and cold. A feature that is a must for my jacket is an adjustable neoprene wrist cuff to keep the water out. There is absolutely nothing worse than reaching into the water to grab a fish and then feeling that cold rush of water run up your arm as you lift the fish into the kayak. This top layer not only keeps me dry, it cuts the wind. That's it. I know that three relatively thin layers don't sound like much, but I've found the combination of insulation, moisture wicking and breathability beat the heck out of my old method of wearing so many layers I couldn't move. And the best part is you won't have to find a place to store all those layers as the day warms and you start shedding clothes.

Safety is always a concern on the water, but kayak fishing in winter requires a heightened level of caution. Submersion in even moderately cold water is a dangerous situation. Please wear a snug wader belt to help prevent water from filling your waders and always wear your PFD. Also keep a spare set of clothes stowed in a dry bag with you in the kayak. Those dry clothes could be a lifesaver in a bad situation.

The bottom line is to find what works to keep you most comfortable. Effective fishing is all about concentration and you can't concentrate when you're only thought is paddling back to the truck and firing up the heater.