Gearing Up for Winter

Gearing Up for Winter
This is my layering method though the winter months. From top to bottom we need to keep as much body heat in as possible but still allow for moisture wicking and breathing.

With Thanksgiving behind us and Christmas just around the corner it is time to start thinking about winter fishing patterns. November has been great, lots of days with limits of trout or reds and some days with both. Sure there were tough days but not many.

Our water temperatures have finally dropped into the upper 50's to mid 60's and our tides are gradually reaching wintertime lows. Winter as most of you know is my most favorite time of year to fish along with spring, summer and fall. I love to fish so it is all good to me. Anyway, winter is one of my favorites and a time when a lot of you spend too much time THINKING about going fishing but not following through with the thought process. Sure it takes more gear due to the harsh conditions but with a good investment you can be set for some of the year's best fishing.

What makes December thru February so attractive is the lack of fishing pressure on the bays. In the year 2007 there is positively NO reason for us to be cold wet and uncomfortable while out in the elements. The neat thing about today's outerwear is the lightness of the materials and the durability they possess. I remember the first GORE-TEX wading jacket I ever got. I thought it was the best piece of hunting and fishing apparel that I had ever owned.

In those days most of our clothing was water repellent but not waterproof and not at all breathable. Today, it is different, we have many choices and in styles that actually allow an old sun-wrinkled fisherman to walk out of the house looking pretty darn good. Hey there is nothing wrong with feeling good and looking the part as well. The garments and brand names mentioned in this month's article reflect what I use and items which seem to hold up very well to the 150 to 175 days of saltwater abuse I put on an item. I can only testify to what I know has worked best for me.

I typically start wearing my waders in late October and stay in them until water temperatures reach the 70-degree range usually sometime in April. I wear as little as possible, wanting to stay as mobile as possible. Mobility is not only comfortable but it is safe as well. If I need to move I want to be able to move. God forbid that I will ever need to swim, but if I do I do not my gear impeding my ability.

With this in mind I come to what I feel is the key to comfort and mobility in winter fishing attire. Dress in layers and obtain fabrics that wick moisture away from your body. I will tell you now that I am a big SIMMS fan. Simms makes in my opinion the best wading and undergarments in the business. Patagonia makes some fine gear as well. Both of these companies have been in the business of keeping outdoors men and women warm and dry for many years.

When preparing for a cold day on the water I dress in layers, wearing more than I probably need for the ride across the bay and maybe the first wade of the morning. By mid-morning I am able to start shedding one layer at a time, staying comfortable throughout the day. By afternoon I am usually down to a light turtle neck with a light outer wind stopper style surf jacket or a simple slicker-style top.

Water proof is a major need in my wading business. Outer wear that allows me to dunk my elbow or forearm here and there and remain dry is a must. I used to hate having to grab a trout and dunk my arm. When I lifted the fish or went to cast after releasing the fish the cold water would run up my arm and eventually down the inside of my wading jacket.

Under my waders I like light polartech-type tops and bottoms. Bottoms with foot loops to prevent the pants legs from riding up the leg are the best. If your pants legs ride up they will restrict blood circulation and prevent your body from warming itself. If your feet and legs are going numb in the cold something is too tight. Simms calf high wading socks for moderate cold and neoprene for bitter cold have worked well for me.

Years ago we did not have clothing made of materials that effectively accomplished this task but lucky for us we do today. When purchasing your waders for wintertime use it is important that you take into account the bulk of heavy socks and neoprene stockings. I usually buy wading boots at least one size larger for my winter work. It is always best to try everything in the store, and this includes the full outfit of appropriate socks, neoprene booties and wading boots, before purchasing. Walk around in them, bending and squatting to see how everything works. Nothing, I mean nothing makes a day more miserable than boots that are too tight and waders that restrict you in some way. Improperly fitted waders also wear badly in areas that rub or bind leading to early and unnecessary wear and tear on the product.

From about Thanksgiving on I will be wearing a light polar tech or under armor type clothing under my waders. Years ago we suffered through the bitter cold wearing way too much under our waders, causing the body to sweat which created moisture which chilled us to the bone. It also made it impossible for me to bring my waders into the house after a few days of fishing during a winter warming trend. Funk in your waders is a turn off to the wife I promise, especially when left in the laundry room overnight.

Pricing for the items mentioned and shown in the photos are by no means cheap. Many would think them extremely high but before you get turned off by the price tags let me say that the quality of what you buy is directly reflected in the pricing. The old saying you get what you pay for is never truer than when purchasing quality, reliable outdoor wear. Personally I cannot afford to be uncomfortable and for years I would not spend the extra dollars for that comfort. Times change and so do attitudes. Trust me, you deserve to be comfortable.

You know I am not going to write an article and NOT talk about fishing. Gearing up for winter fishing patterns is not nearly as tough as the actual weather conditions. Over my lifetime of fishing I have narrowed my gear and my fishing areas down to fewer areas and fewer lures.

For lures, I carry two styles day in day out. The first one I want to mention here is the Bass Assassin soft plastic 5-inch shad baits in mostly dark colors. On rare occasions I will throw a bright-colored pattern but my fishing data base shows that dark colors produce the largest fish for me. My second choice is the suspending type lures; Mirrolure Catch 5 and Catch 2000 Jr, the original Paul Brown Corky and the Tsunami Cork lures series of suspending baits. I have favorites in each of these baits and have caught tons of big trout on all of them. I prefer to throw these baits in shallow and clean water which usually requires combinations of clear and bright colors. In clearer water I do not want the trout to see the whole bait, just the glint or the shine as it is nervously twitched a few inches beneath the surface. If she is allowed to study the bait too long she discovers that it is not what she needs it to be. Are trout that smart, you bet they are, and if you believe otherwise you might not be as smart as they are.

Prime areas include back bay coves with soft and dark bottoms. Add to this a few scattered grass beds and some scattered shell with an occasional mullet flipping here and there and you might consider spending the day. Winter is a time when you need to carry a small anchor in your wading pouch if you have a tendency to push forward after only a few bites. The BEST big trout fishermen I know, the Webbs, Gills, Taggarts, Watkins and Teals stay put when they locate big fish. I mention these local guys because I have fished with them and know for a fact that this is what makes them who they are. If you're thinking that it was cocky for me to include myself in this list, for the record, I was speaking of my son Jay Ray. I think after the tournament season he and C.R. Webb had this year he deserves to be in my Fab Five.

Gear up in layers when it comes to your winter wading attire and gear down when it comes to your lure choices. The fewer choices you have the longer you will stay with your time-proven favorites. The more comfortable and mobile you are, the more staying power you have on the cold tough days on the water.

I would like to take this opportunity the say Merry Christmas to every one of you from the entire Watkins Family and we pray that God provides for your every need during this holiday season and in the New Year to come.