Winter steelhead fishing and the words "rain and snow" shuts most people down immediately. Probably because they associated it with a cold, hell like misery. However, cold rainy or snowy days fishing for winter run steelhead don't have to be uncomfortable, if you wear the right gear.
Steelhead fishing on rainy or snowy days can be beautiful.
Everything along the river is washed and clean when it rains. Rain softens the edges of the landscape. It dampens sound and a rainy day on the river in the winter steelhead fishing can almost be likened to communing with nature. Snow turns the landscape into a virtual painting of a magical winter wonderland. The best reason to chase steelhead in the rain and snow, is that the steelhead are more aggressive on cloud-cover days and the worse the weather is, the fewer people you will have to compete with for a spot on the water!
If you wear the right gear, you can be comfortable, no matter what form the water is falling from the sky in. If you don't then you will get cold, wet and miserable. Additionally, as you lose heat, your motor skills will suffer, making it hard to tie knots and work your reel. Warm muscles perform better than cold ones and a shot of whiskey doesn't help. Dress to keep yourself warm and dry with the right layers. Start by keeping your skin free from damp. That is one of the biggest keys to staying warm.
Staying dry means more than a rain coat and chest waders.
That isn't to say that a great quality rain jacket and tough waders aren't important. What you wear under this outer layer is what will keep you comfortable though. Moisture trapped within your clothing will conduct heat away and even if your waders and coat are keeping water out, you are perspiring and creating moisture inside your gear. When dressing for cold or wet winter steelhead fishing plan your layers from the inside out.Remember that the layer of clothing next to your skin is the one you will feel all day.
Layer with the right clothing to stay warm.
The maximum perspiration zones are your arm pits, groin and feet. All these areas need special clothing and attention. Your inner layer of clothes should be made from synthetic material for maximum comfort and dryness. It should be soft, well fitting and designed to wick moisture away from your skin.
Never wear cotton clothing under your waders.
Cotton for all its glory,retains moisture and has virtually no insulation value when it is wet. Moisture from perspiration tends to "pass-through", rather than soak into synthetic materials. Nylon, acrylic and polyester are a much better choice for a base layer than cotton or silk. Wool if you can stand it, is the only natural fiber that will keep you as warm as synthetics. Of course wool is more expensive and often less durable than synthetics (and usually itchy).
You can maximize your comfort by dressing with layers of synthetic material. A layer of synthetic fabric next to your skin topped with a layer of a synthetic fleece should keep you warm and dry during even the wettest fishing trips. Of course you need to pay special attention to what covers your legs and feet. If you are going to be wading, when water temperatures are below 50-degrees (aren't they always?) doubling up on the layering is recommended. Water temperatures below 40-degrees and you will want to look at heavier double-layering.
Socks are critically important. Water runs down hill and feet sweat, so at least some of your body's perspiration will collect at your feet. Breathable waders reduce this, but is still something to be aware of, especially if you are hiking between Fishing spots. There is no way for wader feet to breath inside your wading boots.
Thick wool/nylon blend socks are a good choice for inside your waders. The knitted loop pile on the inside gives them the capacity to retain loft or fluffiness, even with the squeezing pressure of your waders around them. This acts as a reservoir for perspiration and helps keep it away from your skin.
When shopping for socks to wear in your waders, go long. Knee high lengths provide another layer of insulation for the lower leg. Remember that all socks are made from knitted yarns which tend to break down as you launder them, losing loft and insulating qualities. Replace your wader socks often for maximum comfort.
Your outer layer is your first layer of defense.
The jacket and waders you choose to wear out winter steelhead fishing must be water-proof. They also must be able to vent the moisture that will collect inside it. Good quality gear accomplish this by a special membrane called Gore-Tex sandwiched between two layers of protective fabric. This membrane is has small enough pores that water vapor can escape, but liquid water cannot enter.Non-breathable waders and rain jackets are slowly fading out of the market place.
Wading boots or shoes serve three purposes. First is to protect your feet and enhance your balance and traction. The high top leather or man-made leather wading shoes give you better support and last longer per dollar spent, than the less expensive canvas models.
Be sure that your wading shoes fit correctly for maximum support and have enough room so as not to impair your circulation. No blood flow means cold feet! Always try on wading boots while wearing your waders and full under garments.
Your wading jacket is the roof to everything below it. A parka hood is a must and has to be impenetrable to rain and snow. A winter steelhead fishing jacket must also be designed to keep water from running down your neck or down into your sleeves. Like your waders, the outer shell material should allow perspiration to pass through without allowing rain water to get in, allowing you to remain comfortable in about any kind of weather you may encounter while standing along the river steelhead fishing.
Gloves are an important an often overlooked item. Neoprene gloves are great for cold weather. There is nothing fun about fishing with frozen fingers. Both slit-finger and fingerless gloves have their places and you need to try a few out to see which you like best.
Lastly, the hat you wear is important. It must be waterproof, even though it will be under the hood of your jacket if it is raining or snowing. A baseball cap with a bill will shield your face and glasses from rain. If the weather is really cold, a cap with ear flaps is a solid choice even if it will look funny.
Regardless of what brands and styles you choose, your winter steelhead fishing gear needs to keep the water out, breath to release sweat, be comfortable and keep you warm. Skimping on any of these elements can make for a long cold fishing trip!
The Fishing with Cliff crew may not run the most polished fishing show on the web, but we have fun doing it!