As a pro fishing guide & charter captain I have clients from all over the USA and beyond who fish with me. While we provide everything for clients to fish, they must be dressed for the weather. We stress being prepared for the weather and dressing appropriately so you will enjoy your day.
Those who engage in outdoor activities in the Pacific Northwest can experience varied weather in a single day. Cold and rainy weather is not limited to fall and winter months. Of course the winter will bring cold and rainy conditions. However, I have fished in early June where the wind and the rain caused the temperature to drop to a level where I had to wear my winter weight guide wear.
We have seen time and time again where days can start off very cold with heavy fog and no rain. By late morning the fog will clear and the sun will shine. Come early afternoon gray skies can move in, bringing with it rain and wind. There are many people who can suffer through the cold and wet, but the key is to be comfortable and enjoy your outdoor experience.
It is important to be dressed for diverse weather. I have seen clients pay good money for a fishing trip, only to be cold and miserable most of the day.
I have had clients show up without rain gear and want to go home after only 3 hours of fishing because they were too cold and wet to continue. It got to a point where I purchased a few sets of inexpensive rain gear in varied sizes for those who were not prepared for rain.
Unfortunately, inexpensive PVC rain gear does keep you warm. It may keep you dry, but you still have to dress in layers to be warm.
Let me share a story; I had clients’ fish with me once and this is the break down of what they wore.
- Polo Shirt
- Thin Jacket – more appropriate for early fall
- Blue Jeans
- Running socks
- Rubber non-insulated footwear
- Thin gloves
The temperature was 31 degrees at 7:00 AM and did not get above 33 degrees until after 10:45 AM. When the sun finally came out, it was in the upper 30’s to low 40’s. While it did not rain, the wind started to blow, dropping the temperature.
I ran a heater all day in an effort to keep them warm, but once you are cold, you are cold. And to top it off, gloves do not work so well for casting. In contrast, I was close to breaking out in a sweat because I was so warm wearing my warm layers.
So what do you need to be “dressed for the weather”? It does not take as much as you think. It is not absolutely necessary to buy the professional, quality outdoor clothes I use each day to stay warm.
The first thing is to understand your activity. There is a big difference in how you dress if you are moving around upland bird hunting or hiking a trail versus how to dress if you are standing around all day in a boat or sitting still in a duck blind.
When you engage in activities where you move around, your body creates heat. This heat needs to escape and the clothing you wear will keep the exterior of your body warm if you dress properly. If you dress improperly and the heat and perspiration does not escape, you can become wet and ultimately you will be cold. This is why moisture wicking garments are so popular.
When you are outdoors and not moving around very much at all, you have to dress differently because your body is not moving or creating heat that will keep you warm.
Fishing in the Pacific Northwest is primarily a non-movement activity, so let’s look at how you should dress to keep you warm and dry.
Layering allows you to take outer pieces off when your body warms up and then add pieces when you get cold. Proper layering is not simply wearing several shirts and a big over coat. Take advantage of the improvements in clothing design, fabrics and more.
Base layers are important and are the first step in the layering process. I wear a pair of moisture wicking performance underwear, both tops and bottoms. I wear the long sleeve tops, but there are short sleeve tops available too. Now the choices are almost endless. You can buy synthetics or wool from companies like; Cabela’s, Rivers West, Under Armor, Capilene/Patagonia, CoolMax, Marmot, Mountain Hardwear, The North Face, SmartWool, and Teko. These companies have various weights of base layers as well.
For my top and bottom base layers, I use synthetics because I like for it to wick moisture and dry quickly. It is also comfortable and lightweight.
Socks are important too. I like a medium weight wool blend sock, like Merino lambs wool. Medium weight is good because I wear good footwear and my feet stay warm.
Next, I wear a cargo pant. Because I am wearing a base layer and I will also be wearing some type of bib over my pants, I do not choose anything special. If you want to wear jeans over your base layer bottoms, that would work just fine.Over my upper base layer, I wear a long sleeve t-shirt and then a heavy weight hooded sweatshirt. Both my t-shirt and the hoodie are a cotton/poly blend. I also wear a heavy weight windproof fleece over the hooded sweatshirt. I can pull the hood up if my ears get cold and it provided good coverage around my neck.
Because I am in the elements all the time and I may have to get into water above my ankles, I use rubber boots most often. I have a winter weight rubber boot with 1600 grams of Thinsulate, a mid weight boot with 400 grams of Thinsulate and an un-insulated pair of boots for the summer months. You do not need to buy insulated rubber boots to be warm, although quality insulated rubber bots can be had for around $100. If you will wear them more than once or twice a year, it’s a good investment.
First and foremost, your shoes have to fit you well with the type of socks you will be wearing. If your shoes are too tight, your feet will get cold, regardless of how nice they are. My new favorite footwear is made by Keen. Keen makes a variety of footwear for active lifestyles. Keen has a good selection of insulated and waterproof shoes for cold weather. Waterproof shoes are a very important consideration when making your selection. Wet feet are cold feet! Of course there are many other manufacturers out there. Choose something you can wear for not only for fishing but any other time the weather calls for it.
Now that I am dressed, I wear my fishing bibs over everything. As was the day aforementioned with 30-degree temperatures, I do not wear anything more, unless it starts to rain and then I just put on my rain jacket.
Now many of you will not be purchasing winter weight fishing bibs and rain jackets to wear as your outer layer, unless maybe you are an avid outdoor enthusiast. However, it is important to have a good outer jacket and outer pants to keep your legs warm. I have had clients wear their ski pants and jackets over their layers and they stayed warm all day.
If you are choosing a jacket based on temperature rating, also consider your activity as we discussed above. Choose a good jacket that has the room for you to wear your layers underneath. You do not want to feel restricted in your movements because your outer jacket is too tight to wear over your layers. Waterproof is a good choice, but not necessary since you can purchase inexpensive rain gear if it should rain.
To keep your legs warm if you do not have insulated bibs or pants, you can choose a heavier weight base layer, wear sweatpants over that and then wear your jeans or cargo pants as the final layer.
Last but certainly not least is headwear. I love baseball hats, but they won’t keep your head warm when it is really cold. I recommend a heavy fleece beanie or watch cap. They can be pulled down to cover your ears and hold the heat. For ultimate warmth and protection, look for a double layered fleece beanie.
You may have noticed I did not talk about gloves. I do not wear gloves when I fish and I do not recommend my clients wear gloves when fishing. Gloves take away the sensitivity of those light biting fish. If my hands get cold and they do, I slip a hand inside of a pocket to warm it up with a disposable hand heater.Stay warm, stay dry and enjoy fishing this winter. Winter Fishing and especially winter Steelheading is very rewarding!