For most fly anglers, the dead of winter means being cooped up indoors tying flies while you eagerly wait for spring fishing. But for those willing to brave the elements, spending winter days on the river can be extremely rewarding. Like other cold-weather outdoor pursuits, winter steelhead and trout fishing require a great layering system, reliable gear, and some courage to face single-digit temperatures. Every piece of equipment below is part of my winter fishing arsenal and what I recommend to friends. It will keep you safe and warm on the water so you can trick a trout or two.
1. Icebreaker Men’s Merino Wool Long Sleeve Top and Bottom
Icebreaker Merino Wool Long Sleeve. $95.00 Icebreaker
When I started winter steelhead fishing, I didn’t have good base layers. As a result, I never lasted very long on the water. I began wearing an Icebreaker merino wool long sleeve shirt and bottoms two seasons ago, and it changed the way I fish. This combination will keep your core body temperature warm and allow you to build your layering system out from there. The merino fibers transport sweat and moisture away from the skin, which is ideal for long hikes to secret spots or fighting a steelhead downriver.
2. Pam Cooking Spray
Pam Cooking Spray. $9.49 Amazon
When you’re fishing in sub-zero temperatures, droplets of water from your fishing line will freeze and build up in the guides on your rod. This is extremely aggravating. You’ll end up needing to break the ice off of your rod tip for just about every cast, and your hands will be bitter cold. A simple solution is to lightly spray your guides with Pam non-stick cooking spray before heading out to the river. Depending on how cold the weather is, the oil in the cooking spray should keep the ice off of your guides for a few hours. Keep a can—and a rag to wipe off any excess Pam—in your truck if you need to apply another coating later in the day.
3. Motorcycle Racing Studs
Motorcycle Racing Studs. $26.95 Amazon
If you fish a lot, buying name-brand studs for your wading boots can start to add up. In college, when my buddies and I were steelheading enough to wear studs down on a regular basis, we found these motorcycle studs to work just as well as the others at a fraction of the cost. Just grab an electric screwdriver and throw as many as you need into the bottom of your boots. They come in handy when wading on slippery rocks or chasing a hooked steelhead down an icy riverbank.
4. SIMMS GORE-TEX ExStream Foldover Mittens
SIMMS Foldover Mittens. $99.95 Simms
Your extremities will be the first thing to get cold during winter fishing, and these gloves are ideal for keeping your hands warm. They’re part mitten, part glove, so they let you use your fingers for fine tasks—like tying on a new fly—while keeping your hands warm in the mitten part when you’re holding your rod. Best of all, these gloves are made with GORE-TEX so they won’t get wet or let the wind through. You might get cold when taking them off to reach in the water and hold up a fish—but that’s a good problem to have.
5. Aventik Collapsible Wading Staff
Aventik Collapsible Wading Staff. $35.99 Amazon
A wading staff is an essential piece of winter steelhead and trout gear. Snow, ice, and fast water don’t make for ideal wading conditions. The last thing you want is to fall into a freezing cold river and wait for hypothermia to set in. This collapsible wading staff helps you steady yourself when crossing uneven underwater terrain. It comes with a holster to put on your wading belt for easy access when you want to make a move. It’s a simple piece of gear that could prevent a life-threatening situation.
6. Buff Unisex Polar Thermal Hoodie
Buff Unisex Polar Thermal Hoodie. $43.90 Amazon
I’m surprised at how much I’ve used this Buff polar thermal hoodie during the fall, winter, and spring. I like to throw it on over my winter hat to add another layer of protection for my neck and head. And the drawstring allows you to cover your face when the weather turns windy and snowy. It’s another small layer that goes a long way out in the elements.
7. L.L. Bean Men’s Emerger Wading Jacket
L.L. Bean Wading Jacket. $129.00 L.L. Bean
As far as layers go, the last piece of clothing to put on your upper body should be a durable wading jacket. This will serve as your first line of defense against snow, rain, and icy water. The Emerger jacket is equipped with fleece-lined hand warming pockets, ripple foam for flies, and enough room for an extra sweater or two underneath.
8. Buttons & Pleats Merino Wool Socks for Men & Women
Merino Wool Socks. $19.99 Amazon
Standing in a freezing river or stream isn’t exactly for the faint of heart. If you don’t have a pair of warm socks, don’t even bother going fishing in the winter. More likely than not, your feet are going to be the first thing to get cold. A good pair of merino wool socks are just about the only thing you can put on to slow that process down.
9. SIMMS 25 Liter Dry Creek Simple Pack
SIMMS Dry Bag. $139.95 Simms
If you haven’t picked up on it yet—staying dry during winter fishing is crucial. This means packing another set of gloves, hats, socks, shirts, and pants to put on in case you get your clothes wet. The Simms dry creek pack is a 100 percent waterproof bag to keep all your essential gear dry. This is where I throw my extra clothes, food, camera, and other necessities. You’ll be happy you have an extra pair of dry pants after you take a spill trying to land a trout. Unfortunately, I know about that from firsthand experience.