It might be tempting to think of kayaking or canoeing as a spring-summer-fall activity, but as long as the cold water you fish isn’t hard—that is covered with a sheet of ice—then cold weather fishing can be a great time for kayakers.
Think about it, there are fewer fishermen, no jet skis or wake boats, and the fish are still hungry.
But there’s a problem—winter fishing has its downside: it is cold (unless you live waaaaay down South), and it can be wet, and because of that cold-and-wet thing, it can be uncomfortable and a bit hazardous.
But still, kayaking in the winter is one of the best times to be on the water. With a little preparation and forethought, it can be as pleasant as a summer day.
Keeping Warm While Fishing Isn’t the Problem – Controlling it is
Sure, it’s easy to keep warm when it’s cold, right? You just pile on more clothes until the cold stays out. That’s fine if you’re watching hockey or golf, but since fishing out of a kayak requires muscle movement, keeping warm isn’t the problem. Controlling the warmth—so that you don’t get too warm or too cold—is the challenge.
It’s been said so much that it’s become a cliché: layering is the answer. And the right base layer clothinglike Cabela’s E.C.W.C.S Midweight base layers or thermal underwear are more important for a kayak fisherman than for others.
As you generate body heat from paddling or pedaling, you generate moisture. Pile on too many clothes, and you sweat, and that is not a good thing as it leads to chills when you stop working. And even if you’re not too warm, your body perspires constantly, and that moisture stays in your clothes—most of the time.
The ideal situation is for the clothing you wear to pass that moisture along to outer layers and eventually to the air. As much as I don’t like to say it, synthetic fibers do the best job of allowing the moisture to pass through. If you’re going to be active, then it’s imperative to shed your lucky tee shirt and go synthetic from the skin out.
Fortunately, synthetic-fiber base layers are as close as the nearest Bass Pro catalog or BassPro.com. There are different weights to tailor your choice to the temperature and your activity level. One piece of advice, you can get by with a heavier weight top than you might normally wear if it has a zip that lets you vent excess heat and moisture. If it turns cool, zip it back up and save the heat.
While I’ve been beating the plastic drum about synthetics and your body core, I’ll say that when you’re talking the upper reaches, it’s hard to beat wool for warmth. And buffalo wool is even better.
But here’s a thought—keeping warm is more than wearing a wool or synthetic hat. We’ve all heard that “10 percent” of our body heat can be lost through our head. While that may be true, especially for those of us who are follically challenged, the neck area is just as important.
Buff makes a merino wool gaiter that snugly fits around head this great heat-loss area and does a good job of keeping you warm. But any kind of covering for the neck is good, especially if it is form fitting. Balaclavas like the RedHead Microstretch Balaclava at Bass Pro Shops are another good option as well, and if they also hug the neck, even better.
Keep Moisture Out of Your Clothing While on the Water
Fishing out of a kayak can be a wet sport, which can be a problem in cold weather. Just as we want to move body moisture out of our clothing, we definitely want to keep exterior moisture out as well. However, kayaks have the potential to be wet—from launch to landing. That’s especially true with sit-on kayaks where you are open to the weather and any incidental splashing.
A sit-in kayak has the potential to keep your lower regions warmer and drier. Buy a paddle or spray skirt that closes the cockpit in a sit-in, and you will be covered from the waist down.
But for those who fish out of a sit-on-top kayak, breathable, waterproof outerwear is the key to staying dry and warm.
While a waterproof coat is not necessary until it starts raining or snowing, pants or bibs like the are a good solution for most of the wet stuff that comes in over the side from wave splash, drippy paddles, flopping fish and so on.
A lightweight set of bibs are all that is required until temperatures start to drop, then something like Bass Pro Shops 100mph Gore-Tex rain bibs are dry and warm because of the lining.
While we can guard against rain and splashes, perhaps the greatest potential for getting wet is at the launch. Most of my kayaking is done in spots that are best called “primitive”, and that means that I usually have to wade to get the kayak in water deep enough to float when I board.
In sandal season, that’s not an issue, but come cold weather, that means boots. There is another option, however, and it’s one I like better.
It may sound strange, but the best option I’ve found is breathable, stocking-foot waders like the Cabela’s Premium Zip Breathable Stocking-Foot Fishing Waders or Caddis Deluxe Breathable Stocking-Foot Waders. I use them in place of rain pants/bibs and boots. As the waders are designed to keep water out, they’re perfect. And while you could wear boots with them, a pair of inexpensive sandals keeps the gravel from causing any problems while walking from the truck to the kayak.
Fishing in Winter is More Hazardous Consider These Safety Points
Because of the cold temperatures, cold water and the slight chance of hypothermia, fishing in winter is more hazardous than sitting in a recliner and watching football. But not much…
For those who go the wader route—it’s a good idea to wear a belt, not to keep the waders up in the belt-and-suspenders scenario but as a safety measure. In the unlikely event of capsizing and being dumped, the belt will keep water from filling the waders.
Float coats or a parka offer insulation for warmth, alow for mobility and breathability with buoyancy; however, not all are not USCG approved. Check out the USCG approved Mustang Survival float coats and parkas.
Another safety point concerns PFD or Life Jacket use. Inflatable PFDs do not work as well when temperatures drop below 40 degrees. According to manufacturers’ recommendations, the inflatable PFD should be partially inflated (orally) to allow for the slower-than-normal C02 inflation rate caused by cooler temperatures. Foam-filled life jackets that are U.S. Coast Guard (USCG) approved can be used. Inflatable PDFs provide no protection from hypothermia.
CAUTION: As the air temperature decreases, so does the C02 pressure in an automaticlly inflatable PDF. Less C02 pressure means less buoyancy. Be sure to read the U.S. Coast Guard label before heading out on a day below 40 degrees.
On the plus side, foam life jackets are warmer, which is a good thing when it’s cold. There are several designs that target kayak users, making them more comfortable than the usual run of foam live vests.
One last point—it’s a good idea to keep a change of warm clothes in the truck for that time when you do get wet.
The educational information provided here is not a substitute for specific training.