The final piece of the puzzle for staying warm in the winter is the outer layer. This is the part that will keep the snow, wet, and rain from soaking you through and making you miserable. It will cut the wind, and let the other parts of your system work to their best.
A good pair of waders is a must for winter fishing. Modern breathable waders are not very warm by themselves. Their thin and lightweight construction just doesn’t have much insulation. The other parts of your system will do that job. You’ll want waders that are comfy, and don’t leak. Check for leaks before you head out; there is nothing worse than getting a leak on a cold day. When purchasing waders, make sure you leave yourself enough room to layer underneath.
Both Simms and Patagonia make excellent waders. Many of the Simms models are made right here in Bozeman, which is a nice bonus. We get asked all the time what the difference is between the two brands. Simms are made in the US and use Gore-Tex, one of the most well known waterproof breathable fabrics on the market. Patagonia waders are made overseas and use H2NO, their waterproof breathable fabric. Both are completely waterproof. The Simms are a little more tough, and the Patagonia models are a little more breathable. My advice? Try them both on and see what fits best.
On the subject of waders, get some good boots too. Felt gives you great traction, but if you are walking on snow a lot it will build up on the sole of the boot. This can be irritating, and will make things pretty slippery. Rubber soled boots won’t have this problem, but won’t have the traction that felt offers. Adding studs or cleats to the sole will help. Patagonia’s Foot Tractor boots with their aluminum bar construction have the best of both worlds.
Every fishing clothing company makes a good rain jacket these days. Patagonia has the SST, River Salt 3-in-1 River Salt, and the Minimalist jacket. Simms has the Guide, G3 Guide, G4, Acklins, Bulkley and many more. All of these offer a waterproof, breathable design that will keep you dry in the worst of conditions. You want one that you can cast and move comfortably in, as well as leaving enough room for a jacket underneath.
The Simms Bulkley jacket is a favorite amongst winter fishermen. Designed for chasing winter steelhead in wet and miserable conditions, it is insulated and warm enough to be worn without much insulation underneath. It also features a slightly longer cut than other Simms jackets. While designed for steelhead fishermen, it works very well for trout anglers in Montana.
Probably our most popular fishing jacket is the Simms G3 Guide Jacket. It was designed from the ground up to be the best fishing jacket in the industry. The short cut of the jacket keeps it out of the water if you are wading deep. Several large pockets keep your gear organized and built in zingers keep your most needed tools close.
One jacket we just got in the shop is worth mentioning. The Patagonia 3-in-1 River Salt is basically two jackets in one. The outer shell is their proven River Salt rain jacket, with a snap in liner that is very similar to the Nano Puff Hoody. This gives you a very warm jacket when they are combined, and lets you wear either piece separately if you so choose. Versatility is a good thing.
If you buy a rain jacket that is just a shell, as most of them are, it becomes a year round jacket. You can just as comfortably wear it in the freezing depths of winter as on a warm summer’s day to protect against a quick thundershower. Again, versatility is a good thing and it might make spending $300-400 on a quality rain jacket a bit more palatable.
Keeping your head and your hands warm is a huge part of enjoying your time fishing in the winter. Buying a jacket and insulating layer with a hood will do a pretty good job of keeping your head warm, but investing in a warm winter hat is always a plus. You can find them easily and they aren’t too expensive and you can do a lot more than fish in them.
Gloves get a little more technical. For fishing, you will find yourself with several options. Most anglers opt for a fingerless glove style. This allows you the dexterity you need to pick flies out of boxes, tie knots, work a camera, and many other handy tasks. Some fingerless gloves have a fold over mitten that covers your fingertips. I would highly recommend this style.
The full fingered gloves are nice for keeping your hands and fingers warm, but you lose a lot of ability to work on stuff. For things like tying flies on you have to take your gloves off, which gets to be kind of a pain when it’s really cold out.
Wool has long been a favorite for fishing gloves since the material will stay warm even when it’s wet. But finding really good quality rag wool gloves is a hard thing to do these days. If you can find them, buy some.
Winter lingers for what seems like forever. You’ve got to go fishing, and you’ve got to stay warm. Dress properly and it will be a really enjoyable experience for you.
See you on the water.