Gear Reviews: Three Essentials for Winter Fly Fishing

Winter is a great time to fish (more here). There’s an austere simplicity about it and an almost surreal view of a river landscape that was once verdant and teeming with life. I love winter fly fishing.

The complication? How to keep warm.

Over the years, I’ve learned some painful lessons about what not to bring to a cold river (such as any shirts or layers that contain cotton, a material that traps moisture and chills you). The upshot is that three pieces of gear are essential to me, and two of them come from many winters spent skiing very cold and icy mountains.


It is stunning how much of a difference these little guys can have on your day. Tucked into my gloves or the pouch of my waders, they give me extra hours on the water. When it’s particularly cold or windy, I pop one under my ski hat.

I’ve read a few online reviews. HotHands is perceived as offering the best product for the least amount of money. I buy a bunch to save on unit costs.

Synthetic materials have advanced greatly the past 10 years. It’s why you rarely see people wearing wool on the ski slopes these days. It’s all about light-weight, thin and very effective synthetic materials.

When on the water in winter, I wear an Under Armour ColdGear mock. Wool is great, but it is bulky. And, should you ever get it wet, it will make for a very long day or a very short outing. That’s where synthetic materials come in. The mock is very, very thin, and so, I can layer up and still cast with ease.

Moreover, it dries very quickly should you get some water on your sleeves. It wicks away moisture, and so, will keep you dry and warmer. Any moisture, from the river or your perspiration, will chill you (more below).

When the water gets really cold, I also wear Under Armour leggings. But, if it’s just moderately cold, I go without, as I over-heat. These things are that good at holding heat.

Last, the Under Armour stuff lasts. I’ve been wearing the same mocks for 10 years. They’re durable.

This is a tip from Kelly Galloup. I have an old dish rag tucked into my waders when I fish in the winter. When my hands get wet, I dry them off. Moisture efficiently transfers heat (it’s why we sweat in the summer), and so, dry hands are significantly warmer. There’s nothing worse than shaking or numb fingers as you try to put on a tiny nymph or dry fly.

Hope this helps!


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16 thoughts on “Gear Reviews: Three Essentials for Winter Fly Fishing

        1. Another thought- they also keep your upper body warm also.
          My son who is a professional photographer has borrowed mine for the polar plunge in Jan in the ocean in CT-warm as toast.

  1. One thing to be very careful of is your feet and maintaining feeling in them. Don’t stand in the water so long your feet go numb and you stumble and fall. Best thing to wear is a good pair of wool liner socks under your wool wader socks, and move around, take breaks.

  2. Thanks for the great tips! I would add: don’t bulk up too much on the socks. It ends up restricting circulation, which allows your feet to get colder faster. I usually wear a thin silk or poly liner plus a nice warm (but not super thick) high-wool-content ski sock. You should be able to wiggle your toes. I learned this the hard way!

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