There’s something special about stepping in a river surrounded by snow-covered pines.
Fishing in winter requires certain precautions, however. Safety is the main concern when dealing with ice, and there are also some tricks to staying comfortable and making the experience more enjoyable.
Never underestimate the power of nature.
Always tell a friend or family member where you’re going and provide some kind of timetable for your return, especially if you know a storm front is on the way.
Try not to stray far from your vehicle.
When temps are below freezing, even a half-mile walk from where you fell in the river is life-threatening.
Dress in layers and bring an extra pair of wool socks.
Anchor ice that forms on the riverbed and ice along the bank are dangerous obstacles from December through March. If you have wading boots with a rubber sole that accepts cleats, you should consider buying them. Experience has taught me that a combination of the Simms Hardbite Star Cleat and Hardbite Studs on a Vibram sole work best on ice. Where you place each type of cleat can vary, so ask the pros in your fly shop.
Feeling in your hands is essential to casting, and there are a few ways to keep them warm. While some fishing gloves don’t have fingers, which allows for greater line control, I think all of them are cumbersome.
Instead, skip the gloves, crack open a pair of hand warmers and keep one in each pocket. Then practice casting with each hand. Alternate hands and you should have no problem staying warm.
If you’re lucky enough to release a fish, have a towel ready to dry your hands before you reach for your chem pack. Hand and body warmers don’t work well when wet. Regardless of which method you prefer for keeping your hands toasty, bring something to dry them. Wet gloves only work slightly better than wet hand warmers.
Another obstacle is keeping your rod guides free of ice.
Fly line doesn’t shoot well through frozen guides, and there are many sworn tricks to prevent them from freezing – from products made by fly-fishing companies such as Loon to petroleum jelly, lip balm and even cooking spray. These tricks work with moderate success when applied to guides when temps are between 30 degrees and 45 degrees.
My No. 1 recommendation is to clean your fly line before your trip. Dirt and residue from a season’s worth of fishing combine with wet fly lines to freeze your guides quickly. Use a wet washcloth with a little soap and run the cloth over your line.
When the wind chill is sub-zero, you’ll find that nothing keeps ice from building, but every bit helps. When you stop to break off ice, avoid setting your reel in the water. I’ve done this more than once, and it always results in the reel locking up, which is far worse than dealing with your guides.
Hope these tips help you on your journey to defeating cabin fever. Tight lines!
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