Dec. 31st: The day was clear and cold. It was 11:30 a.m. and the sun had not yet hit the water. With numb fingers I struggled to tie on a new leader; split shot, strike indicator and a size 18 hares ear nymph. Although I could not see the fish I could almost feel that it was laying alongside a rock about 15 feet in front of me.
Slowly I worked myself into position and lobbed my usual sloppy cast in the general direction of the rock. By some miracle the fly landed in precisely the right spot, about six feet upstream from where I felt the fish was laying.
I watched as the indicator drifted lazily past the rock and slowly began to sink. From across the river I could hear my buddy Tim yell, "Set, for hells sake, set!" Sluggishly I set the hook and for a brief moment felt the weight of a fish and then nothing. Like all morning, I had been too slow.
Fly fishing in the winter, unlike this morning, can have great rewards. Streams are usually uncrowded and those holes you had been lusting over all summer but had always seemed to have fishermen already in them are now empty. The days are quiet and the fishing can be fantastic. Several Utah tailwaters are actually at their best during the coldest months when midge and nymph fishing come into their own.
But winter fly fishing also has its down side. It can be cold, wet, uncomfortable and even deadly.
The difference between having a great experience or a miserable one lies solely on your ability to keep warm and dry. To accomplish this you must have good cold weather gear. Here is a list of basic cold weather gear that should keep you warm and comfortable in most circumstances:
1Two pair of socks the first one cotton and the next heavy wool.
2Polypropalene thermal underware. (There are several other high quality types of formals that also work well. Lately I have been having good success with a type made from a material called Acrilite.)
Atwood quality neoprene chest waders. Some of the best of these are made by Streamline, Simms, James Scott and Hodgman. (All these are expensive but I feel they are the most important part of your outfit.)
4Loose fitting wading boots. (Remember that the boots you wear during the summer may be too snug while wearing an extra pair of heavy stocks. That can actually make your feet colder.)
5Polar fleece jacket. (There are several types marketed under different names. Make sure to get a high quality one. I have sometimes used a wool sweater for this layer, and it seems to work well.)
6A nylon outer shell wading jacket. (Some of the best of these are the Streamline Q-nimbus and the Patagonia SST. Both of these are quite expensive but well worth it and can double as a fly vest).
7A wool hat or equivalent. (The hood on the Streamliner also works well).
8Neoprene or fingerless wool gloves. (Wool gloves work great on milder days but nothing beats neoprene on the coldest days. This is another item where it pays to buy the best. Poor quality gloves are almost worthless. The best gloves I have ever used are the full finger neoprene Glacier gloves).
A good rule of thumb when purchasing any of these items is to buy the very best you can afford.
With this outfit you should be able to stay warm and comfortable in most winter fishing conditions, and it could even save your life. (My partner and friend Jeff Arnell and I survived a boating accident in good shape on the Green River this past December in extremely cold conditions while wearing similar outfits).