It's the middle of December, I'm sitting at my computer on a Saturday morning and it's a beautiful, sunny day in the mid 40 degree range. The Provo and many other rivers within a half hour drive are low and clear and most fishermen are wearing another hat these days, rod and reel retired to storage. But, the fish haven't "retired" or "hibernated". They're still there wondering where everyone went, anxious to provide us sport or make fools of us, just like in April.
This can be the best time of the year to fly fish. The cold is a blessing. It scares most anglers away and allows for some real solitude while fishing, something that is getting more and more scarce. Most days the temperature rises above 32 degrees, and even much below freezing, it's possible to fish in relative comfort.
Much has been said by Larry Tullis and others in Utah Fishing and Outdoors Magazine about cold weather clothing in recent weeks. Dressing for the cold is as much a technique or skill as casting. There are absolute "rights" and "wrongs" in selecting what to wear, and it seems that every year there is another space age material on the scene that has the features that are right. Look for a material that is lightweight, waterproof, that insulates and wicks away moisture. Anything cotton is out. Wool is good because it can insulate even when wet. The synthetics are even better because they are lighter, insulate extremely well and are best at wicking away moisture from the skin. As Larry has said, in the cold, wet is bad, dry is good. If we are bundled under 50 lbs. of heavy clothing, moving around and working up a sweat, our skin will get clammy and sweaty and we will be uncomfortable and eventually cold.
Materials to mix with wool in our clothing selection are Gore-Tex, Thermax, Thinsulate, polar fleece, capilene, etc., that have the ability to insulate and wick away moisture from the skin. Down is a wonderful insulator, but becomes almost useless when wet. Layer these materials with the first layer some synthetic, wicking material. Thermax or Polypropolene underwear work great.
Neoprene waders are recommended although I have done well in extreme cold with light nylon waders over two layers of Polypropolene long underwear. Neoprene will keep one warm even if the skin gets wet so a wader leak isn't an end to the day. Instead of regular wading boots, in the winter I like neoprene booties with a hard sole. Many use these for float tubing and placed on over neoprene waders they are excellent in keeping the feet warm in the water.
Pay special attention to the hands and head, also. For the hands, neoprene or wool gloves work well since the hands are likely to get wet. Fingerless gloves will work just fine, if they keep the palms sufficiently warm. The warmed blood from the palm flows through and warms the fingers. If you prefer to use full gloves and remove them when you have to tie knots, be sure and warm them up before you insert your cold hands inside.
One of the best cold weather hats I've found uses down for insulation with Gore-Tex liners for waterproofing. If you don't have a parka that covers the neck area, consider some sort of hood that insulates and protects the neck and head. Here again, if the neck is cold, then blood flowing to the face and head will be cold. Knitted wool caps and the face and neck covering "balaclava" are OK but will not work well if there's storminess and moisture to contend with. So much heat is lost from the head that I would recommend upgrading the head covering beyond the usual knit ski cap.
In layering, the trunk of the body is usually well covered, but sometimes bending over or just putting on waders will pull out clothing tucked around the waist. If this area gets cold, you could get into real trouble. The body will restrict blood flow to the arms and legs and head if the vital organs in the trunk of the body are threatened with cold. If you start to have trouble walking, casting or talking and making simple decisions, then get to shelter and warmth quickly. Continually monitor yourself in these areas before hypothermia or loss of mobility or reasoning set in. These are real killers.
With proper clothing, one can spend the day outdoors with no adverse affects. Jim Phillips, a Utah County neighbor of mine, has developed clothing utilizing closed cell foam such as used in moon boots. With this clothing one can live outdoors in sub zero weather with no shelter for extended periods of time (months) with no problems.
Limit your time in the elements, therefore, based on the quality of your clothing. Your body will sometimes not warn you before you're in trouble, so set limits of an hour or two when you go out until youve tested your resources. Also, harden yourself like a tomato plant. Go for walks in your cold weather clothing to see how it performs with each area of your body. You'll see areas for possible improvement and gradually acclimatize your system to enduring cold. This will help you be more comfortable when you leave your 70 degree environment.
About equipment. I still have not found a way to prevent ice from forming on guides or having my reel occasionally lock up when air temperatures are below freezing. Short casts, cutting line stripping and shooting to a minimum, will help. Shaking the rod off under water will remove ice from guides and free-up a reel. I caught one of my best brown trout doing this while fishing a leech pattern.
There is a stillness and quiet when snow covers the ground that sets the stage for fishing #22-24 midge patterns that makes winter time fly fishing unique. It isn't always the easiest fishing but each year it leans more and more toward the best.