Tenkara is perfect for winter fishing. No line guides to freeze up, no line to manage with your second hand, and best of all – warm gloves!
Winter fishing can be daunting, so here are a few tips to help you on your way to a successful trip to the water with old man winter.
Winter fishing is about two things : staying warm and catching fish. Equipped properly, both can be easy.
Staying warm is centered on keeping your legs well insulated. When you’re standing in a cold river you lose tons of heat through contact with the water – much more than you lose through the rest of your body. Make sure you have a good base layer on your legs. If you think you have enough long underwear on, then double it. On warm winter days, around freezing to 40°F-ish (0° C to 5°C, I wear a pair of Patagonia Capilene 3 Midweight Bottoms with Patagonia’s R1 Pant. If it gets any colder I add expedition weight fleece bottoms. These three items of lower body insulation can be combined to keep you warm in almost any temperature mother nature can torture you with and still have the river have moving water. The beauty of keeping your legs well insulated is that you can regulate your temperature very well. If you’re cold, then go on a quick jog, run in place, etc. If your hot, then take a seat in the cold river. With a focus on keeping your legs well insulated winter fishing can be a toasty warm expenience.
Catching fish is all about getting your fly into the fish’s kitchen. In winter the fish move the kitchen to the bottom of the deepest pools. You’ve got to fish with flies heavy enough to get down there. Try Utah Killer Bugs or any of our ER Wool Body Kebari tied on size 10 jig hooks with tungsten beads. One winter favorite is a Killer or a Wool Body tied on a red bait hook. The red seems to get the fish willing to move a couple of feet to investigate. On the other hand, sometimes the fish want to take smaller bites, so offer up a small midge larvae/pupae pattern in size 20 or so. Small kebari in 22 to 18 work well in darker colors. The combo of huge and tiny is a killer way to introduce yourself to a whole lot of trout.
EriK and Rob covered all the clothing really well. I would add some basic survival gear. It is easy to slip and crank an ankle on icy rocks or get stuck in your car on bad roads. Having some basic survival gear is the difference between hypothermia and rescue.
1. Let someone know where you are going and what time you will return.
2. Fire starting capability. Carry at least 2 methods for starting a fire. I like a swedish firesteel and a basic Bic lighter.
3. Signal capability, visual and audio. I carry a Fox whistle with 120db rating and a USAF Pilot Survival Mirror.
4. Water container. Winter environments are just as dehydrating as the hottest deserts. eating snow encourages hypothermia. You need some kind of water container so you can at least melt snow for drinking water.
5. Basic first aid kit.
I don’t know about you but a lot of places I go fishing have no cell phone coverage. If you are really hurt, lost, or just plain screwed, remember when seconds count, help in the backcountry help is just hours or days away.
7. A good knife. I like a good 4 inch blade mora style knife. They are light weight, razor sharp, and compact. It doesn’t take up any room in my pack.
8. Head lamp with strobe mode. It gets dark early here in Utah in the winter. A lot of fishing days end in a twilight hike back to the car. If you get lost, the strobe is visible for over 1 mile
9. Space Blanket. This is a good multi-use item. It can provide warmth, signal device, shelter, just use a little imagination.
10. Good quality multi-tool, Leatherman/Gerber Tool. Don’t by a crappy Chinese knockoff. Spend a little cash and get a good one. Remember, someday this may be the thing that saves your life.
Almost all of these items are readily available at good outdoor specialty retailers such as REI etc.
You can’t learn how to catch fish in the winter unless you learn how to stay warm in winter. I mean REALLY learn how to stay warm. Outdoors. Standing in water. For hours. So that’s what I’m gonna concentrate on.
Staying warm in winter means layering. Everyone has their own way of doing it, but in general, we all need at least 3 interlocking layers:
- a base layer to wick moisture and help keep your skin dry.
- a middle insulating layer that creates static air space.
- an outer layer that buffers the wind and precip.
From head to toe, my favorite layers are wool. Maybe it’s my New England whaler heritage talking, but there’s a reason why those old salts wore so much wool. It wears hard, wicks well, stays warm even when wet, and resists odors. Today was a snowy but dry 24 degree day on Utah’s famous Middle Provo River. From inside to outside, here is how I layered:
- Base Layers:
- Mid Layers:
- Outer Layers:
On the head goes:
And, most importantly, the hands. We’ve tried (and continue to try) dozens of gloves and glove combos. Some aren’t durable enough. Some don’t allow the dexterity to tie. Many soak up a ton of water and turn into ice bricks. No matter what we try, we always seem to come back to the (suprisingly cheap and warm) WindShear Glomitt.
Plenty of calories and a warm beverage half way through the day doesn’t hurt.
Unfortunately, what does hurt is tobacco and alcohol. I know, I know. I wish that shot of schnapps in hot chocolate actually warmed you up, too. But it doesn’t. And the surest way to slice off the blood supply to your precious fingertips is a good old dose of capillary clamping nicotine.
Oh, and ALWAYS PACK A SECOND SET OF WARM DRY CLOTHES! Even if you’re not as prone to unintentional bathing as I am, you might as well play it safe.