It’s been a relatively mild fall in 2015 – great for fly fishing in reasonable comfort but bad just the same because it may have kept the blood too thin for too long! Now it’s the Thanksgiving holiday week and temps are starting to drop like they should have a few weeks ago. Add to this some precipitation – in the clear form and white form – and it may be time to brush up on dressing for cold weather fly fishing.
Fly fishing in the fall in the Southern Tier is always a gamble, but the later one fishes into fall and early winter, the higher the odds for inclement weather. What follows over the next couple of weeks is a multi-part series on how to dress for cold weather fly fishing.
Before delving into the specifics of dressing for cold weather, consider these important fundamentals:
- Environment – one can’t control the environment but one can control its effect by creating a comfortable microclimate for the body. This means understanding the potential weather conditions and dressing appropriately.
- Your microclimate – a very thin layer of protective air surrounds you wherever you go and it is that “climate” that must be protected. The ideal microclimate is around 90 degrees F with a relative humidity of less than 30 percent. Any change to these levels will result in discomfort.
- Clothing – consider quality outerwear, footwear, and gloves to be more than clothing: they are functional equipment, and in cold weather they are as critical to fishing as one’s tackle. They will help you stay comfortably active outdoors longer and in extreme conditions, keep you safe and may even save your life. You may not be able to control the weather, but you can control the climate closest to your body by wearing outerwear and footwear that can manage moisture, control heat transfer, and protect from the weather.
- Your body – physical condition, activity level, and personal perception can all affect one’s level of comfort. Physically fit individuals experience less heat strain and are less likely to perceive discomfort from the same amount of activity than individuals whose bodies are not so well conditioned.
- Heat balance – being comfortable is a matter of balance: the amount of heat your body produces has to match the amount it loses. Wearing the right layers and choosing appropriate levels of insulation are keys to maintaining comfortable body temperatures.
- Weather protection – outdoor gear creates a protective barrier between you and the forces of nature. The best clothing systems are made up of specific layers that work together to ensure the optimal combination of breathability and waterproofness to keep you dry and warm.
- Moisture control – most anglers know they can warm up by moving, but producing too much body heat can be a bad thing too. Your body’s cooling mechanism will respond to over-heating by producing sweat. Unfortunately, sweat can lead to discomfort because water conducts heat, causing rapid cooling. So remember that external moisture isn’t the only thing that can cause the shivers. To stay dry and warm, clothing has to protect you from both external and internal sources of moisture. Breathable outerwear and footwear keep you dry from the inside out by allowing this moisture to evaporate out away from your body.
Besides the above fundamentals, it is a good idea to look at one’s body in terms of zones as each part of the body responds differently to cold weather, as follows:
- Head – more heat is lost through the unprotected head than one’s entire body can produce.
- Torso – the torso can be cold and wet in one spot but warm and dry in another. To be comfortable in cold weather, dress according to body “zones”.
- Hands – hands perspire a lot and are often exposed to extreme conditions. In cold weather, they must endure reduced blood circulation, making them prone to freezing.
- Legs – your legs comprise about 30% of your body and represent a lot of surface area to keep warm and dry.
- Feet – your feet perspire one-quarter of a cup of moisture a day per foot while at rest and up to one full cup during activity. If your footwear isn’t breathable, this moisture vapor is trapped inside, where it can cause coldness in your feet.
Part 2 of this series will cover the clothing materials that can make cold weather fly fishing far more enjoyable.