Keep Warm and Safe This WinterKeep Warm and Safe This Winter Your main goal is to have a good time, catch some fish, and be safe. Investing in the right gear will make fishing in the winter a lot more enjoyable for years to come. Here's how.
By M. L. Anderson
I was just talking to an old fishing buddy who is an Arizona ex-pat, now living in Minnesota. He told me that they have trailers with wheels that ratchet up so you can pull them out on the ice and fish from your recliner while you watch television. Wow. Compare that to those of us who fish for bass and run down the not-quite-frozen lake at 70 MPH. I have fished tournaments where it was so cold that the water from the line was icing up on my guides as I reeled. Once or twice, we got snowed on. And that’s in Arizona!
I think that my face, ears, and hands are the most susceptible to very cold weather. When you’re going fast in winter, that cold wind feels like it snatches the breath out of your nose, and an icy wind will make your eyes water so much that it’s downright dangerous – it’s like driving blind. Once you stop at a spot, your hands are so cold you can barely fish. BUT, it doesn’t have to be that way. These days, there are plenty of ways to stay warm and safe on the water.
First of all, let me just say that if you have never fallen overboard in the winter, consider yourself blessed. Hitting that cold water absolutely knocks the wind out of you, and may cause involuntary inhalation, which is a very bad thing if your head is under water. Cold water can even cause you to have a heart attack. After about ten minutes, you probably won’t be able to do anything to help yourself because your body will be shutting off blood flow to your non-essential muscles. All this is to say that it is very important to wear your life jacket in the winter. Not only will it keep you from drowning, but it will also help keep you warmer.
At a January tournament at Roosevelt Lake one year, a buddy’s wife was tossed overboard when a big wake hit their boat. He told me that he was almost not able to get her back aboard the boat, because all the bulky clothes she was wearing to keep warm were now soaking wet and weighed a ton. She wasn’t able to help him much because her hands were so cold she couldn’t hold on. He finally managed to get her back in the boat, and fortunately they had a camper in the parking lot where he was able to get her changed into dry clothes and get her warmed up. Cold water is no joke.
FACE AND HEAD
Save Phace makes a face shield that will keep the icy wind off your face, but I’ve heard varying reviews. Some guys absolutely love them, and some say they fog up too much. However, the Save Phace website (www.savephace.com) states that the lens WILL NOT fog up (emphasis theirs). The SUM version, Sport Utility Mask, is made for OHV’s, boats, etc. They are pricey, at around $70, but they’ll keep not only wind and rain, but also bugs out of your face. I got hit by a bee once – wish I’d been wearing one then. Some guys I know wear motorcycle helmets – the full face kind. Many will tell you not to wear the chin strap, though, as cold hands can make them nearly impossible to undo if you go overboard.
One thing is for sure – eyeglasses are no protection from icy wind at 60 mph. The wind simply whips around them and into your eyes. Ditto the windshield on most bass boats. So if you don’t wear a mask, you should definitely invest in a great set of goggles. We bought ours in the off-road department at our local Cabelas, and they have both tinted and clear lenses, plus they fit over your glasses. I suggest you try them on over your glasses before you buy them, though. A nice pair will probably run you around forty bucks.
Goggles protect your eyes, but they leave your nose, ears, and cheeks out in the cold. Those UV masks that make you look like a skull or whatever are fine for sun protection, but they aren’t very warm. I have a fleece neck warmer that is about a foot wide so I can pull it up over my face clear up to my goggles, and it works really well as long as it isn’t raining. It came with a matching head band that goes over my ears. Really nice. Pull a thick knitted cap over all of that and it makes a run bearable, especially if your jacket has a standing collar.
We got snowed on during a tournament at Apache Lake one year, and by the time we got to our spot, my hands were so cold I couldn’t fish. And that was in spite of the fact that I was a non-boater, and had sat on my hands the whole time. I now actually carry two pairs of gloves with me in the winter – one pair of neoprene fishing gloves for fishing, and one pair of bulky ski gloves for that run down the lake. The fishing gloves have finger tips that fold back so you can use your fingers without taking the gloves off. I’ve also seen some that have no fingertips at all.
Another great thing to have is one of Zippo’s 12 hour hand warmers. They use lighter fluid and they provide heat for 6 – 12 hours once they are turned on. You can get one for under $17 on Amazon. You can also get disposable hand warmers from HotHands – around $6.50 for five pair on Amazon. No matter what kind of hand warmer you choose, they are great to just have in your pockets so you can warm up quickly any time.
I always buy my shoes a bit large so I can wear nice cushy socks all year long, and in the winter those cushy socks are also nice and warm. You can even get neoprene socks. The key for your outerwear is layers, because you never know if it’s going to warm up later in the day. Make sure you have along a light rain-proof layer – those also really help cut the wind chill factor down. Since bundling up makes it hard to fish, keep your layers lightweight. A lot of guys I know keep a pair of overalls and a rain jacket in the boat at all times. You can get into some pretty pricey items when you’re searching for warm, lightweight winter wear, but you can use them hunting, off-roading, going to outdoor games, etc. If you spend the money and get some good, lightweight things, they’ll last you for years. Cabelas Guidewear jackets are highly rated, and last time I looked they were on sale for $65.99,marked down from $99.99. The bibs run around $300, but they are fantastic.
I don’t usually wear long johns when fishing, because in Arizona you can be freezing in the morning and sweating in the afternoon. I want to keep my layers removable without risking arrest for indecent exposure. But if you live in a place where winter means it’s cold all day, by all means get some good comfortable long johns.
Your main goal is to have a good time, catch some fish, and be safe. The right clothing, gloves, and headgear can help, and adding that life jacket will not only possibly save your life, but it also really helps keep you warmer in winter. I fish with mine on when it’s cold. Invest in a good one and you’ll hardly notice it’s there – they don’t have to be bulky to be effective. Investing in the right gear will make fishing in the winter a lot more enjoyable for years to come.
I can’t resist telling this story here. I didn’t mention those suspender life vests, but I know a lot of guys who wear them. Years ago, the owner of a boat store here in AZ was wearing one of those self-inflating life vests at a tournament, and while we were all floating around waiting for our trailers to hit the ramp, it started to rain really hard. Suddenly, the guy’s life vest inflated, and since he was such a big man, the vest swelled up against the console and he was wedged into the boat and couldn’t move. He ended up using his pocket knife to deflate the darn thing and escape. We were all dying laughing watching him stab that thing, cussing the whole time.
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