What Should I Wear for Winter Fly Fishing?

Winter fishing can be sublime. Most of the time, you’ll have the water to yourself, and if you pick the right day it can be extremely productive and even more rewarding.

Gearing up for an arctic experience on the water is hands down the most important aspect of winter fishing. If you don’t layer your clothing and dress accordingly, fly fishing in the winter months can be an exercise in futility.

To find success and comfort when winter fishing, it’s important to layer your fly-fishing clothing with just the right gear to keep you warm and dry when the conditions could send you back to the truck for a warm up.

Rule # 1: Cotton Kills

Cotton is extremely hydrophilic, meaning it loves water and absorbs it quickly. Once water is absorbed, cotton loses almost all its insulating value. This is bad news when winter fishing as it means once your cotton layer becomes damp from sweat or a leaky wader, your body will have to work harder to keep you warm.

Avoid cotton socks, sweat pants and even cotton undershirts. You want your body to breathe from your feet to your head. Breathable waders do allow you to expel excess body temperature and sweat out of your waders, but a fair amount of moisture it will stick around. Breathable layers help disperse this condensation. Cotton layers will just pool up and collect the condensation and make you feel cold and damp.


The two-sock system is ideal for winter fishing. All stocking foot waders have neoprene booties. Neoprene does not breathe, and if you do any amount of hiking in the cold temperatures of winter, your feet are going to sweat. While the waders keep out the water, they don’t expel all the sweat your body creates while moving.

  • Start with a small, lightweight, 100% synthetic liner sock. These are usually made with some sort of blend of poly, nylon or spandex material. This liner does not insulate but is meant to help wick away sweat.
  • Over the lightweight liner, add a heavyweight wool or nylon-blended sock to help keep your feet warm.
  • At all costs, avoid layers that make your wading boots feel too tight. If your feet barely fit into your boots, you’ll cut off circulation and make your feet as cold as if you weren’t wearing any socks at all.
  • If you fish often in the winter, purchase a pair of larger-sized wading boots to accommodate the added bulk. A pair of boot foot waders are also a good winter time option.

Body and Legs

For your legs and body, follow the same system you’ll use for your sock layering system.

  • Stay away from cotton materials
  • Layer first with a lightweight, moisture wicking base layer made of a wool/synthetic blend.
  • Over top of the base layer, fleece is your best option for an insulation layer. Use both fleece wader pants for your legs and a fleece pullover or jacket for your upper body
  • Over top of your upper body fleece layer, add another insulation jacket may be necessary to keep out the cold bite of a blowing wind. A wading jacket or wind stopping jacket is a good option to keep a cold wind from knocking down your body temperature.

Gloves and Hats

Nobody enjoys fishing with gloves on. They can take way your tactile abilities, catch line when casting and add bulk to your experience.

But with winter fishing, gloves are pretty much mandatory. So, it’s important to take a look at the different types available.

100% Neoprene Gloves

  • You best option for 100% waterproof protection. Neoprene, dive-style gloves are the choice for extreme winter fisherman.
  • Neoprene gloves definitely restrict movement and can be a bit cumbersome to cast with. They are downright impossible to tie a fly on while wearing so you’ll have to take them off when re rigging.

Fingerless, fold-over mittens

  • The best option for practical fishing use and consistent warmth. Fold over the mitten when you need to tie on a fly, then fold it back over when you’re done.
  • Look for fold-over mittens that have Velcro or latch holding systems so the mitten part does not dangle freely. Otherwise you’ll be untangling your fly line from the mitten all day long.
  • As much as possible, avoid getting your mittens wet.
  • Always carry a spare set of gloves in your pack. If your hands get cold, it’s only a matter of time until you call it quits.


  • Leave the ball caps at home. You’ll want something with insulating power, so a fleece lined bill hat with fold over ear flaps is a better call than a trucker cap.
  • Go with a 100% wool skullcap or beanies. If you need to keep the sun out of your eyes, pick a beanie with a visor.
  • Make sure you can fold the beanie down and over your ears when you need to keep your extremities warm.

When fishing in the winter, it’s always a good idea to bring a pack along that you can put extra layers into, or use to store extra layers in when you start to get too warm and start to sweat too much. It’s always a good idea to be over prepared to take off layers throughout the day instead, of being stuck without enough clothing and warmth.

If you follow some basic guidelines like avoiding cotton, avoiding squeezing too tight into your waders and continue to allow your body to breathe, winter fishing is a breeze to stay prepared and warm for. Get out there and enjoy a cold day on the water and you’ll see that sometimes the solitude alone was worth the trip.

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