Fly Fishing in the Winter — Something is Always Gonna Hurt

by | Nov 28, 2021 | 17 comments

** NOTE: This is Part Eight of a Troutbitten series on fly fishing for trout through the winter months.
You can find the full series HERE. **

Joey reeled up and waded downstream toward me. He kept to the left bank and walked through thin currents, where he’d caught his last trout about a half hour ago. He paused to look at the details of the depression from where that larger trout had ambushed. It was soft water, with a sandy bottom, and the trout had been resting on a color change from tan to brown. Joey leaned in and peered through the surface, searching, wondering and cataloging anything unique about the spot. I love this kid . . .

Joey is my oldest son, now thirteen. And he’s deep into the addiction of pursuing trout. He’s at the perfect age for appreciating the independence that a day on the water can bring.

For every angler, there’s a sense of satisfaction at the conclusion of a good outing. Whether trout find the net or not, just knowing that we fished well and hung in there is a feeling of confidence. In a world where so much is out of our control, trout fishing offers the opportunity to make decisions and see the fruition of our plans. It’s a simple pursuit, made complicated only by the options and nuances that we choose to include. And for Joey, fishing in-line spinners is his way of keeping things under control. Fewer options, longer range, less rigging, and trout in the net is a good formula. And I welcome his exploration. I too fished with spinners for a while. But he has a knack for it that I never seemed to find — not to the same degree as Joey.

“Dad, let’s go upstream and around this long pool,” he said.

As Joey waded closer, I could see his expression, I could tell he was determined, content and confident in his methods.

“If you want to be done, that’s okay too,” he said, honestly.

“No, no.” I assured him. “I’m good. You know I’ll walk up with you.”

Joey and I climbed the short, steep hillside until we reached the old railroad grade. The day had grown colder, and the ground was now covered in two inches of fresh snow. Harsh wind had set in about three hours ago, and the spitting rain had turned into thick snowflakes that made visibility difficult. White curtains folded and swirled from unpredictable directions. But the snow spared us the bone-chilling soak of thirty-five degrees and rain.

We welcomed the first snowfall of the season. And I mentioned this to my son, as we fell into a walking rhythm together, pacing our strides against the rotting railroad ties.

“This is really your first winter season of fishing, Joe.”

“Yeah,” he said with some pride.

“I think you’ll be able to make it all the way through.”

“Yeah,” he agreed again.

READ: Troutbitten | Fly Fishing in the Winter — Head, Shoulders, Knees and Toes

In previous seasons, neither of my sons made it through the challenges that winter weather presents. For many years, it simply wasn’t possible to provide them the gear necessary to stay dry and warm while wading. This year, I upsized Joey’s waders and boots. And I bought him thick wool socks that he doubled up on. Finally, the toes are warm and his legs are strong. That makes all the difference.

“How are those boots working out, Joe?” I asked him as the gravel crunched underneath our footfalls in the new fallen snow.

“Yeah, my toes don’t hurt this time.” I could fish until dark.

“Well what does hurt right now?” I asked him.

“My hands,” Joey told me quickly.” No matter what, my fingers are just cold.

“Well, you’ll get used to it, as the season moves forward,” I told him. “Out here in the winter, Joe, something’s always gonna hurt. That’s just the way it is.”

With another two-hundred yards to walk before scampering downhill and in-between two towering, leafless sycamores, I thought a little more about this. We were both happy for the walk — for the chance to loosen up and stretch our muscles — to burn some fuel and create heat in our bodies which had just spent a couple of hours in sub-forty degree water.

Something always hurts. For winter fishing, this maxim is true. If not the extremities, then it might be a windburned face, or a chill that grips your shoulders and won’t let go. Winter fishing is hard. And that’s why Joey and I saw no one else out there, even on a holiday weekend.

Sure — sunny winter days invite the fair weather angler who dabbles in the extended season. But stack up the wind, snow, dark clouds and cooling temperatures, and what it takes to overcome these elements becomes more than most fishermen are willing to sustain. Because even if you’re dressed perfectly, something is gonna hurt.

The comforts of our modern lives don’t present this type of challenge anymore — not often. Air conditioning and heated car seats have spoiled us with creature comforts. Being uncomfortable is so unusual that it’s easy to walk away and just stay home for the rest of the season.

Winter fishing is a mind-over-matter exercise. It’s willpower. Earlier in the day, the trigger finger on my rod hand was numb. As the bitter wind set in, my body rebelled a bit, alerting me to its most exposed part and complaining about the harsh cold. It was painful. And yet, I was reminded that I’ve been through this before. Each season, the first few days in truly cold conditions present the same challenge. Anything exposed just hurts — sometimes a lot. But because our minds and bodies are resilient — because we are built to survive and overcome — something happens, and we get used to the conditions at hand. Because it’s winter now.

Some things hurt. Some things we get used to. But everything out there we feel, all through the winter, like no other season. The solitude, the quiet, the depth of experience is there, everyday, for the winter angler.

Fish hard, friends.

 

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** Read more about winter fly fishing here **

 

Enjoy the day.
Domenick Swentosky
T R O U T B I T T E N
domenick@troutbitten.com

 

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Domenick Swentosky

Central Pennsylvania

Hi. I’m a father of two young boys, a husband, author, fly fishing guide and a musician. I fish for wild brown trout in the cool limestone waters of Central Pennsylvania year round. This is my home, and I love it. Friends. Family. And the river.

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17 Comments

  1. I did a lot of winter steelheading and nothing made the cold go away like a “fish on!”

    They say that there’s no such thing as bad weather, just bad clothing. Winter fishing exposed some flaws in this old saw, especially regarding cold hands. Nothing helps cold feet better than the insulated (neoprene or breathable) boot foot waders available to duck hunters. Huge difference and reasonably priced compared to traditional stocking foot style.

    Reply
    • I’d add duck hunting socks as well. They go up to your thighs and double as extra knee padding for those additional icy stumbles. The only problem with all the extra layers is the stiff and jointless “tin man stride” that we’re for forced to adopt!

      Reply
  2. Ah, Winter. The real season begins.

    Couldn’t do 30 something water temps without Grabber hand and toe warmers.

    Fish warm, friends.

    Reply
  3. Dom, don’t know if you’ve tried this, but I’ve found keeping 2 handwarmers on the backside of my hand (opposite the palm side) under the fingerless wool gloves works better for me than keeping a handwarmer against by wrist with a wrist band. I’ve fished in the teens with my hands in decent shape with this strategy.

    Reply
  4. Ice-climbing requires similar clothing to keep warm (lucky for me)–and a similar attitude. My climbing partner put it this way: “You gotta’ want to be there.”–despite the cold, snow, and wind.

    Reply
  5. Sometimes, you just need to Embrace The Suck…..

    Reply
  6. Another thing I keep in my fishing container in my vehicle is a jar of O’Keeffe’s working hands to apply as soon as I get finished. Does miracles on the dry chaffed hands.

    Reply
  7. What has been a real game changer for me is wearing nitrile examination gloves under my half finger gloves. Fingers are vulnerable because they are invariably wet from even just manipulating line. The nitrile gloves keep the water off your skin and that makes all the difference in the world. The nitrile gloves are a little loose and this creates a small amount of insulating dead air space that contributes significantly to warmth. For this reason you don’t want to use the super tight latex surgical gloves. Surprisingly I don’t find the nitrile gloves interfere with tying knots even with Size 20 nymphs.

    I fished almost every day last winter including multiple days when the air temperature was between -10F and -15F and never felt a problem with my fingers. This was most definitely not the case before using the nitrile gloves.

    Reply
  8. Try HOT SEAT WARMERS , hotseatwarmers@gmail.com. Have used them for 3 years during the winter. Opens up to a 12×12 warmer that has a adhesive on one side that I stick on the inside of the back of my jacket. Very warm and no residue left from adhesive. A great product that works very well

    Reply
  9. Can find them at hotseatwarmers.com

    Reply

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Domenick Swentosky

Central Pennsylvania

Hi. I’m a father of two young boys, a husband, author, fly fishing guide and a musician. I fish for wild brown trout in the cool limestone waters of Central Pennsylvania year round. This is my home, and I love it. Friends. Family. And the river.

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