It takes more than just a little cold weather to keep kayak anglers off the water.
Now, we’ll be the first to admit that cold weather kayak fishing is not the same sort of game as paddling after bass, reds, specks, and other hard-pulling fish in the balmy breezes of summer and early fall. The water that always drips off the handles of the paddle as it is used is kind of nice during warm and hot weather. It’s no big deal if we get wet when the sun is blazing, and the water is warm. But it’s a whole other thing when the wind is brutal, and the water is cold.
Those pleasant little drops of water which served to moisten and cool us in summer can be unbearable in winter. However, with a little preparation and the right kayak fishing gear, even the very coldest weather which comes along here on the Gulf Coast can’t keep kayak anglers from getting into some great fishing.
Dry is Good, Wet is Bad
It’s really very simple: In cold winter weather, if we stay dry, we’ll generally be comfortably warm. If we get wet, we’ll generally be back in the truck trying to thaw out.
It doesn’t matter how many layers of insulated clothes we put on, if we get wet, we’ll be cold and miserable. We can get wet from stepping into the water when launching the kayak, or we can get wet from water dripping off paddle handles, or we can get wet from big fish splashing us. There are many ways for kayak anglers to get wet. So, the key to enjoyable winter kayak fishing is finding some way of staying dry.
“The most successful technique I’ve found for cold water use is to have a full length- feet included- covering which sheds water and has no seams or breaks to allow water to reach me.”
I’ve tried a lot of different ways to keep from getting wet on winter kayak fishing trips from using rain gear jackets and pants to insulated parkas and knee boots. The most successful technique I’ve found for cold water use is to have a full length- feet included- covering which sheds water and has no seams or breaks to allow water to reach me. This might seem like an impossible thing to obtain, but it’s quite simple.
I have found a set of lightweight neoprene chest waders such as duck hunters and freshwater trout fishermen use to be very effective protection against kayak wetness.
I don’t need top of the line insulated and booted waders. I want the cheapest and lightest waders I can find- the kind that requires a pair of larger than usual tennis shoes to be worn over the feet of the waders. Since I’m not really going to be submerging myself in deep water, I don’t have to buy the best and most expensive waders made. I just want something to keep my feet, legs, backside, and middle dry.
I found a pair of very light neoprene waders for less than $80, and they have been reliable cold-water protection for me for over three years. This has been a very cheap way to keep me dry and in the kayak during winter fishing.
Wearing chest waders in a kayak is a bit awkward at first. And, if the kayak being used is a pedal-powered kayak, it will take a little practice to arrive at the most comfortable position for pedaling in waders, but the protection from the wet is worth the allowances that must be made.
My buddy Tim Perkins, a long-time kayak angler, says, “I wear a pair of insulated underwear, a pair of wool socks, a pair of Kokatat Water Pants- with a tight seal around the ankle, waterproof boots, and a waterproof jacket over everything. If the outer layer sheds water, it will also shed wind. It will keep you warm.”
Hands and Head and Other Parts
With most people who kayak, if they can keep their hands warm and their heads warm, everything else will be just fine.
I am right-handed, so I keep my right hand uncovered while fishing so I can cast and use the reel handle without trouble. However, I do wear a glove on my left hand, and I have the right-hand glove in my pocket to use when I’m paddling and not fishing. Cold hands are miserable.
I hate having cold breezes whistle down the back of the neck when I’m kayak fishing, so I always have a hooded jacket of some kind when I go on cold water kayak fishing trips. I usually have a toboggan cap of some kind to help keep my head and ears warm under the hoodie. Tim Perkins tells us that he wears a pair of warm, twistable earmuffs when he’s cold weather kayak fishing.
Now, most of us kayak anglers mutter under our breaths and complain about wearing that hot, constrictive PFD during hot weather. I’ll admit, I moan about the PFD when it’s warm, too. However, in cold weather, that PFD provides a good layer of insulation to our body core, and the warmth a PFD reflects into our body is quite pleasant and can help keep us out on the water when the wind is blowing and cold. And of course, if we fall into the cold, cold winter water, that PFD will probably save our lives.
Bring Some Heat with You
On those super cold winter days on the Gulf Coast, the days that the sheepshead and reds really bite well, it can be a wonderful thing to have a chemical hand warmer of some sort along. A pocketful of heat can warm up wet fingers very quickly and make a miserable situation quite bearable.
A wide range of hand warmers are affordable at most sporting goods stores, and these little bags of heat are great things to have on wet, cold fishing days. Most of the modern chemical hand warmers are not affected by water, so they do well on kayaks.
And a final idea for cold weather kayak fishing comes from Tim Perkins. He says, “I keep a dry bag on my kayak. It holds another set of clothes and a towel. This gives me what I need to get dry again if I happen to get wet while I’m fishing.”