Nov 25, 2013

Winter Steelheading: Clothing Buyers Guide

The freezing level is dropping and it should be just a few days before we start getting reports of fresh winter chrome entering the lower Columbia tributaries. Winter steelheading is what Northwest fly fishermen live for. The old saying goes: “it’s not steelheading if you aren’t totally miserable.” 

Proper attire for Winter Chrome

Well, there is no reason to be miserable if you are properly geared up. Let’s cover some necessary winter steelheading gear before you go out unprepared for a nasty December day. Layers, layers, layers…. Put them on, take them off, and carry more than you will need. There are some great options out there for your base (bottom) layer. I really love merino wool. It’s warm and comfortable and wicks moisture and sweat very well. Simms DownUnder Merino Zip Top and DownUnder Merino Bottoms are excellent for a winter base layer. If you prefer synthetics, Simms’ Waderwick line and Redington’s Sonic Dry line are both great choices. Synthetics are warm, not quite as warm as wool per weight, and are known for retaining odors…. So change them often, for all of our sake. One hot new item for layering your top half is the Simms Axis Hoody. It’s been a good seller and we have had great feedback from our clients about how warm and versatile it is. The cuffs are waterproof so you can dip your hands in the water to land/release fish, and it features heavy-duty polartec thermal-pro fabric that is the warmest, lightest-weight insulating material available for base layers. Plus it’s stylish enough for a night on the town.

Photo credit: Steve Turner

Winter Attire: Back to Basics

Middle Layers:

The layer between your long-johns and your waders is the most important in the layering game. This layer makes the difference between being bitter cold and toasty warm while in the river. The new Simms ExStream Pants (gunmetal) are the most comfortable, warmest pants that we can find. These pants feature primaloft insulation, which is soft, lightweight, and stays incredibly warm, even if you get them wet. These pants are also stylish enough for both the after-fishing campfire, and a trip into town for some hard-earned burgers and beers.

On top of the Axis Hoody or Waderwick top, most of us wear a fleece or wool jacket. I wear the Simms ADL jacket (black), however the Lumberjacks may have inspired the first formidable flannels, but Simms takes bushwhacking into the 21st Century with the Simms Coldweather Shirt.

So when it’s really, really cold, you will need an extra layer in the mornings. Something packable and lightweight is ideal. Primaloft jackets make an amazing extra layer for those bitter cold mornings. I have a Simms Fall Run Jacket that I take off when (if) it warms up. It is lightweight and packs down into my shoulder bag when I am ready to shed a layer.

The Simms ExStream Jacket (gunmetal) is a heavy-duty primaloft jacket that will keep you warm even on the coldest morning the Northwest can throw at you. A bit bigger than the Fall Run Jacket, it can easily replace your fleece or wool middle layer. It’s perfect for fishing when it’s really cold, but not raining. However, if you do encounter some liquid sunshine, it fits under a rain jacket just fine.


Some guys love gloves, some hate them. Either way, they will help keep your hands warm. I recently stumbled across Kast Steelhead gloves (read full review). These gloves are warm, waterproof and slim enough to not be cumbersome when fishing. Simms also makes a variety of wool and fleece gloves. Whether you like fishing with them or not, it’s a good idea to have a pair around for those times when you are rowing, hiking or watching your buddy work a run for the third time today.


Once you have your two or three layers for your top, you will need a waterproof, stormproof, I mean hurricane proof jacket. Simms makes several awesome jackets that fit this bill. The Guide, G4 Pro, and Contender Jackets are all excellent choices for battling winter storms and sideways freezing rain. The Redington Stratus II Jacket is also a good choice that doesn’t break the bank.

Simms: Repairing Pinholes in your waders.


Waders are obviously important when standing in a freezing river for hours at a time. Make sure yours are not leaking. Check out these videos on wader repair if you aren’t familiar with proper care and repair.

Repairing a small tear in your waders
Stocking foot repair: Simms Waders

Spending an hour or two fixing pinhole leaks in your nice warm house will save you hours of cursing and freezing on the river later. If they are beyond repair, we have plenty of options. Gore-tex is still the best option on the market. Simms Headwaters, G3, G4 and G4Z are all ready to handle a season of chasing winter chrome. The newly designed G3 waders should be here any day, with new and improved designs to help you stay comfortable and dry.

The spare bag:

This is extremely important. Keep an extra set of clothing in a bag. Do it. Just go put a complete set of everything in a small dry bag or duffel bag. Keep it in your truck. It should have: Top and bottom base layers, fleece top and bottoms, clean wool socks, a blanket (yes, find a blanket to throw in there) and a nice warm sweater or jacket. Remember to bring enough clothing to keep someone warm who fell in the freezing river. Don’t do it halfway. Add some hand warmers and a flask full of whiskey just to be safe.

So grab your favorite spey rod and get out on the water. Go out there and make a fishing report…

Andrew Perrault
Gorge Fly Shop

Greg Darling demonstrates the buff for Winter Fishing

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