Jan 2, 2017

Dress for Winter Fly Fishing Success

Wet and Cold

If I've learned one thing in fly fishing it is you never know how something is going to work until you're out on the stream in real life. Layering for cold weather is surely one of those areas of trial and error. I'd like to share what has been working for me. This has been my layering program through a couple winter seasons now and it seams to be working pretty well.

Starting with feet

I start with a good pair of wading socks. I only use one layer of socks. I find that the more I can move my toes the warmer they will stay throughout the day. Matter of fact if your wading boots are too tight with your winter socks I would recommend you start with a new pair of wading boots and go a size bigger than your summer wading boots. This may sound like a extra expense but trust me, if your toes can't wiggle your feet and your fishing are going to suffer.
Back to socks...
I like one pair. I think they wick better, I think they are less restrictive on circulation and one pair is less likely to fall down and bunch up causing discomfort. I also like wool, just be sure to buy them plenty big and hang dry them so they don't shrink. Most normal late fall and spring cool temps I go with Simms Wading Socks and when the temps really fall I reach for Simms ExStream Wading Socks. Hint: On really cold days carry an extra pair and change out in the middle of the day. A fresh dry pair of socks can take your attitude from "I'm ready to be done" to "Let's fish till dark."

Lower Half

For my lower half I like Simms Cold Weather Pants. Most days I don't need anything else. The inner fleece wicks and feels warm and the outer shell provides a nice barrier from cold waders. If I feel like I need more then I'll put on a pair of Simms Waderwick Core Bottoms as a base layer under the Cold Weather Pants. The best part of the Cold Weather Pants is they are pants. Complete with pockets and belt loops. Wear them wherever you go.

Upper Half

For my upper half I have developed a four layer system. Base, Mid, Mid Outer and Outer.

For a base layer I start with Simms Waypoint Hoody, (Now known as Solarflex Hoody). Yes, my upper base layer is a summer piece. I like this hoody year-round because it breathes and wicks moisture. Also it moves with me, not against me! I also like having the hood for an additional wind or sun block.

For a second layer I reach for either a Simms WaderWick Thermal Top or Simms Montana TechWool Zip-Top. Both of these pieces can really lock in your core warmth and with the Solarflex Hoody as a base layer you never get the scratchy feeling or fleece feeling directly against your skin. There is something about fleece or wool directly against my skin that really bugs me. With the base layer I never have that problem.

Third I go with a good Quilted Primaloft Jacket such as Simms Fall Run. Simms has some other good choices for this layer too such as Downstream Sweater, Downstream Jacket and the Kinectic Jacket. I like the good old Quilted Fall Run. It's light, moves easy and pack-able. I believe this is an essential layer piece for year round success.

The Outer Shell

If you fish in cold wet weather then I recommend Simms Gore-Tex outerwear. There is a bunch of choices such as G4,  G3 and Guide jacket. For extremes wading conditions I like the Simms Slick Jacket. It has a clean front which goes well with two hand spey fishing. If you fish really wet winter environments like the PNW don't skimp on this layer. Save some money on your middle layers but not the outer shell. For my boat angling I go with a Simms ProDry Gore-Tex Jacket and Bibs.

The Beauty of the Four Layer Top System

What I have figured out is that with these four top layers one can dress accordingly for any condition. Even if you don't start your day with all four layers you should pack the layers you don't start with. Layer up and layer down as needed.

Solarflex Hoody - Puffy Jacket

Always starting with base layer Hoody build it up from there. Many days all I need beyond the base is my puffy jacket. Both pieces are light and work extremely well together. If I need a little more warmth I add the fleece layer between them. If it gets warm than remove the Puffy and you still have sun protection and hoody for sun and wind protection.

Solarflex Hoody - Fleece - Puffy Jacket

By putting the fleece layer between the slick poly/nylon layers of Hoody and Puffy I prevent the old incompatible fabrics issues. You know the issues I'm talking about right? Fleece on Fleece and nothing moves! The key to my 4 layer system is the fabrics never fight each other.

Solarflex Hoody - Puffy Jacket - Gore-Tex Outer Shell

These 3 layers work well together when you are dealing with wet but not too cold. I feel the Primoloft insulation of a puffy style jacket breathes better than fleece. I save the fleece for when I really need it.

Solarflex Hoody - Fleece - Puffy Jacket - Gore-Tex Outer Shell

When you need it all it's hard to beat this combination. Everything moves and breathes as needed. Get too warm and just remove your choice of  middle layers.


Much of this is personal preference but I do have some thoughts. Summer, Winter, Spring or Fall you need gloves.

Summer Gloves

I see too many anglers fishing without Sungloves in summer weather. Three reasons to wear sungloves:
  1. Obviously to prevent sun damage to your hands 
  2. Provide a stripping finger that will help hard stripping and double hauls. Here's a helpful hint, you can apply some line dressing to your glove stripping finger and improve your stripping and casting. 
  3. Avoid sunblock on your fly lines, rod handles and flies. I don't know if the latter makes a difference in fishing but I'm not taking any chances. 
Simms Solarflex Sungloves and/or the Simms Solarflex Guide Gloves gets the job done. Both fit really well. I feel the Solarflex Glove is best in the summer heat with its open palms and the Solarflex Guide Glove is a better shoulder season glove due to having more coverage.

Spring and fall Gloves

Most of the time I get away with using my sungloves in the shoulder seasons. I might need a warmer layer in the cool mornings and evening. Simms ExStream Half Finger, Tight Lines and the trusty Wool Half Finger can cover those cooler mornings and beyond.

Winter Gloves

Tough call on this one and largely depends on the angler. I know a lot of guys are reaching for the all out waterproof gloves. I for one have a hard time fishing in full finger waterproof gloves. I do find good use for the Simms G4 Glove for driving or rowing boats. For fishing I just use my Half finger gloves and carry extra dry pairs to change out.

No matter what you choose for gloves I recommend always carrying extra pairs. I can usually revive my cold hands pretty quick with a fresh pair of dry gloves and a bit of shoreline walking for circulation.


Another area that really comes down to angler preference. To start off you always need a good cap. I suggest once you find the style that you really like make it you designated fishing cap. I spent too many days fighting a new cap that didn't fit or feel right. Even on cold days when I need a beanie or anything warmer than a standard cap I still always carry my fishing cap in my pack, that way if I get too warm I can switch out.
Beanies are great but not necessarily great for fly fishing. If the sun is bright you are missing the bill to block it out of your eyes. I have an old Patagonia fleece cap with a good visor for my winter fishing and I would swim for it if needed in order to keep it around. Too bad they don't make them any more.
Some popular cold weather Simms Hats we sell are the Gore-Tex Extream Hat and Wool Scotch Cap. Both feature fold down ear flaps.
Don't forget Buffs. Buffs are great around your neck and/or ears for extra warmth on those bone chilling days.

That's what I have come up with and it seems to be working pretty good for me. I consider this a system incorporating parts that all work together and/or by themselves. After years of clothing failures I finally feel like I have come up with a not only stuff that works but also no longer waste valuable time worrying about what I will need for a successful day of fishing. I keep all my fishing clothes in one place separated from daily street clothes. I treat these clothes in the same way as I treat my fishing equipment. To me they are just as important as my fly rods, fly reels and fly lines.

I'm sure you have some of your own thoughts and ideas on this subject. Please share in the comments.


Gorge Fly Shop Internet Sales Manager | Product Specialist

"Fly Fish the World with Us"

Read more of Greg's Post


  1. LOL...Yeah, I noticed that too! But take note I said "Go with a good quilted primaloft jacket such as..." But in the photos I was sportin a Kast and today I've graduated to a Nano. It just fits me better than any of the others. Thanks for the call out on me...It gave me a chuckle :)

  2. I'll be the Simms fanboy. Got the Exstream jacket, the 4 way stretch fleece top, and the pants... I don't get cold anymore.

  3. I had a good sock system for winter, a thick wool sock L , then an XL thick polypro sock, but once I got some thick Simms socks I can no longer fit them in my waders. Too tight for the neoprene booties. I wonder if there is some manufacturer that offers a bigger bootie size. Maybe I should just go with a bootfoot neoprene wader for the middle of the winter.
    I can fish much colder than the gear can. I can fight the guide ice down into the mid 20s but in the lower 20s my reel starts freezing up and I give up. A couple of years ago I hooked up a steelhead in January on the JD and found the reel would give him any line. I landed the fish but it was like playing the fish with a Tenkara.

    1. I believe toe space and freedom to move toes is a critical function to help stay warm. With all the different waders from all the different companies you would think someone would take a serious approach in waders for the winter angler. Specialize them with larger booties. Bootfoots are great when you can get them but the big company wants an arm and a leg for them. Hard to justify the price for a one season product. Are you listening wader companies!? why not give us something specific that can really help the winter anglers instead of 10 copies of the same thing...Just saying! I'm a little frustrated!!!

    2. I was wrong, they're not Simms socks, they're smart wool. Don't remember where I got them or what model, but they are red toes, heels and tops on gray. Thick and dense. Something like this: http://www.mountaingear.com/webstore/Footwear/Socks/SmartWool/Mountaineer-Sock-Men-s/_/R-520352.htm

  4. I also pop a couple of chemical hand warmers and put them in my wading pants pockets inside my widers. also keep one in the hand warmer pocket of the waders.

  5. The Goretex bootfoots are expensive, but I was thinking about the neoprene bootfoots. Pretty cheap. All our hatchery crews love them for winter. Sure, they don't breath at all, and breathing would be nice for hiking around, but how much breathing do you need for a short winter day shivering in a boat?


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