Here in the Pacific Northwest winter has reared its ugly head yet again. As it is fond of doing, it lulled us into complacency with a string of mild weather, then when we least expected it came roaring back with a vengeance. Big wind storms, cold temperatures, snow, and ice… It’s all been present lately. Living in this area, unpredictable weather is something a fly fisher needs to learn to embrace. As a friend of mine often says, “If you wait for those bluebird days, you simply won’t be fishing much on Puget Sound”. This is spot on. Winter provides some of the best fishing of the year on Puget Sound, and learning to deal with it appropriately allows the hearty fly fisher the ability to get out and have some stellar fishing when others are home on their couch.
The first and probably most important factor for any fly fisher to consider when heading out for a day of winter fly fishing on Puget Sound is how to dress appropriately. The decisions you make when getting dressed to head out for the day will often dictate how long you are able to remain comfortable in less than stellar conditions, and how long you are able to fish. Simply put, if you get cold and wet, its no longer any fun to keep fishing and can be downright dangerous at times.
Proper layering with quality winter clothing is a crucial element for Puget sound fly fishing this time of year. As someone who fishes in the worst of our winter weather, and in some crazy way often enjoys it, here is how I go about dressing for these nasty weather days:
First up is a quality base layer. I am a big fan of the Patagonia Capilene base layers and wear the Capilene 3 top and bottom as my base layer for all of my winter layering. These aren’t the cheapest options available, although if you watch for the yearly sales and closeouts you can stock up for reasonable prices. There are plenty of great base layer options out there, but these are hands down my favorite. Over the top of this, I will often go with a pair of Simms fleece guide pants. These pants have proven to keep me warm in comfortable in weather that would send most people packing. When I am beach fishing this is the last of my lower layers, as my waders over the top provide me with plenty of warmth and honestly, my lower half seldom gets cold enough to have an impact on my day. When out in the boat I prefer to wear a light pair of Columbia rain pants, whether it is raining or not. These will keep my lower half dry in the event it does rain, or if I simply rub against a wet bow rail or fling water around while landing/releasing a fish.
Over the top of my Capilene 3 upper layer, I almost always go with a Columbia Performance Fishing Gear long sleeve quick dry hoodie. These have become my favorite fishing shirts for any scenario, and I own quite a few of them. These provide warmth while layering, wick moisture away and dry extremely quickly, and the hood is a nice addition when it’s really cold. Moisture wicking is an extremely important factor when layering. If you are warm and perspiring but your layers keep this moisture trapped against your skin, you will become chilled in no time. Quality layering clothing is designed to wick that moisture away so that your skin is left warm and dry.
The next layer of my go-to winter layering routine is a Patagonia R1 fleece pullover. This is an extremely warm fleece that by itself will provide plenty of warmth and moisture wicking qualities. It’s thin enough to add as a mid layer but warm enough to stand on its own as an outer layer on days when the temperature doesn’t get too low. My last piece of layering gear for these situations is a heavier fleece or jacket. I am a big fan of the Patagonia R3 fleece jacket for these situations, but I also own and use a Patagonia Nano Puff jacket as well as a Mountain Hardware Monkey Man fleece. A quality, heavy fleece is hard to beat as a heavy layering option.
The last piece to consider for top half layering is a quality rain jacket. This is the piece intended to keep you dry when it is pouring down rain, as it so often does on the Puget Sound in the winter. I have used rain jackets from many different manufacturers including Cabelas, REI, Patagonia, Simms, and others. I’m a rather large man and have never felt terribly comfortable in a traditional shortcut wading jacket. As much as I like Simms gear, and it WILL keep you dry, I just don’t like the fit… Especially for fishing out of a boat. This year I have been wearing a Grundens Dark and Stormy jacket and thus far have been extremely impressed. It has kept me dry during some extremely windy conditions, has hand warmer pockets that are great for quickly warming up numb hands, and has a much more comfortable fit for a guy my size. It also does a decent job of blocking the wind, which can be constant this time of year.
This makes up the bulk of my go-to winter clothing. I also prefer 2 layers of quality Merino wool socks, as well as a buff or balaclava to keep my face protected. This is particularly important when running a boat in Puget Sound. Whether its windy or not, when you start running around on the sound at 25 knots your face is going to get cold, and quickly.