The worst days for fly fishers turn out to be the best days for fly fishing. The moisture in the air — whether in the form of rain or snow — triggers the insect hatches that often trout into a feeding frenzy. A few weeks ago, I witnessed a stretch of river come to life with leaping trout during a brief rain shower. I saw nothing feeding on the surface and caught nothing until the rain seemed to coax bugs and trout from their lairs.
But how do you cope with the various kinds of weather you’re going to face on the river? Here is my list:
STEVE’S GO-TO GEAR
Rain jacket. A few years ago, I bought a lightweight Simms rain jacket. Typically, my budget doesn’t let me splurge for the highest-end stuff (although somehow I ended up with a Winston fly rod!). But it was a purchase I don’t regret. Despite the obvious protection from the rain, the jacket also provides warmth on cool spring mornings and cool fall evenings even when the weather is dry. The jacket is small and light enough that I can roll it up and keep it in my fly vest.
Waders. This seem obvious. But waders also provide their share of warmth in cool weather. When we’re fishing the Driftless in Wisconsin, Dave and I rarely wade in water above our calves. Yet in the spring, we’ll wear our chest waders. It’s not because we’re worried about falling in the little spring creeks we fish. It’s just that the waders provide some warmth.
In the summer, though, you may prepare to wet-wade. I still shake my head when I think about the guy Dave and I saw wearing waders on a little creek in the Driftless on a sunny, eighty degree day!
Wool or waterproof gloves. I’m a wimp when it comes to keeping my hands warm. It’s been that way since I started deer hunting at age 10. So I’ve found that either wool or waterproof gloves work best. The gloves which expose one’s finger tips just don’t work for me. They make about as much sense for me as a screen door on a submarine. But whatever kind of gloves work for you, you’ll be thankful you’ve stashed a pair in your fly vest in the spring and fall. Snow happens. And early mornings and late afternoons can get cool.
Gore-Tex or wool hat. For years, I’ve worn a Woolrich hunting cap because it keeps the moisture off of my head whether it’s raining or snowing. A cotton baseball cap just doesn’t cut it. Recently, I bought a Simms Gore-text hat that I love (whoops, so much for my claim about not buying high end gear!). It’s lightweight, and it’s terrific for keeping my head dry on drizzly days.
Neck gator. This is the newest “gadget” I’ve been enjoying. I thought this would drive me crazy, because I don’t like stuff around my neck. But besides providing warmth, it’s great for protection from the sun. Dave took the above photo of me using the neck gator for sun protection when it was over eighty degrees on the Madison River. Even though I look like a threat to homeland security, the neck gator really works. The fabric is light enough that I never started sweating.
Layers with micro fiber. I’ve become a bit of a micro fiber fanatic. My kids think I must have a deal with Under Armour. But I wear Nike’s Dri-FIT too. This stuff keeps my either warm or cool, depending on the need of the day. Most importantly, it doesn’t soak up moisture. Having several layers of shirts or pants allows for easy adjustments. Besides, it means that you don’t have to bring a bulky coat.
At the end of the day, the goal is not to look like a model in a Simms or Cabela’s catalog. It’s to stay warm or cool, and always dry. Yes, the right gear can make or break your day on the river. Believe me, even a Winston doesn’t cast well when your hand is numb with cold or your body is shivering because you’re soaked with rain water.