Winter fishing conditions can be brutal, and easily make fishing unbearable. But the fishing can be outstanding, not to mention the luxury of often having entire stretches of river all to yourself. Partly because many people don’t realize just how comfortable they could be in the proper gear.
There are two key components to staying comfortable. Warm, and dry. Waterproof shell materials have for years made it possible to stay dry, and enough layers can keep anyone warm, but the problem with too many layers is the bulk, weight, and motion restrictions. But there is also a third component that really helps facilitate the smile factor, and that is comfort. Warm and dry are great, but not if you are chaffed, bunched, wadded, and bundled like the Michelin Man.
Enter the “Puff Zone”. Of course the standard goose down fits into this category of lightweight and high performance jacket as well, but many synthetic materials available now are great as well. The first synthetic “puffy” garment I ever owned became an instant favorite simply because these types of layers are so soft and light. I remember the days of multiple layers of bulky, heavy fleece tucked into my waders… there was barely enough room to cram a fly box in there on a cold day! Now under most conditions I’m warm and happy with a simple long sleeve thermal top, and a hooded puffy jacket. If there is any chance of rain or snow, I throw my favorite shell over the top and I’m set for pretty much the nastiest weather. (With surplus room inside my waders for camera, fly boxes, & even a can of sudds despite the fact my equator is expanding with each year!)
Hood is key. I think we have all heard how much body heat is lost from the head. I’ve come to find that a hood on this type of jacket is essential. No beanie needed, pop it up and back of my neck and ears are happy.
Pack your bag. Whether wearing it or packing it, I love how light and packable puffy garments are. Most compress to the size of a grapefruit, and weigh next to nothing. Beats the heck out of cramming layers fleece or cotton into dry bags or luggage, especially on overnight river trips or destination travel via plane.