Winter seems like it is going to show up in true Colorado fashion this year and I would be lying if I said I wasn’t excited for some sub-freezing days on the water. We all know that the South Platte in the Spring, summer, and fall can be a nightmare. Between campers, other anglers, and the army of tubers all trying to enjoy the same river it can be near impossible to spend your day fishing without unwanted company. You owe it to yourself to find solitude on the water, so look no further than the Winter. Winter on the South Platte is an angler’s reward for sticking with her all summer.
I am truly amazed at how many people over look winter fishing in Colorado. Maybe it’s the fact that the mountains are open or perhaps you didn’t think the trout are still biting in the middle of January.
If it’s the cold keeping you from the river, well, you sure are missing the boat because there are plenty of options to remedy it. Either way with all the advancements in technical fabrics these days, there are plenty of options to keep you warm and reduce bulk while you chase some tail in the middle of a snow storm. We are fortunate enough to have some amazing tailwaters within 2 hours of Denver and there’s no need to wait until the spring to get back out there.
Most people think waders will keep you nice and dry but unless you are out there in your grandad’s neoprene waders, he got from the big box store in the 80’s, that’s where their benefits stop. They are the very outer layer of your system and in order to stay nice and toasty out on the water we are going to want to think layers and the right layers vs lots of layers. The key is to insulate your body heat from escaping while keeping you dry. These days most fabrics will still regulate temperature and insulate even if you get wet!
I would always rather have too much on when I show up to the river and shed layers than not have enough to keep me warm to begin with. If you don’t have one already then pick up a good dry bag to carry with you to throw the layers in as the temps warm up.
We are going to start from the bottom and work our way up the system and feature a few layers that are a mainstay in my winter fishing system, and you can find all these layers and more on our online shop or at both of our locations.
The most common question I get when folks are buying a new pair of waders is what I should wear underneath them? Obviously, this will change throughout the season but as far as the colder months are concerned, I like a nice fleece, wool or synthetic base layer and a good thick pair of wool socks. Cotton fabrics are your worst enemy. They provide no insulation and can be a real danger to you in the cold if they get wet. Let’s not begin to address how bad blue jeans are under waders.
For the colder days I’ll break out my Patagonia R1 fleece pants. This is a midweight Polartec grid fleece pant than does a killer job of trapping in your body’s warmth. The fit is near perfect for what you look for under waders. Your movement is not at all restricted and they aren’t itchy or rough on your skin like I have found in other thermal base layers. Another very appreciated feature with the R1 pants is in that they wear and hang like real pants. So, if you need to swing in for your morning coffee before the river, you aren’t parading around the gas station in a pair of tights.
If the forecast is a little nicer or if I know it’s going to warm up in the early afternoon, I like Patagonia’s Midweight Capilene bottoms. This pant is a little thinner than the R1 but the Capilene is still going to keep you warm wading in frigid rivers. The MW Cap bottoms are tapered towards the ankle and fit like a traditional base layer. When used together, these two layers should keep you covered all winter. With the Cap pants under the R1 and there’s no day too cold for that combo to take on.
As far as your feet are concerned wool is always the way to go. I’m partial to the Red Wing boot Sock and Smartwool personally but really and good wool will do. I don’t typically recommend doubling up on socks as you run the risk of cutting off circulation to your feet which will make them even colder. If your feet get particularly cold then Patagonia has you covered with their Fleece Liner Sock. These bad boys are meant to be warn outside of your wool sock and line the neoprene of your wading boot to give you a little extra cushion from the elements.
Insulation Above the Waist
Moving on up for my top layer I always start with a Free Fly Long Sleeve Bamboo top or hoody. We sell the heck out of these shirts in the summer time and for good reason. Bamboo works great in the summer but I’m here to tell you they play the other side of the puck just as well. Now that you have your baselayer on I like to work out from there with at least 2 layers. With our upper body we want to think Base Layer, Insulation Layer and Outer Layer. Again, I’d rather have them on and have the ability to shed layers as needed than not have enough on to stay warm.
Insulation layers are often the most overlooked or misunderstood part of any layering system. The key hear is to give yourself a layer that will insulate your body heat and reduce the rate at which it escapes your body. For fabrics I love Down, Fleece or Synthetic Down. All these fabrics will have their ups and downs and will also be a bit of personal preference. For instance, I would say fleece if you run hot and a nice thick 800g down if you tend to run cold. With that said, no matter what fabric you choose having a high-quality insulation layer will eliminate the need for unnecessary layers and reduce overall bulk. good ¼ zip sweater or pullover.
Revisiting the R1 line again we have the R1 ¼ zip Fitzroy. Again, we see that sweet Polartech grid fleece, but the top gets the added benefit of a moisture wicking and a laminate face fabric in key areas to keep the wind out should you wear this as a standalone piece. This a super comfortable and versatile top and on warmer days I will wear next to skin. If you said to yourself, I do run cold, check out the Patagonia Tough Puff Shirt. This is a piece that they took from the Nano Puff line but have put some angler friendly updates too it. This “Shirt/jacket” is made up of a synthetic down and features a breathable and water-resistant face fabric.
Your outer layer is your final defense against the winter elements. No matter how good of an insulating piece or base layer you have on, it will all be in vain should you encounter high winds or extreme wet conditions. A good waterproof or water-resistant shell will block out the elements and allow your layering to do its job. Here is where I like a good Gore-Tex, H2No or another type of breathable waterproof membrane. Often these shells will stay in the truck on cold dry days but if the wind, rain or snow come out you better believe I’m throwing a shell on immediately.
The newest edition to my setup is the Patagonia Snap Dry Hoody. This is a great shell layer with a DWR treatment for when the snow starts to fall as well as an extra layer of fleece through the torso of the piece for an extra layer to combat those gusts of wind. If soft shells aren’t your flavor or the rain is just too much for a soft shell, look to a high-quality wading jacket. The Patagonia River Salt Jacket has been my go-to for years and it has taken abuse for weeks on end in Alaska.
Don’t let Colorado’s secret trout season pass you by. You probably have that old worn through and extra bulky jacket you have been clinging to for years. Do yourself a favor and check out these new pieces and “Re-Think Your Layering This Winter.” We have no doubt the quality of your fishing will increase due to your comfort and warmth our on the water.