Preparing for the weather is something that all anglers must do regardless of the time of year or weather forecast.
In the spring, the threat of rain is constant. In the summer, sunburn and dehydration must be avoided. In the fall, mornings and evenings can be downright cold. This bring us to winter and the current conditions require no explanation. Spending time afield in a New Hampshire January will bring with it certain conditions that are all but guaranteed. It will be cold, the sun doesn’t help much and, if the wind picks up, things get worse in a hurry.
Thankfully, I have reached a ripe old age where I’ve encountered almost every weather condition and have collected enough clothing and gear to survive them and continue my outdoor pursuits. Except for rabbit hunting and skiing, most of my winter recreation involves trying to catch fish through the ice. This exposure to water and wind exemplifies the harsh New England climate, and overcoming a few simple challenges can make all the difference.
My first piece of advice may seem logical but if overlooked can send fishermen home in a hurry. You have to keep your feet dry. Whether you’ve walked through slushy ice or soaked your feet while drilling a hole, the results can move quickly from uncomfortable to dangerous. Most winter footwear is layered with insulating material that, once wet, holds water like a sponge.
I begin the process of foot prep by putting on a simple pair of cotton socks that will create a cushy layer and not bring about any sweat. Next go a pair of wool or synthetic blend that build an additional layer of insulation. On the coldest days, I add a final layer of fleece footwear that really keeps my feet warm. It is important not to overdo the layers on your feet as tight boots will restrict blood flow and result in cold toes.
Once complete, the whole symphony goes into a warm boot that is waterproof all the way up past my calf. Ice fishing can present a hundred scenarios that end up soaking my feet and I don’t take any chances.
For most of my ice fishing career, I’ve worn wool pants over a layer or two of cotton long johns. Recently, my son introduced me to a new style of ice-fishing bibs that has changed my stubborn ways. These types of bibs are well-insulated, fully waterproof, and include flotation material to help in the event that one were to break through the ice.
Ice fishing requires a lot of crouching or kneeling and I never realized that exposing my lower back between the jacket and waistline was so detrimental to my overall comfort. My new bibs keep that area covered.
The final selling point of these super bibs is the reinforced, padded knees, which never rip or tear all the while keeping my sensitive knees comfortable while resting on the hard ice.
The final consideration of ice-fishing comfort comes in the form of gloves and hats. Handling bait, removing fish, and clearing slush requires constant exposure to water and without the right gloves, things can get uncomfortable. I approach this dilemma by using two types, a waterproof pair for working near water and a bulky pair for walking on and off the ice.
The final installment to keeping warm goes on the top of my head like a well-placed ribbon on a gift. I have recently discovered wool hats with a fleece lining and have never felt anything warmer. When used with a facemask, I am totally shielded from the cold and can sustain the harshest cold that winter can offer.
Following these few simple steps can keep any outdoor enthusiast warm, dry and comfortable enough to remain afield.