cold weather kayaking

Some cold weather kayak fishing tips

Just because it is cooling down doesn’t mean it is time to put away your kayak.

It is that time of year once again when many kayak anglers will start to stow away their kayaks and fishing gear and opt for warmer recreation. It is also the time of year when some of the best fishing can be had if you take the proper precautions and have the proper equipment.

During the shooting of Ocean Kayak presents The Kayak Fishing Show and Exofficio presents Kayak Fishing: Game On, we have kayak fished in some pretty extreme conditions, from extreme heat in Panama to freezing cold in Alaska and Chesapeake Bay.


Waders, Beanie, Gloves to keep warm in Alaska

With the proper clothing and equipment, there’s no reason you can’t be out on your kayak in most temperatures. (as long as you check the weather forecast and everything is looking good). You just need to adopt a more conservative attitude in any extremes conditions.

With the approach of winter I thought it would be a good time to give some tips on cold weather kayak fishing.

 It goes without saying that you should bring along all of your standard safety items, and you should always be wearing your PFD, a PFD not only will keep you afloat but also gives an added layer of insulation.


Yelloweye Rockfish in Alaska, I am wearing my Alpental fleece jacket

 In cold weather your biggest concern should be swimming, because immersion in cold water can quickly lead to hypothermia. Obviously, the best way to avoid swimming is to stick to water conditions that you are comfortable with.  But even still, you need to prepare for the worst. That’s why you should; never go kayak fishing alone in cold conditions, never go further out than you can comfortably paddle back (even in the worst of weather), and most importantly, you need to dress appropriately.

 Dressing appropriately means dressing so that you’re comfortable when; you’re fishing, when you’re actively paddling, and in the event that you find yourself swimming.

The trick is having a layered clothing system. A layered clothing system involves a base layer, an insulating layer, and an outer layer.

 The role of the base layer is to pull moisture away from your body. This is where synthetic materials like polypropylene or Capilene work great, and this is also where you should avoid cotton, like the plague. For this layer I generally choose Mysterioso, they make pants, shirts and socks that will keep you toasty warm even if they get damp.

 Another option is to use a farmer john style of wetsuit as a base layer, particularly if you’re expecting to get wet, which would be the case if you are surfing or running rapids. Neoprene does a great job of insulating when you’re in the water, but the downside is that it’s not very comfortable when you’re dry.

 Your second layer is an insulating layer, and it should do its job whether it’s wet or dry. Fleece is your best option here. For my upper body the layer I choose  is my Exofficio Alpental Fleece Jacket.

On my lower body a pair of fleece sweat pants does the trick.

 For your outer layer, paddling jackets and pants work great because they’re water- and wind-proof.  My personal favorite outer layer is the lightweight, breathable waders from Coleman/Hodgman combined with a good paddling jacket. The waders I use are the Guidlite Breathables with stocking foot and waterproof zipper. (You will understand the reason for the zipper after several cups of coffee and several hours on the water.)


Waders, Paddling Jacket and PFD, with a bunch of layers underneath to keep warm on Chesapeake Bay

They’re comfortable and I can fit many layers underneath, depending on the air temperature. One thing to keep in mind though is that with waders, you Must to wear a PFD and your wading belt.

There is often some kickback when we suggest wearing waders in the kayaks due to the long held myth that if you fall into the water wearing waders that you will sink. Well I am here to tell you that this, is exactly that, a MYTH. A few years ago I  even made a video exploring and destroying this myth.

Though I feel we have proved that drowning in waders is a myth we still implore you to wear your PFD and wading belt, and also if you plan on just surfing or running rapids in the kayak a wetsuit or drysuit would be a better option.

 On my feet under my stocking foot waders I choose either some good wool socks or my Mysterioso fleece socks. Either of these will wick away the moisture keeping your toes dry and warm. If I will be wading, as we did in Montana then wading boots are needed over the stocking foot waders, If I will just be fishing from the kayak then an over sized pair of sandles works great.

If you’re going to spend a lot of time kayak fishing in extreme cold conditions, then a dry suit might make a lot of sense, especially if you’ll be paddling through surf, or fishing in rougher water where there’s a good chance of getting wet. A dry suit keeps your body completely dry, even when you’re swimming.

A few additions to keep you comfortable would be a warm hat, gloves and some neoprene boots to keep your feet warm.

 One more very important thing, before you head out in a kayak make sure you know how and have practiced your self rescue. When the water is cold you will need to get out of that water as soon as possible, the longer you are in the water the greater your chance of hypothermia. After you have fallen in the water, is not the time to realize you are not sure how to get back in. Here is a quick video showing how to reenter your fishing kayak.

Well, hopefully this was helpful and it will get you to spend more time on the water out on your kayak getting in on those winter time bites.

As always feel free to contact me with any questions or comments at

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