Winter Steelhead Fly Fishing

Winter Steelhead Fly Fishing demands warm and waterproof clothing.

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Dress Like a Veteran Steelheader
How you dress will make as much difference to your success in winter steelheading as your choice of tackle.  Pictured below are some men who spend a lot of time searching for big steelhead during wet/cold weather.  Anglers who catch fish like these, don't have the time or an inclination to use any but the most practical gear.  "We know, because it all came from The Fly Fishing Shop."

Winter steelhead weather can mean rain and lots of it. 
The word "rain" turns most people off, because they associated
it with discomfort. However, rainy days don't have to be
uncomfortable, if you dress properly.
Many rainy days can be beautiful.
Everything is washed and clean. Rain softens the edges of the landscape.
It dampens sound and a rainy day on the river can be one of personal intimacy.
But the best reason to fish in the rain, is that steelhead are more
aggressive on cloud-cover days.

If you dress correctly, you can be comfortable, even during long days
in cold, wet weather. If you don't dress correctly, you can get
cold & wet.  As you lose thermal energy, your motor skills will suffer. 
Warm muscles perform better than cold ones.  Dress to keep yourself
warm and dry.  Keeping your skin surface free from dampness is
one of the biggest keys to staying warm.  

Many people think that preparing for rain only means the
addition of a rain coat and chest high waders.
The selection of these items is very important, but what you wear under this outer layer is also very important.  Any moisture trapped within your clothing will conduct heat away.  This means that you not only have to keep the rain out, but your clothing also has to have the ability to disperse your own perspiration. 
When dressing for cold or wet weather fishing; dress from the inside out.

The layer of clothing next to your skin is the one you will feel all day.

Layer your clothing to stay warm...

Maximum perspiration zones are your arm pits, groin and feet.  All these areas need special clothing.  Your inner layer should be made from synthetic material for maximum comfort.  It should be soft and designed to wick moisture away from your skin.

Never wear cotton clothing under your waders.
Cotton retains moisture and has very little insulation value when damp.  It also becomes a medium for fungal infections.  The organisms that cause infections such a jock itch and athletes foot can not live in synthetic fabrics.  Synthetic materials tend to  "pass-through", rather than "retain" moisture from perspiration.   Nylon, acrylic and polyester do not retain as much moisture as cotton or silk. Wool is the only natural fiber that will keep you as warm as synthetics. However wool is more expensive and often less durable.

 Dressing with layers of Synthetic material can further customize the wicking of moisture away from your body.  A layer of Simms WaderWick™ Underwear next to your skin with a layer of Simms WaderWick™ Fleece over it can keep you roasty-toasty during what would otherwise be inhospitable climatic conditions. Pay special attention to the layers that cover your legs and feet. These extremities are the ones that will be immersed in cold water.  When water temperatures are below 50-degrees double layering is recommended.  Water temperatures below 40-degrees demand heavier double-layering. Two layers of fleece or even three layers are recommended when the water is in the 30's.

Pay special attention to your socks. Water runs down hill and some of your body perspiration will collect at your feet. This happens much less with breathable waders, but is still a factor, especially if you are hiking between pools.  There is no way for wader feet to breath inside your wading shoes.  Wader feet are still made from insulating, but non-breathable neoprene.

We like thick wool/nylon blend socks that have a knitted loop pile on the inside which gives them the capacity to retain a lot of loft, even with the squeezing pressure of your waders around them. They act as a reservoir for migrant perspiration but help keep it away from your skin.  

Of this type, Outdoor Socks by Fox River are the best we've tested.  They are knee length so provide another layer of insulation for the lower leg.  Remember, all socks are made from knitted yarns which tend to wash-out as you launder them, thereby loosing loft and insulating qualities.  Replace them often for maximum comfort.  

Your outer layer is your first layer of defense.
It must be water-proof, but it too must be able to dispel any moisture that might collect inside it.  This is accomplished by a special membrane sandwiched between two layers of protective fabric.  This membrane is porous so it can breath. 
The pours are of a diameter that allow smaller gaseous molecules to escape, but will not allow larger liquid molecules to enter.  Non-breathable waders and rain jackets have all but disappeared from the steelhead fly fishing scene in favor of newer technology fabrics such as Gore-Tex.

Because of a revolutionary immersion technology from W.L. Gore & Associates, Gorte-Tex keeps water from getting in, yet is very breathable, even when completely submerged and allows sweat and moisture to escape. This keeps your skin dry and helps you retain your body heat. Gore-Tex does not stretch, but the articulated knee design employed in Simms G3 Guide Waders allows a streamlined fit with full mobility of the angler.  A good fitting pair of waders should mold to your body and give you the most streamlined configuration you can have. This lessens water drag in the currents and makes wading less difficult.  Waders with bent knees enable a closer fit than straight legged waders.  For durability multi-layer construction is nearly mandatory from the crotch down.  Five-layer construction co-developed by W.L. Gore & Associates, Inc. and Simms was designed specifically for use in fishing waders.  Simms/Gore-Tex® waders feature this laminate which results in the most puncture-resistant, most durable, most technologically-advanced breathable waders you can purchase.


Wading shoes serve three purposes; to protect your feet and enhance your balance and traction. High top leather or man-made leather wading shoes give better support and last longer per dollar spent, than their cheaper canvas counterparts. Felt soles with silicone carbide studs are the best traction you can have on all kinds of bottom structure. Some guides object to having studded shoes in their pretty boats. If yours is that way, get a different guide. Fly-casting, like many other athletic events, depends on good traction.  A selection of proven wading shoes can be found here.

Be sure that your wading shoes fit for maximum support, but have enough room so as not to impair your circulation. Always wear your waders and full under garments when fitting a new pair of wading shoes. Our favorite wading shoes are Simms Guide Boots Korkers Wading Shoes with Omnitrax interchangeable soles may be the most advance angling footwear available. These wading shoes allow you to change soles to fit any environment. Remember all of your casting and wading performance starts with the bottom of your feet. If you are slipping and sliding, you can't cast very well and you're bound to get wet and cold.

Boot foot waders are gaining popularity with some of the Northwest's most experienced steelheaders. Simms will add BootFoots to any of their new breathable waders. You can order BootFoots added to G3 and G4 Pro waders from us online. There is a 4 to 6-week wait as all BootFoot waders are custom made. We highly recommend adding Simms Hard Bite Boot Studs  to any Boot Foots with felt soles. Studs can not be added to lug sole boot foot waders.

Your wading jacket forms the roof over all your innerwear. It must have a weatherproof parka hood. A wading jacket must be impenetrable to rain by keeping water from coming through the fabric shell and must also be designed to keep water from running down your neck or up your sleeves. A jacket that is rain proof is also wind proof. If the outer shell material will allow perspiration to pass through without allowing rain water to get in, you can remain comfortable in about any kind of weather you will encounter during productive steelhead fishing.

We have worn every generation of Simms Guide Jacket since they were first introduced. They just keep getting better and better. The G4 Pro Jacket has proven itself to the most demanding anglers and has held up against the most demanding conditions. It's made from 3-layer GORE-TEX® Pro Shell fabric, which offers the ultimate in breathability, durability and extended comfort. The Simms G3 Jacket is also proven in harsh conditions and costs about $50 less.

  Since your jacket is the outer most shell, it is the most convenient place to carry your gear. Few avid winter steelheaders wear fishing vests. A vest worn on the outside of your jacket gets wet. A vest worn inside your vest is hard to get at. Besides, you don't have to carry that much gear.

For a whole day of steelhead fly fishing, all I carry are: (besides my rod & reel) 1. A lanyard with a leader clipper, hook file, and nail knot-tying tube. 2. (1) Medium size box of flies. 3. Zippered wallet to carry Skagit tips and leaders. 4. Leader dispenser with 10, 15 and 25 pound test hard, abrasion resistant leader material. All of this gear will easily fit in the breast pockets of a properly designed wading jacket. If these breast pockets are equipped with D-rings you can attach your tool lanyard and then drop the tools into the pocket where they can't get tangled in your fly line.

Don't forget to consider your hands. Neoprene gloves are great for cold weather, especially if you are rowing.  Both slit-finger and fingerless gloves are appropriate at times. Our latest tests confirm that Simms WindStopper® Half-Finger gloves are very comfortable & practical for fishing.

The selection of a hat is of prime importance. It must be waterproof, even though it will be under the hood of your waterproof jacket most of the time.  A baseball cap with a bill will shield your glasses from rain and help keep your face moisture free.  A waxed cotton baseball cap is very practical.  We had these specifically made for the purpose. If the weather is really cold, a cap with ear flaps such as the Simms Gore-tex Extreme Hat is advisable.

The Fly Fishing Shop Logo Waxed Cotton Cap
Item Description Price To Top
FFS-WAXED Waxed cotton baseball cap with The Fly Fishing Shop logo, Forest Green, one size fits all $25.00

Ice in your guides is never a good thing...

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