The weatherman is calling for a high of forty-five degrees with southwest winds to 10 miles per hour. This is the first reasonably warm day an angler has seen in the past month! This stokes the urges of any angler to get away and get on the water. Will this be a fun relaxing day of fishing or put an angler at risk of extreme danger? The correct gear will make all the difference.
A good friend and cameraman Jeff Pierce had just purchased a nice bass boat this fall. He was ready to put it in the water after the long cold spell. Jeff asked me to tag along for a winter expedition. The weatherman had called for a pleasant day. Sun and light winds were the forecast. Is the weatherman ever truly right?
We put the boat in and a check of the water temperature revealed 39 degrees at the ramp! A bass is a cold blooded species. Its body temperature adjusts to the water. The warm blooded angler does not adjust to water temperatures at that level. Anglers are at risk of hypothermia if they enter the water or are not prepared with adequate gear. This is where winter fishing rule number one applies. Never fish alone. Always have an extra set of hands with you just in cases of an angler falling overboard. This is followed by rule number two. Always take extra clothing on board. The third major rule is to tell loved ones the general area in which your fishing will take place. The angler must set the location parameters and stay within the area in case of mishap.
As we loaded the boat, I loaded ski bibs, Gore-Tex rain gear, a Buff headgear, two pairs of gloves, hooded sweatshirt, jacket, a personal floatation device, and lunch in the boat. The second trip to the truck was for my fishing gear. Jeff said, “I’m not so sure that the boat will float with all of this gear in the boat!” I responded, “We may need this later. Winter fishing tackle is more about staying warm than a large selection of lures.”
Jeff quickly landed a fat 5 lb. largemouth on a Strike King Series 3 crankbait at our first stop. The sun was out and it was very pleasant on the water. I followed his lead with my first keeper largemouth of the New Year. A few cast later a keeper smallmouth interrupted my retrieve of a chartreuse Rage Grub. Our spirits were high with our quick success. Little did we notice the dark front that was approaching from across the lake. Within minutes, the sun was gone and little hard crystals of sleet were landing on the carpet of Jeff’s boat. Those little sleet pellets prompted me to layer my Gore-Tex suit over my ski bibs and jacket. The biggest key to staying warm through inclement conditions is layering of garments. These garments must be of a breathable material. This means as the body works, there will be an amount of perspiration built up under angler’s clothes. If this moisture cannot escape it will chill the angler. Gore-Tex has the ability to release moisture from perspiration and repel moisture from the elements. Its light weight makes it comfortable to wear in extreme angling conditions.
We decided to make a move to outrun the sleet. Jeff manned the helm and was immediately pelted from the sleet. “This stings my face,” he said from behind the protection of the console. I immediately reached for my chin to pull my Buff Headgear above my nose and to protect my face. A Buff is actually made for sun protection. Today, I found how well it performs in cold applications! It also gives an angler a secondary thin layer on top of the head to insulate the body from heat loss and protects ones face. A very important factor when fishing in the cold!
We pull up to another main lake point to fish. I drop the trolling motor into the water. As I grab my Lew’s spinning rod to fish, I see a loose bait fly off my rod tip into the water. It was one of my prized suspending jerkbaits (20 years old)! I plunged my hand in to the water after the bait. Jeff thought I was going in the drink. The bait disappeared into the depths! I was heartbroken. I now had a wet hand for my efforts. It could have meant the end of the trip. Fortunately, I had an extra pair of Buff Fishing Gloves with me. My hand was warm and protected from the elements, but I was still thinking about my antique fishing lure that was gone!
The sleet did not last long. It switched to a light rain. It only lasted long enough to wet the interior of Jeff’s boat. The extremities are the hardest to keep warm. Feet are the first thing to cool off when anglers are not prepared for the day. Always wear good insulated socks that can wick moisture away from the skin. Match this with insulated boats made with Thinsulate or Gore-Tex. This will help keep the anglers feet dry and warm. We were very toasty with our warm boots.
The fishing continued to be strong. We were on the water for over six hours. Our creel was twenty bass. Eleven were 15” keepers with the largest being Jeff’s first fish in the five pound range. We also completed a “Kentucky Lake Slam.” We landed largemouth, smallmouth, and spotted bass throughout the day. It could have been us slammed by the weather! A little bit of preparation made for a safe and comfortable day of fishing. We were right to go fishing on a winter day even though the weatherman was wrong!
Author Mark Menendez is a Bassmaster Elite Series angler sponsored by Skeeter Boats, Yamaha Outboards, Strike King, Tacklewarehouse.com, Lew’s, Seaguar, Linerite, Lowrance, Power Pole, Navionics, and Stay-N-Charge.