Inuits in the Lagoon
One of the topics that comes up frequently this time of year is how to prepare for kayaking in cold weather. You don’t need the fortitude of an Inuit but a bit of preparation can make even a cold day safe and enjoyable. So, how do you do to comfortably get out on the water during the chilly days of winter? The simple answer is to stay dry and use layers to keep warm. This is often easier said than done when you are sitting in a little piece of Tupperware surrounded by a lot of water that happens to be about level with your posterior. There ares several strategies that will help you enjoy a day of paddle angling in the winter and none of them revolve around chewing chunks of whale blubber.
The trick to staying warm and cozy is in a system of layers including a base layer, some warm, fluffy layers and a shell. A light base layer that wicks moisture away from the skin starts a comfortable cold weather system that keeps the moisture from building up near the skin. Over the base layer should be a cozy warm layer, or layers, to trap heat. Fleece works great here as it breathes, is light weigh and keeps some of it’s insulating qualities should it become wet. Over all of this goes the shell. The shell should be a windproof, waterproof layer to protect the rest of the system and keep the elements out. If the shell is a breathable tech fabric, so much the better. A pair of rain pants over sweats over some long johns will really keep the legs toasty. Waders work great as well but breathable materials are a must for maximum comfort. One of the most important areas of the body to protect from the elements is your head. An enormous amount of heat is lost there if it is not protected. A Warm hat that can also break the wind is worth a premium on a cold day especially when it is part of a layered system as well. The colder days may even call for full face protection.
You’ve made it this far, don’t get cold feet.
Nobody likes cold feet, not even penguins, but you have to get into that kayak and it’s in the water. You can wear a pair of waders which make a great shell for your lower extremities as well. This not only keeps your feet dry but your buns as well. Waterproof socks are your next best bet. Several manufacturers make neoprene socks that are waterproof, allowing you to step into shallow water without getting your toes wet. As an alternate, you can get some waterproof footwear for the same effect. Lastly, you can try and keep you feet out of the water by pushing the kayak into the water and walking down the nose. Then, if you have not fallen off, you get to muscle it into enough water to float it. Make sure you have a towel and dry socks in case you take a slip.
Now that you are loaded with water absorbent gear, make sure you do three additional things to keep yourself prepared and safer. First, make for certain you can get back in your kayak if you end up rolling over or falling in. Submersion in cold water is very dangerous and you want to get out as soon as possible. Second, keep a dry bag with towels and backup clothing that is dry. If you take a spill on a cold day being wet can be more than uncomfortable, it can be downright dangerous. The ability to dry off and get some dry clothes on could save more than a good day of fishing. Also, some materials are much better than others an preserving their insulating qualities while wet. Wool and quality fleece will continue insulating much better than wet cotton. Cotton is a poor insulator and holds moisture. I keep a backup wool sweater, cap and fleece pullover in my personal winter gear. The final thing you can do to stay prepared and keep yourself safer is to wear a PFD. This is not even an option in cold water, but a must. Finding yourself in cold water is a bad situation to begin with, but finding yourself in this situation without a PFD is the stuff nightmares are made of. Without it on, fights for comfort become fights for survival. Even on a warm day with cold water, you may not make it a few yards to an overturned yak before your muscles succumb to the cold. A few years ago a couple drowned on a sunny winter day in Florida just feet from their jet ski as their bodies shut down from the cold water. Without pfd’s on, they were unable to keep moving with their heads out of water. So much as for the PFD as an option in cold water.
Wintertime fishing in out lakes and estuaries is my personal favorite time. There are fewer anglers, clear water and with a little preparation you can be more comfortable than in the blistering periods of the year. Stay warm, stay dry, wear your PFD, and leave the whale blubber at home!