Personally I have no difficulty in fishing in the depths of Winter and actually enjoy breaking the ice on the canal and then catching without the nuisance of boats. Similarly rain does not bother me either. With the right clothing and accessories you can have a comfortable day. But so many Winter days are dry, calm and sunny that you don't have to brave the worst weather in order to go fishing in Winter.
I must mention here that I have not used an umbrella for several years. I just got tired of it getting in the way, water dripping off the rib ends just where it is least convenient and comfortable, the wind never coming from the “right” direction, the constant worry of it taking off, breaking pole and or rod or turning inside out and the extra weight of lugging one around is something I can do without.
Instead I rely on a decent waterproof suit.
I have used SkeeTex boots since they first appeared on an angler's feet. The originals were bright blue because they were made for use in frozen food warehouses. I still recall my first sight of them at a frosty match draw on the river Lee in London. Everyone was laughing at the guy wearing them as they were bright blue and looked ten sizes too big. He had the last laugh though when he explained that he wasn't even wearing socks. I think more anglers than me went home realising that we had just seen a mighty leap forward in Winter angling footwear. I soon acquired my own pair.
In my opinion those early blue models were slightly superior to the current ones we now get. I don't remember ever having cold feet in them. Today, on really cold days I do find my toes get slightly chilly. Though this could be because some forty years have elapsed and perhaps my circulation isn't what it was when I was in my twenties. I am not sure if the inner sole is as good an insulator as the originals. But For 99% of the time they keep me comfortable.
Some find them difficult to walk in, I don't. You just have to adapt.
One thing though is that you don't need thick socks with them, it is better for your toes to have wiggle room. And always remove the liners and dry them when you get home. Remove the insole as well to allow the boot to dry. Nothing shortens the life of the liner quicker than leaving them damp. And replacements are not cheap.
The outdoor Winter sportsman is though now well catered for and there are several excellent (by all reports) boots available. None will be cheap but will pay for themselves if you are able to fish more effectively because your feet are not cold.
One last mention about footwear. I have heard excellent reports about socks called Sealskinz. They are said to be waterproof and made for climbers, runners and cyclists. Like all top grade gear they appear not to be cheap (£40+) but if effective may well be worth the initial outlay. A pair may just be on my Christmas list this year (2018). I am told that they come in varying degrees of “warmness”. Not all are intended to keep the feet warm but dry. Apparently you need to look for those with a “5” warmth rating.
I find that with a decent bib & brace I get away with just an ordinary pair of jeans and no need for base layer leggings underneath. I'll mention outerwear later.
I layer up in Winter. Base layer next to the skin is a sweat wicking undershirt of a man-made fibre. Mine was bought several years ago in the USA (Michigan), where in the north of the country they know a thing or two about cold weather. It was, unsurprisingly for me, a cheaper non-brand name make, probably got from a WalMart store or similar. I guess that Under Armour is currently seen as the market leader in such clothing, and have a price tag to match. You may find something similar on eBay for a lot less. I have just done a quick search and found a Gildan brand long sleeve sweat wicking tee for just over £7. I have had Gildan sports socks in the past and they have been excellent so I personally would trust the brand to produce a decent base layer tee shirt.
If the weather is not going to be that cold then I will use a long sleeve “thermal” tee shirt obtained from Asda for £8, I noticed recently Primark doing something similar for £5.
The next layer is a tee shirt or polo shirt. Nothing special.
Depending on the day I will then wear one of three hoodies. The first is a lightweight long sleeve tee type. A thin material but enough to add warmth with the hood up. I have two, both from Lidl and costing around £5. One has an ordinary neck, the other a roll or cowl type neck that can help to keep drafts out.
Then I have a normal jersey hoodie. Thicker and for colder and windy days. Again I use one of two. One is emblazoned with my club name, Osprey, and on the back a stylised osprey print. The second is my Maggotdrowning.com hoodie.
Finally I have really heavyweight hoodie that again was picked up in the USA. I have not though seen anything like it in this country.
Outer Layers - Bottom
Despite the fact that I like to save money elsewhere I don't think you should necessarily look to do so with what I consider the most important layer, certainly not if you need waterproof clothing.
For the bottom half it is a decent bib & brace. For several years I used an all in one suit but found that I got too hot on the days when it wasn't so cold or was sunny. Many years ago my then fishing buddy and myself discovered the benefits of wearing an all in one suit. But in those days it wasn't a specialist piece of angling clothing, just a boiler suit. But the difference even that made was noticeable.
My current B&B is Korum and I actually have three. One is older and in heavy rain will let some water through but is otherwise sound and so is used on dry days. Last year in my local tackle shop I was enquiring about a new B&B and they mentioned having some Korum ones that they were knocking out at well below normal price. Reason given was that Korum was changing its logo and had let some shops have the old stock at a good price. The price was so good I bought two.
Using the new one only in the worst weather will prolong its life thus saving money in the long run.
Some anglers have discovered that ski salopettes make decent fishing clothes and can be obtained at a reasonable price from Go Outdoors, and I assume eBay. I have also noticed reasonably priced sailing salopettes in Decathlon. So two shops and sports to check out if you are on a budget.
Again, looking outside our own branch of the sport can deliver suitable clothing at affordable prices. Imax make sea fishing clothing and their Thermal Suit can be had for a price that many of the top coarse brands would charge for just the bib & brace.
Outer Layers - Coats
I use a variety of coats depending on the predicted weather.
If it is not going to be too cold then I have a jacket that has a fleece inner and an outer nylon shell. The nylon helps keep sleeves dry when unhooking fish in the net. It doesn't have a hood but as long as it is dry that's not an issue. It came free with the last pole I bought in 2011 and is now showing signs of its age. Finding a replacement has been difficult.
For colder but dry days I use a TuffStuff Buckland jacket. This was sold by workwear retailers and mine cost less than £30, half the price of a fishing branded similar garment. Searching now it looks like it has been discontinued but I'm sure they will have replaced it with something similar. Designed obviously for builders and the like working outside it has a tough outer and quilted lining though again, no hood. It is as warm as toast. An added benefit is that the front pockets are huge and easily accessed. Great for keeping handwarmers in and your hands in when legering. So if you are looking for inexpensive clothing for fishing in the chillier months then I can say no more than search the workwear sellers on the internet for similar jackets.
If it is going to be wet most of the day then I have a full length, Dryfish coat. Waterproof, hooded and well padded. It is well worth buying a good coat of this type. But if you only wear it a few days each year it will last ages.
If showers are predicted I take my Summer weight unlined waterproof coat and wear it when needed over either the fleece or Buckland jacket.
I use knitted “woollen” fingerless gloves. You are never going to keep your hands completely dry and warm when fishing. I have tried neoprene gloves but for me they are just too bulky and constricting. The knitted ones keep most of my hand warm even if they get wet. The point being that they keep any wind off the skin.
It is amazing how just having something round your neck on really cold days keeps you a lot warmer. I have a couple of polo neck shirts but for some reason a snood seems to work better.
I have two. The first I got is just a tube of fleece that pulls over the head and round the neck. Cost about £2 off eBay. It has a drawstring that allows one end to be closed turning it into a hat if necessary. It also has an added benefit.
There are days when the wind is coming straight at you and getting under your hood. I don't like the constriction of tying a hood's drawstring under my chin but what I have found is that if you pull the hood up and then put the snood on round your neck over the hoodie it tightens the hood around the face without the feeling of being tied up.
The second snood is one that can be used as a balaclava as well as an ordinary snood round the neck. On really cold days I have found this invaluable. Wearing both this one and the tube one keeps me snug. The balaclava will go over my baseball cap and so also help keep that secure when windy. This type can be had quite cheaply for around £4 either from eBay of a store like B&M.
Once the cold weather comes these two live in my carryall and so never forgotten.
As for hats I usually wear just a baseball cap. Main reason is that I find the brightness of the sky, even on a dull day, is distracting. Also if wet the peak keeps the rain off my glasses. But if it is really cold then I may wear a beanie type hat. Of course my hood goes over the top of whatever is on my head.
Flask & Cup
I have had a cheap Wilkinson's flask for several years. 1 litre and does the job perfectly. Getting a hot drink inside you on a cold day certainly helps.
I only ever take hot water. I know some people prefer tea or coffee, even soup, in their flask. I have never liked hot drinks from a flask so I take hot water and Bovril cubes. That way I can make a drink up as I need it. I prefer Bovril to Oxo as the latter seems to leave a white residue in the bottom of the cup. The added benefit of using just water is that if forgotten the flask does not go mouldy inside!
I always pre-warm the flask before filling with boiling water.
If you do have the problem of a manky flask then the best solution is to use a denture tablet or even two to sterilise and clean it out. Just fill with cold water, add the tablet and leave overnight. And if you get limescale then pour in some vinegar and top up with water again leave overnight.
I take three or four Bovril cubes in a plastic container with a tight fitting lid, along with the Bovril is a small spoon and a piece of kitchen roll just to keep things clean. That container goes in a small lunch bag (came free with a box of cornflakes) and in the bag I also have an insulated travel mug. Once I have dissolved the Bovril on the flask's cup I transfer the liquid to the travel mug and top up with hot water and put the lid on. I find the Bovril dissolves quicker if crumbled into smaller pieces before adding the water.
As any angler knows you always get a bite when you open your flask so the travel mug helps keep the drink hot while you land the fish.
I always have food with me in Winter. Two sausage rolls and a chocolate bar or two. Nothing nicer than sausage roll and hot Bovril. And the chocolate is a welcome treat on a cold day and nice to have when you get back in the car at the end of the session.
For years now I have worn a towel round my waist Winter and Summer so why specifically mention it in this article? I have found that you can drape the towel over your hands when pole fishing in order to keep any wind off and thus they will be warmer. You can also do the same when legering if your pockets are difficult to access and get hands out of quickly.
I use a small hand or guest towel to which I sew half a bootlace halfway along each of the longer sides and that allows me to tie the towel round my waist. That way you have a double thickness of towel that on busy days can be reversed or folded over to access a drier layer or on cold days provides that bit of extra protection to the hands.
I use the “magic gel” type. The ones that you snap a metal disk in to activate and boil for a few minutes to recharge. They are easily cleaned, no mess and no smell. I carry around six. Each one will last about 45 minutes and are a welcome comfort on cold days.
Be careful when buying them though. The smaller ones only last around 20 minutes. Most of mine are larger and cost around £3 or £5 for two. They come in a red box and the actual handwarmer has “Magic Gel” printed on it in white writing on a black background along with the instructions. Amazon or eBay is where you will find them.
Be careful though, if left boiling on the stove and the water boils away The Boss is not happy with the mess it makes of her saucepan!
Winter fishing, even with snow on the ground and ice on the water can be rewarding. It is worth braving the elements for the sense of achievement of having survived a day in the wild outdoors :-).
Seriously, if you are going out for a pleasure session and it is cold then look for a spot where you will be comfortable. That may be with trees providing shelter from the wind or with the wind at your back, particularly if you are using an umbrella. Note the position of the sun and where it will track during the day. Choosing what will be a sunny spot later will make you a lot warmer than sitting in shade all day.
Also it pays to know where fish are regularly caught when cold. I know that I can go to the canal at Foxton near Market Harborough (Wellingborough club water) and be guaranteed to catch even if I have to break the ice. No point in going somewhere that I will struggle.
If you are not comfortable you will not fish well so choosing the right spot can make a difference.
Having the right clothing, a flask, food and being prepared for the elements will ensure you will be as comfortable as possible in poor conditions.