Well, it’s that time again, another summer over and another long, hard winter to look forward to, right? I don’t think so! Winter for me is the time to be out on the bank. I’m always surprised just how many anglers get to the beginning of September and mothball their tackle until April. In this feature, I’m going to show you how just a little preparation and dressing correctly can allow you to fish just as effectively on the coldest of winter days as you would in the summer months.
First things first – let’s get dressed!
The biggest mistake anglers make when out on a winter session is dressing incorrectly; they get to the bank, freeze their backside off for a couple of hours and abandon the session, having caught nothing but hypothermia! To fish effectively, it is imperative that you are warm and comfortable; if you are cold, your mind will be on that and not the fishing.
The biggest excuse I hear for not wearing decent clothing is that it’s expensive, yet the same person will have a set of Delkim TXIs and two grand worth of rods! Your priorities have to be right and good, quality clothing certainly isn’t as expensive as it used to be. Companies like Nash and Trakker are producing some fantastic clothing deals that are more than affordable.
The importance of layers
Layering your clothing plays a very important part in keeping you warm: several thin layers of clothing will trap the heat and insulate your body, keeping you warmer. Below is a step-by-step guide on how to dress correctly using layers. This system is very well insulated and also comfortable; layers can easily be taken away if you do get too warm on the bank.
Layer 1 – Underwear
When it comes to underwear, I am really talking about socks – I’m not going to tell you what pants to wear! A pair of good-quality thermal socks costs less than a tenner these days. I wear these Norwegian socks over a pair of normal cotton socks, creating a warm pocket of air in the layers.
Layer 2 – Base layer
Thermal underwear is the first layer of proper clothing. In the old days, it was a pair of long johns; thankfully we are spared the humiliation these days, as you can get rather fetching two-piece sets.
Layer 3 – Thermal top/trousers
I always wear thermal tops and trousers as my next layer. They are generally made from 90% polyester and 10% spandex, making them very warm and comfortable. The spandex allows them to stretch, so they can be comfortably worn over other garments.
Layer 4 – Trousers/t-shirt
The next layer is trousers and a t-shirt. T-shirt wise, I always wear a long-sleeve version; again, it just adds to the layering.
Layer 5 – Fleece and overtrousers
Everyone owns a fleece and this should be your next upper body layer. On the bottom half, I wear waterproof overtrousers; they are very warm and easily taken on and off.
Layer 6 – Coat
My choices of coat depend on the weather. I use two different coats: a Featherlite jacket that is 100% waterproof and warm, and a waterproof, fleece-lined jacket for when it’s really cold.
Again, this is very important. You can go to all the trouble and effort making sure you are dressed right, but if you wear trainers or the like and your feet get wet and cold, you may as well give in and go home. A good-quality pair of thermal Wellingtons or boots is imperative.
Always, always wear a hat. Up to 50% of your body heat can be lost through your head and neck area. Even wearing a baseball cap will reduce heat loss, but ideally you need to wear a woolly or fleece hat.
Glovers are yet another very important item of clothing. I’m amazed how many winter anglers don’t bother with gloves and sit there trying to warm their hands up by rubbing them together and the like. I know they can be restrictive, but even a pair of fingerless gloves will help.
Another major area of heat loss is the neck and the simple addition of a cheap scarf or neck warmer will ensure your whole body is kept warm.
Food and drink
Do not underestimate the importance of hot drinks when out on a winter session; they not only warm your body but also your soul. It’s amazing what a nice, hot slurp can do for your spirits!
My choice of hot drink on the bank isn’t actually tea or coffee, believe it or not; it’s hot Ribena or any other type of juice – I feel that they keep hotter in a flask. If I do take tea or coffee, I prefer to take the milk separate as, again, the milk takes away too much heat.
When out on day sessions, I use a good-quality steel flask rather than a stove. My day sessions are normally mobile, so I don’t want to be carting any excessive weight around, such as coffee, milk, etc. When preparing a flask, I always fill it with boiling water first and leave it with the lid on for 10 minutes – this will warm the flask before adding your chosen drink.
As with drinks, I make sure my choice of food is going to help ward off the icy chills of winter, and I find a good, old-fashioned tin of soup in a small food flask is ideal when out on a day session. There is nothing better than a nice, hot mug of minestrone to warm the old cockles. For longer winter sessions and overnighters, I prefer to take curry, chilli and the like; they are very warming and easily cooked.
If I’m honest, I’m not a huge fan of shelters. I like to keep mobile in the winter and a shelter for me is an added weight to lug about, and then there’s also the time wasted setting them up and down on short, winter sessions. Having said that, though, there are times when I do use them, and unless I’m doing an overnight session, I’ll use my Fox Supa brolly: it’s dead light, easy to set up and keeps the biting winds of winter off your back when sitting it out for carp.
For overnight sessions in the depths of winter, you will need to prepare properly. Overnight winter sessions are going to require a good-quality bivvy and, if possible, a winter skin. There is no place for brolly systems, as we need full protection from freezing winter temperatures and biting winds. When setting up your bivvy, always try to set it up so the prevailing winds are coming from behind you; the last thing you need is an easterly coming in through your bivvy door!
Another tip is to lay an old sheet or blanket down on your bivvy floor; it’s amazing how much cold comes up via the floor and the blanket helps combat this.
Sleeping bag, duvets and fleece blankets
Again, a very important aspect of overnight winter fishing; get this wrong and you are just going to be miserable and cold.
I still use my trusty, old Norwegian sleeping bag left over from my RAF days, but a good-quality five-season sleeping bag is cheap enough these days; the last think you want is a cheap, thin sleeping bag that isn’t going to keep you warm. I also take a thermal bedchair throw over, which, again, is a cheap and very effective product. On really cold sessions, I will also take a duvet; it’s a pain to carry and it is extra weight to cart about, but you do really need to keep warm or your session will be miserable.
Keep yourself busy
Apart from the cold in the winter, it’s the long periods of dark that can really put anglers off overnight fishing, so to combat this, I always take a few luxuries that make the long, dark nights more bearable.
Mobile phone – Everyone has got one these days and they can keep you more than entertained, but remember to take a spare battery or charger, though; I use a solar charger that keeps my phone well topped up.
Books/magazine – Use your time to catch up on a good book or the latest edition of Carp-Talk. I always take a few magazines and even a crossword book.
Company – You can’t beat having a bit of company in the winter; it’s amazing how quick time goes when you are nattering away.
One final important point
Sometimes, despite all the preparation and technology available to us, it is just too cold to go fishing. Remember, no fish is worth endangering your life for. Always check the weather before you go fishing and during your session, especially when fishing rivers or areas prone to flooding. Do not take risks; it’s not worth it!